Love Comes LaterPosted: October 29, 2014
We had been married just over 24 hours and had just finished dhuhr prayer when a friend of the family, my mother-in-law’s dearest friend, kneeled in front of us and grasped our hands in hers, with a look of tenderness and concern.
“Now I need to tell y’all something. This right here, right now? You think this is the love but I have to tell you, this isn’t the love.”
We looked at each other, eyebrows raised, knowing smiles on our lips, the wisdom of those in their early twenties (which is to say none), and indulged her speech.
“This isn’t the love,” she said again. “The love comes later.”
That was all she said, but I took it in and stored it away in the back pocket of my mind, something to pull out from time to time and smile about.
Of course I disagreed with her. We were in love. The shy smiles, the touch here, the kiss there; I had found my happily ever after.
Eleven years later I still say I was right—but she was right in a greater way. It was love, but it wasn’t the love. It’s easy to call it love when it’s new and fresh and uncomplicated. It’s easy to call it love when it hasn’t been a long, crappy day and you don’t want to talk and definitely don’t want to be touched. It’s easy to call it love when you’re not angry or hurt or feeling neglected.
But the love, the deep, meaningful love, is when you open up and accept that it’s not about you anymore, it’s about we. The love is when you stay up late to watch that movie with her that you aren’t crazy about but she likes it and that’s all that matters. The love is when you give him that back rub that wipes away the stress of the day and reminds him that he is loved and important, even when all you really want to do is catch an episode of your show or read another chapter of your book. The love is the sacrifice, the patience, the giving of affection and attention and time because you know what affects him or her, affects you. And the love is also knowing that you will get back all that you gave and maybe even more.
One thing I see now, that I didn’t see then is that though my husband and I were a couple, we were not partners. I was twenty-three and he was twenty-one, we were both still college undergrads. We had this new life together but it had no solid foundation yet, no history. It was like the thin sheet of ice over a pond at the start of winter. There was ice-cold water waiting to devour us, even if we were too blinded by love to see it. But the lives we had before we met had solid ground. So even though we lived together and made a home, we still operated largely separately. I went out with my friends on the weekends, he went out with his, and then we did our couple thing. It was more like halal dating than a marriage.
The change from couple to partners began I’d say around year five. By then we had weathered a few storms—literally, Hurricane Katrina kicked us out of our city in our third year of marriage—and also figuratively. There was the desire to start a family put on hold indefinitely due to illness—I was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis—and the death of my mother. It was a subtle shift, I can’t pinpoint a specific moment, but we began to turn inwards, towards each other. The roots of our little seeds of marriage began to intertwine naturally. It was life, basically, giving us challenges to stand up and face or run away and hide.
People often ask what is our secret, how do we do it, how are we happily married eleven years and counting. I say it’s not a secret, it’s work. Making sacrifices, trying to please each other, working hard to understand our differences of opinion, our needs and wants. It’s heeding the signs when things aren’t right, apologizing for wrongs done. It’s putting ourselves out there, being vulnerable. It’s giving respect and demanding it in return. And it’s a lot of talking; expressing our fears, our anxieties, our hurts, as well as our joys. It’s work, hard work, but it’s the best kind of work because we are working at cultivating love, that little four letter word that has so much power yet no one can really define it.
And of course it’s praying and putting our faith in The One who brought us together. Our promises to each other are promises to Allah to serve Him by serving each other. Our marriage is a covenant with God. I don’t take it lightly. I guard my marriage like I guarded my globe of a belly when I was pregnant with our son. I fight for it because I believe in it.
So when people ask me for marriage advice (and after I get over the shock of realizing I’ve been married long enough that people think I can give advice that matters) I tell them that story. It’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten, and the truest. The love comes later, if you’re willing to work hard and fight for it.
Ambata Kazi-Nance is a writer and teacher living in her hometown New Orleans, LA with her husband and son. She is a member of MelaNated Writers Collective, a group for writers of color in New Orleans. She writes for Azizah magazine and is a contributing blogger at Grow Mama Grow (www.patheos.com/blogs/growmama) an online community for Muslim mothers. She blogs about writing and other things at www.aknthoughtsonthings.wordpress.com and you can find her on Twitter @NolaWanderer.