Love at Forty
Beyond the Book: Anniversary edition
I was near forty when I fell in love for the first time. 37, to be exact. I had loved people, been infatuated with people, felt emotionally tortured by people - and at times I thought that was being “in love.” It wasn’t.
Right now my love (Gabriel) and I are in a house in Palm Springs celebrating our third year together. We brought the kids with us, because in the middle of a pandemic and in the middle of a very depressing Seattle fall/winter we couldn’t imagine going somewhere sunny without them. We have explained multiple times that this is our anniversary trip, and we booked enough space so that they can have our privacy and we can have ours. They come into our room about ten times a day. We have not had more than a few minutes of privacy at a time. My older son has lost his wallet and vaccine card. As I write this, Gabriel is taking him to get a very expensive COVID test so that he can join us on trip activities.
The fancy bathroom in our room has far too many mirrors. Gabriel and I were taking a shower after a swim and it was like naked inception. We’ve both gained quite a few pounds these last few years. We stood together under a shower confronted with every new roll and dimple repeated over and over as reflections bounced off of each other. We held onto each other as the water splashed around us and felt safe and warm. We looked with curiosity at the bodies that had carried us through some of the toughest times in our lives, that had held each other through some of our darkest nights, that had found joy and love when we thought for sure there was none to be found ever again. We, like so many others, have spent a lot of time avoiding looking at ourselves and recognizing the markers of time. The new wrinkles, the new dimples, the gray hair, the sagging. And here it was, everything we often don’t look at in ourselves and yet love in each other shown together, in multiples. Showing us all that we had been through together and all that we love in each other.
We were beautiful.
This is what it has been like for me to be in love at forty. To be surprised every day by the simple beauty of it all. I once thought that love was a thing that was so intense that it tore you apart. That it was sex that might kill you with its ferocity. That it was emotions that swung so wildly you got dizzy. That it was a thing you survived.
I dreamed of a love you couldn’t run away from if you tried. A love that chased after you and took you over. That is the love that is sold to us in movies and books.
The truth is that life is the thing that can be so intense it threatens to tear you apart. Life is the thing that swings wildly and tries to kill you with its ferocity. Love is what helps you survive it.
This love is such a quiet thing. It’s a peace that almost takes your breath away as it gives you oxygen so pure that you aren’t sure your lungs can expand to take it all in. And then they do, and it just becomes the air that you breathe. And you don’t really realize how much easier you are moving through the world now, how much less struggle even the hard things are, until one day occasionally over dinner laughing over a pleasant meal or sitting on the bed talking excitedly together about a television series you are both loving together it will hit you and you will suddenly want to cry because every day you are living in the love that you never knew you wanted and it’s so easy and so sure that it isn’t even insulted that you haven’t made many grand gestures to celebrate it.
The hard things are still hard, the sad times are still sad, but you know you can get through it, even if you don’t know it, know it right now, because your forever is staring at you and holding your hand and reflecting back to you all of the strength and perseverance that they see in you.
That is the love that I found. No, not found. That is the love that we grew.
When we first got together we were both so scared. We both had been single for a long time, after leaving some pretty harmful relationships. I fell in love and waited for the disaster to come. And waited. It never came. Eventually I stopped waiting. Eventually I started trusting what we had. Eventually I started believing this man who loved me. I realized that the drama didn’t come because we never brought it. Because we both had decided to bring our whole selves into the relationship. Because we were both dedicated to our own individual growth and wellbeing. Because we both decided that we were worth being present for. Because we both decided to not let fear make our decisions for us. We hadn’t realized that this was all work we had started to do while single - learning to love and trust ourselves and let go of self-hate - that had prepared us to be able to come together in a way that neither of us had experienced before.
I don’t know what the future holds. It would be foolish of me to say, in this time of all times, that anything is guaranteed. But I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I will love this person forever, in one form or another. I can say that I will never look back at this time with regret. Because every day I’ve gotten to look in the eyes of my best friend and see that love reflected back at me, clear and true. Because I’m in a love that has made me more myself every single day. I’m in a love that has helped me fall in love with myself and trust myself as I love and trust my partner.
I’m so lucky and so grateful. As we celebrate year three of this love, I hope that you will celebrate the love in your life, in whatever form it takes. I do not believe that only romantic love can bring this joy. All love that we bring our full selves to, and where our full selves are seen and loved in turn, can be like this. And if you haven’t yet experienced a love that makes you more yourself, I truly hope that one day you will.
Thank you for reading. If you liked this newsletter and want to support my work, please consider subscribing here:
Ijeoma Oluo: Behind the Book is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I have such joy for your joy with your Gabriel! Deep and true and beautiful. Love, Aunty
Wow, I just love your love. Just love it. Congratulations, you deserve it so, so much.