How To Be In Love

So much of early romance is characterized by emotional crescendos: Falling head over heels in love, becoming exclusive, deciding you have a joint future, getting engaged, planning a wedding, getting married…. These events are transformative and transcendent and defining, and it can begin to feel like the projects are pulling your love into the future—labeling it with clear highway markers of progress. The energy and creativity and intensive emotion around them can feel addictive, and when they are over, you can be left wondering what is next? How will you know your love is growing?

As Brian and I have moved through these projects and moved on to a steadier, less adrenaline/tear-soaked/event-driven brand of joy, I have had to work on my do-er, achieve-er, intensity-junkie, project-oriented personality and learn how to just be in the deep warm joy of everyday love. It is the quintessence of The Good. This is my most personal advice to my most impatient self:

Wake up in the morning with a rain-soaked Nairobi breeze stroking your bare arm like cool fingers. Roll over and feel the extra warmth from his side and wiggle in close. Half awake, he will turn towards you, (he always does), and pull you close to his chest, to the inside of the spoon. Pull his arm tighter around you and breathe in the bedwarm clean scent of him as he tucks your calf between his knees and aligns the bottom of your feet on the surprisingly soft tops of his own. Pull his hand to your chest, his arm tight around you. Hear him whisper into your hair: “You feel so good—I love your body.”

Get up…coffee calls…and he’ll bring it up on a tray for both of you so that you can lounge a few more minutes. The Kenya AA with creamy whole milk and too much sugar will be smooth on your tongue and warm between your palms. He will joke he likes his coffee like he likes his women: strong, tan, and sweet. Snuggle into your bathrobe and the comfort of being truly known. Sip that warm heaven and talk about what’s on your mind…anything…everything.

Get separate bathrooms, when you can. Your mom once said that the two secrets to a long and happy marriage are nearsightedness and separate bathrooms. The latter is a luxury. You won’t need the former for a while—he will take your breath away every time he walks into the room dressed for a date and smelling of Prada. He’s the most handsome guy in just about every room. He’ll come kiss you goodbye and too often you will end up accidentally color-coordinated (the purple shirt, really?!) and take it as more proof. Do this ritual every day and let it center you.

Watch your nicknames evolve. It will start with baby, move to honey, then lover, then sweetheart. The names will begin veering into the ridiculous (but delicious)…sugarpie, baby cakes…skillet muffin. You like to bake. You will secretly like the names.

Name things together. Lots of things. A specific feeling will be Spinach (bitter, irony…), a special kind of sleepy morning in bed will be a Loll. The essence of a thing will be its “Ness.” You will buy a used Ford and baptize it Harrison. He will have a monster early-90s Land Cruiser project that you will call: The Millennium Falcon. The dog you will have one day is Rocket. The child you will never have will remain nameless. Soon you will have enough words for a secret language. You will keep a list of coffee table books that ought to be published (Nigeria: Scratch and Sniff; Sunburn; Impossible Pants). You will be convinced that certain songs on the radio each year were literally written for you.

Draw a map of the world. Mark towns you explore together, countries you discover together. Places you encourage each other to go. Places you escape to, alone, remembering what it felt like to be untethered. Make your together map of cities: the world may know Paris and Mumbai and New York, but your world will have its own capitals: Nairobi and Cape Town and Cairo. Rome and London and Lamu and Blue Hill, Maine. Mali and Bali and Dubrovnik… He will send you postcards from far-flung cities. They will arrive months later with random stamps and a single witty line; a geography of bliss mapped in squiggles of print from hotel ballpoint pens.

Become explorers of the most intimate topographies too. Your cheek will claim the curve of his right shoulder for its own. You will remove the staples from a nine-inch surgical incision, and the railroad scar chugging across his butt will transport you to the most special together time that came after that surgery. He will tag the arch of your foot he kneads absentmindedly when you sit, comfortably draped over the twin mountains of his knees.

Enjoy each other’s bodies in all of their impermanence. Pretend your body is the best it will ever be again, right now. Do a boudoir shoot and give him a little black book of sexy. Cuddle each other curvy, and admire each other lean. Push each other to work out then cast sultry gazes at the gym. Wrap yourself in wispy impractical things and impossibly high stilettos and believe him when he says you are irresistible. Get a “Do Not Disturb” sign and lock the door. Try everything you both have ever thought of. Research and read up and think of new things. And that thing you’re most curious and shy about? Do that thing. Giggle and hold each other. Get messy, silly, crazy, depraved, and insatiable. Weep sometimes. Whisper secrets. Get in the mood by starting. Repeat all of the above, over and over, and let it tether you together. Make it essential, like breathing.

