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Transactional Love

Once upon a time, I was fun. I used to say yes to happy hour after work, seeing a movie that starts past 9pm, and traveling on a whim. Believe it or not, there was a day when I didn't need to compulsively check that 700 things were done and people were accounted for and bags were packed, just to take a simple trip to the grocery store for 45 minutes. Some days it takes quite a bit of convincing myself that my reality used to be that way. It just seems so far removed from the present-day scenario.

My husband didn't sign up to be married to an anxious woman. He married the young, tanned, carefree girl who liked to stay up too late watching old episodes of Criminal Minds and would drink cocktails on the porch with him on a weeknight. He married the version of me who was able to keep *most* panic attacks under wraps, hiding how worried about life I truly was because my heart didn't live outside my body yet. It wasn't until I became a mom that anxiety took over our lives full-force, driving us to navigate unknown territory surrounding mental illness while adjusting to being new parents.

To be completely honest, I'm better at loving my children than my husband. It comes way more naturally to me to care for these small beings who depend on me for their very survival than to pour my leftover energy from a long day of caretaking into Chris. It's just a different kind of love is all. When you create people from your body, it's a kind of love you never knew existed before. It's all encompassing, overwhelming, and has the ability to take over your entire life if you let it. It's easy to lose sight of everything else and everyone you loved before. It doesn't take work to love children - at least in my experience - but it sure can take effort to love another adult.

Right now our love is transactional. It's practical and boring and necessary and funny. It's a distraction from the chaos encircling us as our children quite literally run laps around us as we try to have any sort of an adult conversation. A respite from the pandemic stress and the daily (sometimes hourly) anxiety I suffer from surrounding keeping my kids healthy and safe. Even though he doesn't understand it, he respects it. The fact that it's real to me is enough for him to drop whatever he's doing to support me on the days where I can't even pull myself out of bed.

Our love has shifted and molded over the years into something that neither of us expected it to become, but is beautiful just the same. Last night love was sitting in separate rooms watching different shows, but sharing the same bottle of wine, because we were both so worn out from wrangling toddlers all day and didn't even have the patience to decide on a show to watch together. This morning love was exchanging a few words about our lackluster sleep while sipping lukewarm coffee as we played on the floor with the kids. Right now love is him playing ice cream store with the three year old so I can get these thoughts out of my head as the baby naps. Later today love will be me taking over the full bedtime routine for both kids so he can watch the Superbowl without having to leave the party early like I will.

To put it in context, here's what our love used to look like. Lazy Sunday afternoons, strolling through downtown Detroit and stopping at any bar we felt like meandering into to split appetizers and try new fancy drinks to our hearts' content. Going to bed at the same time and waking up with the sun together - can you even IMAGINE?! Anticipatory butterflies at the simple thought of receiving a midday text message narrating something as simple as what the other had for lunch at their respective office. Actually putting on a flattering, yet uncomfortable, outfit in hopes of impressing the other.

Nowadays our relationship is more about passing off the children and making sure my anxiety is under control than fun and love. I know that relationships ebb and flow, as I'm sure you do, too, but it doesn't make it any less sad when it happens to you. Something I'm coming to realize though is that sad doesn't have to equal bad. It's appropriate to feel sadness when you look into the past and miss how things used to be, but that doesn't mean that those are negative feelings. It's more of a nostalgia and a longing than a "This sucks," kind of thing.

These thoughts may seem kind of like a random mashup, and that's because they are. Love, anxiety, relationships, children, motherhood, fun....they are all the pillars of my life right now - and by default, those of my husband, too. Our love is no less beautiful than it was five years ago. Sure, it's more complicated now, but it's also stronger. It has weathered the storm of more than we could have ever pictured on the day we said "I do" outside on that big, beautiful hill on the most perfect fall day in Michigan. Every day that we endure the complications of life together, our love entwines tighter. We may be sleep deprived and beat up by toddlers, but we can still find joy in a cheesy Netflix show and eating ice cream together on the couch in the precious hours between the kids' bedtime and the first inevitable wakeup. Our love is sure to continue to take a beating, but I have no doubt that we will be able to have at least *some* fun, too. And hey - maybe one day, we'll even be able to have drinks on a patio on a random Wednesday again in the middle of the afternoon - just because.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series "Love Looks Like".

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