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We loved each other but refused to say it until marriage was in the picture

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.

We’re all taught this nursery rhyme, usually on the playground in kindergarten after some boy announced you had cooties. It should probably be updated for today’s society. Relationships usually go something more along the lines of, first comes meeting at a party, then comes hanging out in big groups, then comes a few dates and a conversation where you DTR (define your relationship). Then comes saying I love you, moving in together, and maybe after you already have 401(k)s set up, marriage. Then babies.

My husband and I took a more traditional route. Guided by our faith and our separate-side-of-the-country job locations, we didn’t live together, and after the typical five- to seven-month range, we also didn’t say I love you. In fact, we didn’t say those three little words until we got engaged. And it was intentional.

Most people have a vision of love. That vision is sentimental feelings and flowers on Valentine’s Day. Someone to cook dinner with and put in your Facebook profile picture. Someone that gives you butterflies.

But that’s not what love meant to us. If love was just how we were feeling, we reasoned, there would certainly be plenty of times in our marriage where we didn’t feel like loving each other.

Sure, my husband gives me butterflies. He’s tall and cute, can speak two languages and surprises me with spontaneous cupcake purchases. But I also knew that if I was going to be with him forever, the way he gets into political arguments and talks slowly and takes forever to get ready would drive me insane. “Love” had to be more than that sunshiney, optimistic feeling. It had to be a carefully thought-out decision. I had to choose to love him and commit to it.

So, we didn’t say those three little words. We never said we loved each other until he proposed to me and promised that he was in it for the long haul. He wasn’t just saying, “I find you kind and pretty and I like to be around you”. He was saying, “I will honor and cherish you even when you leave your towel on the floor.”

I’m going to pick on Katy Perry for a second. No bad blood here, but you know that song “Not Like the Movies”? How it was beautiful and emotional and made hormonal teenage girls write love letters, and it was about The Great Love of Her Life Russell Brand, who divorced her after 14 months in a text message?

Well, I won’t be Netflixing that movie.

Love isn’t an emotion, no matter what Katy Perry says. Do you know how many times my marriage has been like the movies? Not many. It’s easy to love when things are perfect. When we’re on a road trip up north, or when we sleep in and make waffles on Saturday mornings. But you know when it’s not easy? The other 90 percent of the time. When my husband leaves his cereal bowl in the sink, and I have a headache, and a frozen computer, and a million things to do. When I feel bad for phoning in the wife role and throwing a frozen pizza in the oven (veggie because, you know, I’m worried about our cholesterol). When my mom is calling and his music is on too loud. When he’s trying to get homework done and I can’t stop watching a Kardashians marathon in our teeny-tiny apartment. When we’re trying to figure out how to fit a crib into our walk-in closet or how we’re going to make our car payments or if we’re lame enough to become coupon-cutters. It’s dealing with all that, and still being together at the end of the day asking if there’s anything you can do for the other person.

What movie is that like, Katy Perry? The Life and Times of Actually Married People?

Love isn’t “all the feels.” It’s a decision that you shouldn’t make lightly. It’s a heavy promise, and one that means you’re committed to choosing to stand by someone’s side. That’s why we waited until we’d committed in the most meaningful way possible before deciding to say it out loud.

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