Get to know his signs, your patterns, and the red flags. He will come to know your panic attacks and their triggers. He will walk out of meetings to take weepy calls when you are sure you are having a heart attack and hold you together with his voice. He will see your shadows and demons lurking in the corners and smell your fear and hold your hand. He will know your ugliness, your weakness, and your selfishness. He will see your best self, your true self, through the fog of those things and help you to wipe away the grime. He will sit on the couch with you, arms around you, small-talking you through an irresistible temptation to go make yourself throw up (damn demons), kissing your forehead and the tears off of your nose. You will see the clouds pass over his eyes, talk him off of his ledges, forgive him parts of his humanity he has not forgiven himself. You will encourage him to never miss a meeting. Tell and hold each other’s worst secrets, and feel the relief in no longer carrying them alone. See each other to the other side.

Bear witness to each other’s unfolding. Make him take the time and money to learn to fly airplanes and mountain bike, and surf. Cheer him on from the ground, from the beach—even when you are scared he will get hurt and leave you. Be generous about the things that are his alone. Decorate his office together. He will be there for you through a million work projects, and endless MBA classes. He will save you in algebraic emergencies and rescue you with extreme Excel skills. He is your hero in ways you can’t even know yet.

Tell each other “I love you” as often as you think it. Listen for the ways he is telling you—in the way he talks to everybody about his wife, in the light bulbs finally changed, in the lunch he packs for you in the Wonder Woman lunchbox he bought you. In the way he takes your suitcase up the stairs, in the way he looks you up and down, in the way he always calls, in the special gifts. Tell him in every way he might hear it: sexy kisses in the stairwell, home cooked meals, lavish presents, APW posts… Don’t say it because you need to hear it. Tell him because you can’t hold that much love in for one more second without bursting. Tell him because you are terrified of the day when one of you is not there to say it, or to hear it.

It will be work, all of this—or more accurately, effort. It is not an event, it is a slow unfurling. Growing love day after day, year after year, is not toiling. It is, rather, tilling. No one ever said it would be easy, loving someone so much…they said it would be worth it.

Be surprised at how easy it has turned out to be, this steady tilling. Be grateful for how very worth it it is turning out to be—more worth it than you ever imagined.

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  • Just a lurker

    This may be the best thing APW has ever published. Thank you.

  • Kim

    This is beautiful and sums up everything I didn’t know about marriage before getting married 3 years ago – how good it could be. Thank you for being so open and putting into words everything that is indeed The Good.

  • Katherine

    DAMN. Manya, you just tugged my heart in about a million different directions all at once. And all of what you said is true. “He is your hero in ways you can’t even know yet.” and “Tell him because you are terrified of the day when one of you is not there to say it, or to hear it.”. Can I “exactly” this as many times as humanly possible?? After 6 years together as a couple and over 20 years being best friends with my FH, I still find new ways that he amazes me, rescues me and teaches me. It’s lasted through long-distance times when I thought it might not, and through cancer that means we’ll never have children. It’s work, tilling the soil and nurturing and keeping this relationship that means everything to both of us healthy and strong so it can blossom and grow as we go through life, but it is *SO* worth it.

  • Oh wow , just wow Manya. This IS it. Thanks for sharing such beautiful words.

  • Long term love might not have the flash of new love but it’s a gorgeous, glorious thing in its own right. It’s all the little things, the ones that are entirely specific to your own relationship and no one else’s that make love so wonderful.

    Except for coffee (or tea) delivered to bed. Everyone should have that.

  • Sara W

    Wow. What an awesome post. Friday morning tears!

  • Bethany

    Wow, just wow. This is beautiful. Thank you.

  • Kristen

    This is just beautiful. I’m an avid reader of APW and just got engaged last Fall. I love every post but this particular piece touched me so much that I felt compelled to comment. Thank you APW!

  • carrie

    Beautiful. I didn’t think you could put those kinds of things into words, but there they are, all gorgeous and true.

  • Rachel

    Wow. Just wow. I’m almost speechless. That’s beautiful. And so true.

  • This is just so damn beautiful. Just an absolutely stunning piece of writing.

  • Amanda L.

    I love this and am bookmarking it right away… for those days I need a reminder of how to continue to be as happy as we are right now. I especially like this line:

    “It will be work, all of this—or more accurately, effort.”

    It encompasses what I truly believe. A marriage between two people shouldn’t be work… but like anything that is meaningful, it does take effort. Thank you for a beautiful post.

  • Claire

    Blown away. I always look forward to Manya’s writing, but this one here…just…wow!

  • I think this might be one of the most well written posts APW has ever published. So beautiful, so true, so lovely. Slayed me this morning. Sobbing (in the best way). Thank you.

