I’ve had love letters, poems and even sonnets written for me, I’ve gotten bouquets of every kind of flower, I’ve opened countless boxes of chocolate and lingerie and other gifts, I’ve been literally swept off my feet, wooed and won, but the most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for me was buying me a package of toilet paper.
But before I tell you that story, I have to say that K., my partner of 10 years, is a very romantic guy. He buys me flowers, brings me goodies, flatters me and makes romantic gestures at all the proper (and improper) moments. Nothing is sweeter than the twinkle he still gets in his eyes when he looks at me.
But before I met him, I’d been involved with other romantic guys, and I’d come to look askance at the breed. I’ve heard women complain that they’ve never been romanced, ever, in their relationships, and I always try to tell them that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Romantic guys may bring you gifts and stage swoony moments, but often that is all they are able to do.
By the time I met K., I’d had the poetry and the sunsets, and I wanted something more. I’d had the guys who could say all the right words; I wanted the man who could stand by his words. And in K., that’s what I’ve found.
It’s not just that he’s committed to me, when the other guys found an excuse to flee. It’s not just that he values my heart as much as my mind and body (previously, the only two parts that seemed to interest men). It’s not just that when I need to talk, he listens and when we’re feeling separate, somehow we can always find each other again.
It’s that he doesn’t say one thing and do another.
Often, in fact, he will say nothing but do the wanted thing, and in being with him I’ve confirmed my long-held belief that love isn’t words, love is actions.
Love is thinking of and caring for another, beyond even the ways that you care for yourself.
And so we come to the time when I ate the proverbial Bad Clam. I know it was only one bad clam because K. and I were sharing a bowl of them at a restaurant and he was fine afterwards, and only the very first one I ate tasted “funny” – so much so that I thought about spitting it out, but decorum won out over instinct.
About 5 hours later, I was woken from a dead sleep by a feeling that the icy hands of death were gripping my intestines. I spent the rest of the night alternating between shaking bouts of illness in a cold bathroom and brief respites in bed trying to warm up. All the while, K. seemed to sleep and not even know what was happening, and I was just grateful that he wasn’t sick, too.
In the early morning hours, married to my porcelain throne, I dimly heard him leave the house and then return, but deep in my misery, I only vaguely wondered what he was doing before a knock came on the bathroom door, and K. entered and plonked down a four-pack of extra-soft toilet tissue.
As I looked first at it and then at him in dazed wonder, he said briskly, “I figured at this point, you could use something a lot softer than that 1-ply stuff” and left before I could say a word. A short while later, when I used the new tissue, which was as soft as a caress, I was flooded with teary gratitude, especially as I realized that if the situation had been reversed, it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to do this for him.
When I later told a few women friends this story, they were impressed for the same reason I was: That K. thought to do this for me, thought of what could make me feel better, without even needing to ask. Because if he’d asked, I would have said, “Nothing you can do” and thought it was true. And yet it wasn’t.
Love is thinking of what you can do for the other person and doing it.
When my mother was dying of cancer at home over a period of several months, she said once about my father being there by her side, “This is where the real love comes in.”
They’d been married nearly 50 years, raised four children, and been through many crises as well as celebrations. But she knew that this is where the real marriage would occur, where real love would be proved and tested. My father was a romantic guy who loved the grand gesture, but he was also a committed husband and father, a gentle and kind man who was capable of not just loving words but loving actions.
I’m extraordinarily lucky to have found a man like that, too. A man whose heart is as soft as the finest toilet paper.