I love reading things written by other widows. Even short Facebook posts are helpful for me because they remind me that I’m not the only one experiencing loss and that my feelings are not actually that bizarre (thank you, Hot Young Widows Club!) Sometimes, I find a good blog and spend hours learning more about the experiences of someone else. This happened to me the other day, and I read all about a woman who also lost her spouse at a young age.
Like me, she wrote about the life she shared with her husband and young kids. But there was one glaring difference. She did not post anything that wasn’t perfect about him. In fact, she specifically stated that in her many years of marriage to him she had “never heard a single bad word about him.”
I mean, maybe it’s true, but….really?
Even Sheryl Sandberg, in her new book Option B, only managed to say that her late husband was “clumsy” when she wrote about his flaws. Seriously? That’s the best she could do to capture him in his entirety? He did all these amazing things but had just one fault that caused him to bump into things? Damn, I wish I had one flaw.
It made me think about Shawn and how I’ve written about him and our life together. Mostly, I remember all the good things he did. But Shawn was a complex man, and above all, he was human. When our friend Richard wrote about him, he said as much as well. I remember when I read that article, I thought that Richard did the best job capturing all of who Shawn was – the awesomeness and the imperfections.
In the many years of marriage that I had to Shawn, I knew he had flaws. For starters, Shawn was not a morning person. He managed to hold down a great job, but he often woke up just before he had to leave and missed much of the morning routine I was trying to establish with the kids. This also meant that my role on the weekends, as the sole adult early riser in the house, was to deal with the boys while he and my daughter had the “sleeping-in Olympics” as they liked to call it. I didn’t always mind, but there were certainly times when it grated on me.
There’s more. As many of our close friends know well, Shawn was often wildly inappropriate. I think he pulled it together, usually, in his professional life, but at home it was ridiculous. Mostly, he was hilarious. But he certainly toed the line. Anyone who ever went camping with our family or spent a holiday weekend Shawn knows what I mean. Sometimes it was downright embarrassing to be around him.
What else? Well, Shawn did not take personal criticism well. When he received negative feedback at work, for example, we’d have to discuss it for hours at home. I sometimes liked this because he didn’t talk much about his job otherwise, and it gave me great insight about what was going on in the many hours we spent apart during the week. But this difficulty taking personal criticism also crept into our own life, and he would think I was accusing him of being a bad father if I insinuated that the kids had watched too much TV on his watch. “Don’t be so touchy!” I remember saying to him more than once as we edged toward an argument about parenting.
There were also the little things, like the fact that he routinely left his clothes on top of the laundry hamper instead of in it, or that he ate on the couch when I specifically banned the kids from doing the exact same thing. Or that he was obsessive about throwing great parties (which was fine with me) but was totally obnoxious about the preparation (which was not fine with me.) And at least once a year, he’d leave the keys to our house in the front door overnight.
There’s more, to be sure. But you get the gist. Shawn was not perfect. He was far from it.
Thank God. I didn’t like his flaws, but I didn’t want to marry Jesus Christ. I wanted to marry Shawn.
One of the things I truly admired about Shawn from the very beginning was how he knew his own flaws, and tried his best to be reflective. Sometimes even in the middle of an argument, he’d pause and say, “I am just feeling touchy about my role as a parent/husband/provider,” or something equally thoughtful. This was annoying when we were arguing (“you’re missing the point!” I’d say) but wonderful overall. He knew he was imperfect. He knew I was too.
But he still wanted to be with me. And I still wanted to be with him.
In fact, Shawn and I both didn’t believe in the idea of soul mates. His parents thought we were totally unromantic to say such a thing. I remember one time when we were talking to them about it, early in our marriage. They were telling us how, surely, we must think of each other as soul mates because we were so happy together, and Shawn said something like, “but isn’t it more romantic to think that we weren’t destined for each other but instead choose to be with each other every single day?”
We certainly thought so.
Every single day, I woke up and saw Shawn’s flaws. I groaned when he did things that annoyed me and we argued about all sorts of things. I spent plenty of time with my mom friends recounting all of the things that he did that irked me. He was not a perfect human being because, of course, no one is. I know he saw my defects too – my nagging (remember those clothes on the hamper?), the fact that I talk too much in almost any circumstance, and my incessant criticism of things that he liked that I hated, like CrossFit (sorry, CrossFitters!) I could write a whole article on my flaws, and if Shawn were here, I know he could too. But you get the point. Together, our collective pitfalls made for plenty of times when we were annoyed at each other.
I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things that Shawn did. But I need to remember – and I need others to remember – that he was mortal, and that he was imperfect. But here’s the part that’s important to this blog post – here’s the part that I want my children to know about their parent’s relationship: those flaws didn’t make me love him less. They were annoying, yes, just as I know mine were annoying to him. But they were part of what made him Shawn.
Neither of us believed in soul mates. We believed we were really lucky to meet each other. But we also believed that it was more romantic to see our love as a choice. To wake up, see the flaws in the other person, and still say, “yes, let’s do this life together. Today, tomorrow, every day till we die.”
I loved Shawn. I still do. His weaknesses were part of him, just as mine are part of me. Try as I might, in over 13 years of marriage, I didn’t change much about him. He remained my imperfect husband.
And every single day, I woke up and I chose Shawn.
And he chose me.
And that, I think, is the most romantic thing in the world.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.