  • Martha

    Oh, APW, thanks for my morning cry!

    This post is wonderful in it’s simplicity.

  • 39bride

    Pure wonderfulness! You’ve managed to put into words what I love about being married and what I sense has been happening to us in these first seven months. We’re not in quite as deep as you and your beloved obviously are, but that’s the path–you articulated it so well!!

  • Kristen

    Like her piece on mortification and the pre-engaged state, this beautiful piece by Manya totally spoke to me and made me cry. Something about the way Manya’s brain and heart work, feels like how my brain and heart work and I look forward everytime to her stories.

    More so, this specific subject is so personally relevant to me. Now that the wedding is over, it does scare me a little – how to know the love is there and still growing. These are such beautiful and seriously great ideas of ways to remind ourselves that the love is still growing and can in fact grow forever, if we are looking at the right things and doing the right things – whatever those right things are for your relationship.

    For me, its focusing on the little things as Manya recommends – the cute and silly lunch notes that I save in a scrap book, the offers to walk the dogs when I wake up with a headache, the stopping in the middle of the grocery and asking me for a kiss. This is love and I want to pay attention to it. I want to do the same for him. It sounds like Manya has done a pretty amazing job of doing so herself. Thanks for the guidance Manya!

  • Wow. Manya, your writing is incredible, and your advice is fantastic. I just keep reading and re-reading it. Thank you. Also, thank you for being so open and frank about your personal demons. As someone who has shared some of them, it’s nice to know I was never alone. This page is definately getting bookmarked for those days when I need an extra reminder that happiness is work, but the best kind of work.

  • This made me gasp. The day that my fiance recognized that I was on the cusp of a panic attack and was able to pull me back from that brink, without me having to say a word, was one of many days when I realized that I couldn’t see myself without him. Again and again we prove to each other the little ways we are paying attention, the little ways we show love.

  • Nicole Marie

    Oh THIS. So beautiful. I don’t know what else to say except my heart is full and I’m crying happy tears. Thank you.

  • Hintzy

    a most fantastically wonderful piece to read on my Friday morning… thank you :)

    “It is not an event, it is a slow unfurling” he and I recently had a conversation about how our little journey together has been just that, and it is a beautiful thing.

  • amigacara

    I am sobbing right now. That is all.

  • A beautiful post. I was warm and lovely from it.

  • Oh, Manya. I love everything I’ve read that you’ve written, but this is particularly wonderful. And I love that though these are specific glimpses into your love, they are universal, down deep. This is the kind of love I wished for and never knew I could have, and till, and cultivate, and grow – until Matt. Reading this through the lens of my love for him (and his for me) was all the more moving. We are between “events” (moving in together and whatever comes next – probably marriage), and in this space, too, we are learning every day how to be in love.

  • Marie

    Wow Manya…just wow.

  • js

    You took everything intangible that is love, things I am afraid to say or don’t know how to say, and put it right there for everyone one to see in the most sensual and loving way because it is what’s in every woman’s heart. We all hope to be loved this way and when we are, it is a miracle that saves us every day. Telling him I love him is something I don’t do often enough, because part of me is still terrified and planning for when he will leave us. I saw such a private, intimate part of you two in this that I couldn’t even cry. There were tears and there were shudders, like there were on my walk down the aisle, but the sobbing did not come. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read, that goes without saying, these wedding vows you chose to make every single day. This is SEXY. This is HAPPILY EVER AFTER. This is real love and this is so GOOD.

  • Margi

    Please post a NSFW *tears!* warning…crying all over my keyboard at work now.

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    Thank you.

  • Rebecca

    Best. Post. Ever.
    Hands down. Thank you!

  • Janna

    This was wonderful. I need to remember to breathe in the goodness. Sometimes it’s hard not to miss the chase and excitement of a young relationship.

    I also love the images, smells and tastes you described from Nairobi. I grew up there (I just put Java House coffee my mom sent me in the French press). Nothing better than the smell right after it rains in Nairobi.

    • Manya

      Yes! Its Java House in a big French press! No coffee compares.

    • Nicole

      I also grew up in Nairobi and was thinking the exact same thing. Java House coffee and the rain… oh man.

  • Love your mom’s advice! Thankfully, I am naturally near-sighted; perhaps I will try to take my glasses off more often :)

  • Emily

    Swoon. So much swoon.

  • Melissa

    Oh my goodness. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. I am bookmarking to come back to when I start to write my ceremony, to remember these feelings. And maybe, if it’s ok with you Manya, to borrow some of your words.

    • Manya

      That would be such an honor Melissa. Now it is me who is weepy!

