While single in college, I signed up for a Relationships course. Perhaps the fact that I signed up for a course about courtship while single in college gives some insight into why I was single in college.
Despite functioning at a maximum level of dorkiness, however, I was still cool enough at the time to recognize the lameness of our lesson on affection. In this lesson, my teacher explained how as the years go on in marriage, couples express affection in different, often simpler ways. He then described holding pinkies with his sweetheart while he drove to the grocery store while I struggled to obscure my eye roll.
"If linking pinkies on the way to the grocery store is the thrill of marriage," I thought, "I'm out."
Now that ten years of marriage have given me some distance from the velcro affection of my newlywed days, though, I would kill for some "pinky linking" in the car over our current "put my hand on his shoulder to turn and threaten the kids to stop fighting before we turn this car around and forget Mcdonald's altogether," stage of marriage.
When my teacher's message truly resonated with me, though, was when I found myself purchasing Oatmeal Cream Pies, a spouse favorite, to keep the magic alive.
I am no relationships expert, but I imagine the evolvement of affection in relationships is as natural as anything. I am not suggesting that marriage does not require a good ambush-style bum pinch now and then, but, rather, that values and demands in adulthood constantly change, which affects how couples feel and express love. In other words, adulting pushes us all into a desperate state of survival that distorts a man with a vacuum or a woman with a box of Oatmeal Cream Pies into sex symbols.
If you think about it, our love values constantly change throughout our lives. Infants love people who burp them, children love video games, teens simultaneously love attention and privacy, twenty-somethings love changing the world, newlyweds love cuddling, marrieds with young children love tag team naps, marrieds with old children love tag team conflict resolution with teens, and marrieds with old children love grandchildren, Costco, and pinky linking.
My husband once asked me my opinion on when children begin to truly love their parents. When do they go from saying, "I love you," as merely a memorized social phrase to actually experiencing and expressing love?
Perhaps child development professionals know the answer, but I do not. When I informed three-year-old Griffin I would not be purchasing toys on our excursion to Family Dollar, he went quiet, mentally working through his anger, and then said, "Mom. You not a stupid head." So, is it three?
Or maybe it's six. After all, my six-year-old daughter loves me so much, she can't fall asleep without me in the room. I could do without all the flattery, but she insists.
Or maybe it's eight. My eight-year-old son, who hovers over me in the kitchen, delivering helpful feedback concerning the appearance and aroma of that night's dinner preparations, recently told me he loved me because when I substituted an elaborate homecooked meal with canned chili and grilled cheese.
I have no idea when children start to genuinely feel and express love, but I do find it strange how merely birthing them grants parents an enormous capacity to love them unconditionally.
I'm talking the purest of selfless love. Parents may not even realize how often they demonstrate this otherworldly love.
Consider the following parental tasks so odious their completion can only be explained by an outpouring of the selfless love parents have for their children:
Cleaning diverse unmentionables from walls and carpets
Reassembling the ice cubes in the game Don't Break the Ice
Dealing with car seats
Trying not to freak out when a toddler touches a public toilet seat and then puts his hands on your hair and forehead to balance while you pull up his jeans
Putting away rather than throwing away legos, puzzle pieces, playing cards, crayons, Shopkins, Barbie shoes, and other potential tiny toy tornadoes
Tolerating YouTube, Caillou, or Spongebob Squarepants
Reading, nay, reciting the same storybook again and again (Little Blue Truck, anyone?)
Blowing up inflatables
Unblinkingly watching a child's every failed attempt to perform a trick he can't get right only because he is focused so intently on maintaining his parent's undivided attention
Why does this kind of exceptional parental love not also transfer automatically to unconditional spousal love? I mean, of course we all aim to love our spouses unconditionally, but we also get irritated at how they drive, dispense toothpaste, or leave us home alone with the kids all day to go to work.
Marriage is hard work at the best of times. But the challenge is what gives couples opportunity to express love to one another. Whether it's through pinky links, guerilla pinch attacks, tag team naps, or empty calories, our affection seems to adapt to alleviate the burdens of adulthood from our partners. In so doing, we all eventually become the gray-haired couple pushing a flat-bed cart toward the microwave burrito samples in Costco. And that's what true love is all about.