10 Years Into My Marriage, and I’m Still Learning How to Love

learning how to love learning how to love
photo by Julie Williams-Krishnan

Fourteen years ago, when I met my wife, she checked off all of the boxes I wanted in a partner. She was kind, giving, forgiving, honest, compassionate, patient, and so much more. I began to unpack all of my baggage, parts that I’d packed and locked away. I wanted to hide my insecurities, my fear of instability, and most of all, my fear of being abandoned. Whose responsibility was it to give me the kind of love I needed?

We recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, a major milestone, and yet I am still learning how to love.

Long before I knew what love was, what being loved meant, I dreamt up dreams of what I wanted it to be.  I imagined love was all or nothing. It was a soulmate, someone to give me enough love that I could feel secure, knowing they’d never leave me and would love me for all of me, baggage and all. I was sure that the love I would eventually find would fill me up as nothing else could: not food, not sex, nothing. In my dreams, my partner would shower me with gifts and kisses, and support all of my dreams, financially and emotionally. But this was a dream that never came to be and for good reason.

My wife and I were presented with many obstacles during our marriage that forced us to grow as individuals and as a couple. From our failed IVF treatments to our arguments about finances to my denial that our son had special needs, these and many other obstacles forced us to lean on one another in ways that opened my eyes to what love actually was, as opposed to the version of it I manufactured.

In my marriage, I didn’t get the soulmate I fantasized about. Instead, I have someone with whom I can face life’s obstacles, someone who does not run away when things get difficul; I have a constant cheerleader rooting the other on from the sidelines. What my marriage did for me is present me with the truth of who I am as a person. It showed me what my needs were versus my wants in a marriage. My wants, mostly material, like buying a house or splurging a bit more on a vacation.

My needs were hidden inside of my heart. For so long, I was too afraid to fully give my heart to another in fear that they would not hold it in the ways I needed them to. I needed them to be gentle, kind, and hold my heart as if they were caring for their own. To give and feel loved by my wife, I’d need to heal the wounds I carried with me over the years from childhood, from failed relationships, from my insecurities. It was all there, all pieces I carried into my marriage.

Love for me today means knowing that the person I married is not my soulmate. She could never be. The truth is, I am my own soulmate — the one who nurtures and cares for my being, the one who must do the work of showing up for me, who must nurture that inner child of mine who needs it.

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Nikkya Hargrove is a working mom and lives in Connecticut with her wife and three kids. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Shondaland, Elle Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Scary Mommy. She is working on her memoir and is represented by literary agent Stacey Glick of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.