Recently, we celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of my fake grandparents.
We had cake, and there were lots of flowers and a select number of guests in accordance with group size restrictions. They told stories about how they met and when they got married. There were several toasts.
I grew up visiting this couple often, as they live five minutes away from my house. All of my grandparents lived hours away; as such, this couple became my stand-ins. I grew up picking blueberries off their bushes and feeding the catfish from the end of their dock. I memorized every inch of their swimming pool, and gave their official grandkids swimming lessons when they came around. I helped decorate the Christmas tree they kept up all year long, switching out decorations per the season. I colored in every coloring book they had; you could track my age, depending on whether or not I could color in the lines or if a person had blue skin and pink hair.
In so many ways, I learned about love from these people. They adopted me as their grandchild just as much as I adopted them as my grandparents.
When I was 4 years old, I stayed with them for a week while my parents went on vacation. Halfway through I caught a cold; so I stayed at their house instead of going to day care, and watched “The Lion King.” On repeat. Love is letting your adopted grandchild sit on your lap as they watch an animated version of “Hamlet” over and over and over again.
In all of the columns I’ve written so far, and in nearly all of the ideas I’ve jotted down for future columns, I find myself revolving around a recurring topic: love. Love for family, community, friends, my dog. Lion-King-on-repeat-love. Fifty-year-marriage love.
To hear about all of these kinds of love, to me at least, makes it almost seem like love is effortless, the easiest thing in the world. But it’s not. Love is not effortless. Love is not enough, it’s not all we need, it’s not the solution to every single problem in the world.
Love is a great baseline. It’s a great foundation, a good start, a fine thing to generally offer continually. But what makes a relationship — any relationship, be it parents and children, romantic interests, acquaintances or hopeful friends — is the hard stuff. Respect. Humility. Communication. Commitment to the people we care about.
A relationship can be built on passion and emotion, but without the other stuff, the hard stuff, it won’t last. Eventually, you do get just a little bit tired of watching animated lions re-enact Shakespeare, no matter how happy it makes your sick fake grandkid. Eventually, no matter how long you’ve been married, or dating, or just generally been together, you will disagree and/or fight about something.
I talk about this couple, for this topic, because they’ve shown me so many times what it looks like to more than just love someone. To make the choice to continue to respect and commit to someone else, no matter how hard or exhausting it may be. To keep showing up for that person, even if you’re not related to them.
Love won’t solve all of our problems. But it’s a great place to start.