February, the month that embraces Valentine’s Day, seems like a good time to reflect on how we show love and what we recognize as love, including the proofs of love we value.
As a culture, Americans seem prone to measure love in terms of grand declarations and poetic language. In the world of social media, love has become a competition, with Valentine’s Day reigning as the epitome of love’s commercialization. Cupid’s holiday, often dreaded by men and women alike, sets unrealistic expectations for couples and leads to inevitable disappointment. With friends posting pictures of giant bouquets of flowers, jewelry, and surprise outings from their significant others on social media, it’s too easy to compare your relationship to theirs on the same terms, rather than looking for deeper meanings.
Gratefully, a few years ago, I arrived at a place in my life where I started looking for smaller, more everyday proofs of love and recognizing each as more sincere displays of affection. I am deeply contented when I find them.
These small acts are quieter and simpler, but just as meaningful, if not more so than their flashier counterparts. The giver puts thought and effort into proofs of love, and each act reflects a deep understanding of the needs of the loved one who receives them.
I wish I could take credit for the phrase “proofs of love” but, alas, it’s not mine. I am even quoting it second hand. I recently finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Over the course of a year, Rubin dedicated each month (and chapter) to one aspect likely to improve her happiness. She then divided each chapter into five related actions she tried during that month to bring about her increased happiness.
Rubin ascribed the theme “Remember Love” with “Give Proofs of Love” as one of the actions to the month of February. To define the origin of this action, she quotes the French poet Pierre Reverdy who said:
“There is no love; there are only proofs of love.”
Rubin then goes on to interpret his meaning as “Whatever love I might feel in my heart, others will see only my actions.”
If we judge the quality of our relationships solely on what our loved ones say to us and our perception of the strength of their feelings for us, then we do them a disservice by necessarily misjudging their regard for us. We look only for love, in its most limited definition, as an emotion felt by our loved ones, rather than looking for, recognizing, and appreciating their proofs of love, or loving actions.
Once upon a time, I believed love only rang true if expressed in glorious, flowery terms and grand, over-the-top gestures. I believed in the lie, and I failed to look for, and hold out for, the proofs of love.
Experience eventually taught me to beware of charm and to avoid putting too much stock in how men sounded and not enough in what they showed me. Charming just isn’t enough when there’s nothing to back it up. Luckily, I learned from my mistakes.
Last summer, I married the love of my life and wrote our wedding vows. Interestingly, we both thought writing our own vows seemed cheesy, but hours before our prep meeting with the judge, I couldn’t bring myself to repeat someone else’s words. To my relief, he agreed with what I wrote.
Before I ever read about proofs of love, I included a similar notion in our vows: “I promise to show you my love, in ways great and small, every day.” We promised each other proofs of love, and every day we keep our promise.
If you are anything like me, you need concrete examples to know what I mean. “What are these proofs of love you speak of?” you might ask. I share examples from my own marriage below, but remember, everyone receives love differently. What works for my husband and me may not work for you. It’s important to cater your proofs of love to your loved ones. I wake up every day and think “what would make my husband’s day better?” and then I try to do it.
My (Most Common) Proofs of Love for My Husband:
My husband gets up at 5:45 a.m. every day, commutes an hour to and from work, works a 9-hour day in between, and gets home by 6:00 p.m. on a good night. By the weekends, he’s exhausted. On weekend mornings, I entertain the kids while he sleeps in, and I bring him coffee (and sometimes breakfast) in bed. If you ask him, he will tell you this ritual is one of his favorite things about being married to me, and, honestly, it’s one of my favorite things to do for him.
(My husband also loves Star Wars, so I try to bring his coffee to him in his special R2D2 coffee cup.)
- I invented a little tradition for us early in our dating days. Every day at 11:11 a.m., one of us sends a “make a wish” text to the other. On really good, lucky days, we send them at the same time. It’s a small, quick message that keeps us connected during our busy and separate work lives. I can’t count the number of times I smile in the midst of a conference call or staff meeting when I see that text come in out of the corner of my eye.
- My husband is an introvert. As an extrovert, it took me awhile to figure out what that meant, especially in the context of our relationship. Now, I get it. Too much socialization, especially around negative people, depletes his energy. He needs alone time to recharge. We call it “pod time”. In the midst of our hectic, two-career life raising school-age kids, I proactively notice when he needs “pod time” and gently suggest he take it, even if only for 20 minutes on a school/work night. He greatly appreciates not only my supportiveness but also my intuition, as I can usually see his low energy coming before he feels it too deeply.
Proofs of love have a way of coming back to you.
When you show someone that you love and appreciate them for exactly who they are, when you make a sincere effort to recognize and meet their needs, the love returns to you. Read on to see what I mean.
My Husband’s (Most Common) Proofs of Love for Me:
- I can usually navigate running laundry through the washer and dryer, but then, if left only to me, it sits in baskets for days unfolded because I can’t seem to get to it. My husband noticed this issue after he moved into the house and immediately volunteered to fold all the laundry. He will actually come ask me for unfolded baskets of laundry when he wants to watch TV and do something with his hands. It’s such a relief.
I never have to nag my husband to do anything. If I ask him to do something once, like book a block of hotel rooms for our wedding or take out the recycling bin, he does it and usually within moments of my asking. Best of all, he never makes me feel like a nag for asking.
- This one is my favorite. I cook a homemade dinner for our family, and sometimes extended family, about five nights a week. Even after the food hits the table and everyone is seated, I’m still usually in the kitchen for a few more minutes fetching salad dressing or drinks. In the history of our relationship, I have never seen my husband take a bite of a meal until I sit down at the table. Even if his food starts to get cold, he waits for me. I also eat slower than he does, and he never leaves the table until I finish. Through these actions, he sends me the message that he sees me, he knows how hard I worked to prepare the meal, and he respects me enough to wait until I can take part in it with him. It’s the ultimate proof of love.