My youngest daughter turns seven years old later this week and is already showing an uncomfortable (to her Dad, anyway) interest in romance. We were watching a family movie the other night (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) when she announced that it was clear that Mr. Potts and Ms. Scrumptious would end up married at the end of the story. She then made kissing and smooching sounds in between giggles for the rest of the film.
Meanwhile, I've been obsessing over what I should tell my daughters when the subject of "true love" comes up. I hope they will be smart enough to realize the difference between love and infatuation; between a committed relationship and a physical attraction.
I also hope that my wife and I are setting a good example. We have told them the story of how we met, but one of these days I'll have to relate the details of how we fell in love. In case I forget between now and then, here it is:
First, a clarification. This is the story of how I fell in love. My wife most probably followed a different path. As I have mentioned before, I spent the first 30 years of my life generally avoiding long-term relationships. I didn't fall in love, in part, because I didn't allow myself to. I went on dates here and there, but never felt any sparks. I was great friends with lots of women -- just none that I cared to pursue romantically. And then I met Jane.
After one of our first dates, I decided to send flowers to her place of work. I had found that this ploy was a quick way to determine whether a girl was mutually interested, or just freaked out that someone she barely knew would send her a bouquet. Jane was both pleased and probably slightly embarrassed by the flowers. But she didn't take out a restraining order, so our relationship continued.
The first feelings I remember having were of happiness. Contentment. I enjoyed her company immensely, although I wasn't sure I was actually in love with her. Furthermore, I was clueless as to whether she was in love with me. But the happiness deepened day after day. If I wasn't in love, I was in severe like. I became quite the moon-faced cliche I've seen in so many movies. My co-workers began to wonder why I was smiling more than I ever had.
Still, I had my doubts. My wife is so beautiful, I was pretty sure early on that someone was staging a grand practical joke on me. No one as effervescent as she is could possibly be interested in a curmudgeon like me, I thought. Because of that, I was guarded when discussing the relationship with our friends. It was, in short, none of their damn business whether we were "serious" or not.
But I could not deny that I thought about Jane all the time. I worried about her when she travelled. I wondered what she dreamed about. Did she think of me as much as I thought of her? I worried that if I rushed things, I would screw it up and scare her off.
Then came the magical day when she asked me how she should refer to me when her friends asked about the relationship. Was I a friend, a boyfriend, something more? I dropped to one knee in her kitchen and said, clumsily, "Shall we get married?" No ring. No special preparations. Just a sure and certain knowledge that I had found my soulmate and would do whatever I could to ensure her happiness. I can't say I've always been successful in that effort, but I still try every day.
Our daughters' happiness is now paramount in our lives. Whenever they find their own "forever bears," I pray that their married lives will be as filled with love as mine has been. Ideally, they'll fall for incredibly rich, incredibly kind, genetically monogamous mates. But I'll settle for someone who realizes that true love is unconditional and meant to last a lifetime.