How did you fall in love? By falling out of love.
That’s what John said when he told me his story. What follows is his beautiful account of what it really means to fall in love and the lessons he learned.
It was the classic high school romance. I met her in a home economics class. All my memories about food involve eating it. But, one memory of cooking always stuck.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was the goofy guy who couldn’t boil an egg to save his life. As I began fumbling with an overflowing pot, I spied a group of girls giggling. Not in the cute way either; It was more of a pitty this fool kind of giggle.
One girl eventually came over.
“Hi, I’m Nancy. You look like you could use a little help.” She laughed.
“No, I’ve got it.”
“Pshhh!” The pot spilled over.
“Ok, Nancy, maybe I need some help,” I added with an awkward smile, cheeks blushing.
5 years later, I married that girl. 15 years later, I fell in love. Here is my story.
Marrying Nancy was one of the happiest days of my life. She was an amazing woman. I would have said I was in love if you had asked me then.
Time goes by, and you get caught up in your lives. Small cracks begin to show. It started with talking, as we began to speak to each other less. It was hardly noticeable at first, but time has a way of turning small into big. Before I knew it, our conversations were more courtesy than anything. Nothing more than water-cooler talk.
Next, we stopped listening to each other. Not on purpose; it just happened. We asked questions, but we weren’t really there. We replied to each other like that drunk friend you can’t hear properly – smile and nod. We were two souls lost in our own heads and living our own lives.
Seven years was the magic number. We fell into a rut. Nancy stopped making my lunch, kissing me good morning and greeting me with a smile when I got home. I stopped surprising her with kindness, giving her the attention she needed and appreciating the things she did.
We weren’t in love; we weren’t a married couple – we were roommates. Our relationship wasn’t life-sharing; it was house-sharing. We were amicable and rarely fought. It sounds like a good thing, but it wasn’t. We were indifferent, and someone needed to care to fight.
We talked about divorce without emotion. Listing the pros and cons with the cold precision of undertakers. We decided it served us better to stay together. I’m sure we even shook each other’s hands as if we had struck a deal.
We never wanted to end up here, in a loveless relationship. It just happened. Or that’s what I believed. In time, I realised nothing just happened.
I would think back and wonder how we got here. I could tell Nancy did too.
I grinned with excitement. I had won the top prize on a scratch and win. It was my birthday the previous night, and I had forgotten to open one of my presents. Inside, I found 3 scratches and win cards. And, well, the rest is history.
It was a Thursday, the punching bag day where I worked. The boss had a habit of dragging all our work and ideas through the dirt. Nothing was ever good enough. We all understood him; he was going through a messy divorce and wasn’t a bad guy. From 9 to 12, we were his punching bag.
Today was different, though. Nothing changed; he still did the usual. Only, I was in a good mood all day. The morning win had lifted my spirits too high to be yanked down by a 50-year-old divorcee going through a midlife crisis.
That day, I realised something. I didn’t put it together or understand what it meant. But this is what hit me. I was responsible for my own happiness. No one else. Me.
Nothing had changed at work that day, but I was happy. While the prize kept my spirits high, I realised that good fortune wasn’t necessary. If I went to work and made the best of it, not let anything get to me, I could put up with the crap. I can’t completely control what happens to me or around me. No one can. What I can control is how I respond. I’m the only person who can be responsible for my life, my happiness… My marriage
I didn’t love Nancy, and she didn’t love me. But I liked her, and that’s where I began.
When I came home from work, I thanked her for making dinner. Soon, I started helping her with the dishes when I came home. I began asking her how her day was. I didn’t just ask; I tried to listen. I tried to care, and I tried to understand. It was hard. When you both stop caring and grow apart, you’re no longer driven by the intense feelings of when you first tied the knot.
Months went by, and I kept it up. It was nothing grand, but it was consistent. Appreciating Nancy became a habit. She didn’t change, at least not right away. And why would she? We had been living as roommates for the last few years. I took her for granted, and she served it back to me until we eventually only looked out for ourselves.
I kept at it. I would bring home her favourite takeaway. I cooked dinner for her when she was too tired. I never let her do something for me without thanks. These aren’t good deeds either. They are just part of a healthy marriage.
Eventually, Nancy began changing. She was taking notice of me. Buying my favourite beer and cooking all my favourite meals.
At first, she didn’t change. But this didn’t matter. I still kept doing what I was doing. That’s when it hit me; the ‘aha’ moment!
I had placed the responsibility for my happiness on Nancy. This worked at the start when passion took the reigns. But as fire can’t burn indefinitely, neither can passion. There comes a point when the kindling runs out, and someone must put a log on the fire.
My view of love changed when I took responsibility for my own happiness. It was time for me to keep that fire going. When I did something for Nancy, it wasn’t pass the parcel, waiting for it to return. No. It was unconditional. It was something I chose to do for its own sake.
After ten months, something odd happened: I didn’t need to remind myself to listen to her. I wanted to. I didn’t have to tell Nancy how much I appreciated her; I showed it every day.
I didn’t have to smile when I came home; she put one on my face. Going to dinner, the park or a stroll was no longer a chore; it became a peak among the troughs and valleys of my day. When Nancy put on a dress, I didn’t need her to ask me how she looked. She was beautiful, and I wanted to tell her.
I was falling in love.
One night, I heard a knock on my door. It was Nancy. We had been sleeping apart for the last few years. Not because we didn’t get along, it was just more comfortable. It made sense at the time.
“John, can I sleep with you tonight?”
I looked up and smiled. The end of “Braveheart”, “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Schindler’s list”. I couldn’t finish these films without shedding a tear.
Well, I might as well have watched all three. I felt a tear, Nancy, too. I hugged her.
That’s when I fell in love with my wife.Published in