  • mimi

    This is beautiful! I have to admit, a few items in here (like the postcards that appear in the mail and the morning coffee tray) made me envious, but then I remembered that I’ve got my own version of this list with my own wonderful man. Thanks, Manya!

  • Class of 1980


  • That was outstandingly beautiful…and one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing it! My hope is that lovers everyone read this and know what can be theirs.

  • I made it halfway through and had to stop reading because I can’t the screen though my tears. BRB, need a few minutes to dry up and finish.

  • Violet

    Not much to say except that (like many of us, it seems) I’m crying in my cubicle right now. This is so achingly beautiful. Thank you.

  • Jamie

    Oh, Manya. This is just beautiful. Thank you for perfectly articulating such a beautiful thing for all of us to enjoy.

    This was especially helpful for me…I am just starting to read APW again after a 6 month hiatus. I was engaged to someone who in hindsight I see was not the right person for me. I quit my jobs, moved across state lines, and after 3.5 weeks of living together he told me with a smirk on his face that he didn’t love me anymore and (in so many words) told me to get out of his house. I was devastated, moved in with my parents for a few months and regrouped. I was fortunate in that I got my jobs back and I just moved into a new place a few months ago.

    This piece is so beautiful, and now that I’ve started a new journey with a wonderful older man (who does some of the things you describe in this piece already, like coffee in bed), I will keep your advice in mind and try to till my own relationship. If it ever gets to the point of marriage (I am obviously hesitant about the subject currently) I may use some of your wonderful prose in my vows.

    Thank you again. I am teary-eyed at my desk, but as someone else said in the comments, my heart feels full.

  • HMChristie

    Imtimately written…brought tears to my eyes.
    How is it possible that this one post can sum up my marriage of 18 years? Paragraph 3 could have been written by me as I would describe my husband an I lying in bed.
    It is the best articulation of a marriage and the work involved in maintaining one. Marriage is not simple. But, as you grow older together, you see that you would rather have the complexities of it, than the simplicity of being alone.

  • Leslie

    this should be required reading for everyone.

    and personally, a kick in the ass to remember to be in love and not be roommates who just fight about chores.

  • wow. Manya I hope you might be comfortable with a few of us borrowing your words….just wonderful. Thank you!

  • This: “too often you will end up accidentally color-coordinated” — we once met each other in fron of the bathroom mirror wearing the same color inner shirt peeking out from the same color outer shirt.
    And this: “Tell him because you are terrified of the day when one of you is not there to say it, or to hear it.”

  • This was like a hug to my heart. I’m so in love with this whole post.

    I immediately sent this off to the Manperson at work with a note. “You know when I look at you in the morning with a starry eyed look and a half smile and you ask what I’m smiling about and I say ‘nothing’. Well, this is what I’m thinking about.”

    Could I possibly steal this for a reading at my maybe wedding? Cuz it’s perfect.

  • Beth

    I just got chills, this is so beautiful. A good reminder of all the little things that we make ours that will only ever be ours because we’ve created them together.

  • April

    WOW. And Manya – WHEN IS YOUR BOOK COMING OUT?! Because, DAMN.

    Am going to send this link to every single person I know. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • NTB

    wow—that’s all I can say. beautiful, moving, brilliant. thank you.

    thank you to the women who post here. and thank heavens for apw. <3

  • “Don’t say it because you need to hear it. Tell him because you can’t hold that much love in for one more second without bursting. Tell him because you are terrified of the day when one of you is not there to say it, or to hear it.”

    I never, ever, ever want the love that I feel for her to be unexpressed – because one day, one of us won’t be there to express it, and we will wish we had just one more chance. Sometimes the thought of that is so painful that I start sobbing and can’t breathe, but the memory of that future reminds me that most things are ultimately trivial.

    “It will be work, all of this—or more accurately, effort. It is not an event, it is a slow unfurling. Growing love day after day, year after year, is not toiling. It is, rather, tilling. No one ever said it would be easy, loving someone so much…they said it would be worth it.”

    THIS. My wife and I have been having a conversation for years over whether a marriage is “work” – we both agreed that it is, but that it was a different kind of work than the kind that exhausts you and makes you yearn for it to just be over. Effort is exactly the right word – and it is so, so worth it. So, so beautiful – thank you.

  • Kelly in Lusaka

    I’m so glad I know you Manya. You are a beautiful person and such an amazing writer. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your love with all of us. I’m going to go hug my love and tell him I love him. Thanks.

  • Wow. Just…wow! Manya, your posts always take my breath away but this one, THIS ONE, OMG…wow!

  • Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

  • HalfPint1011

    Wow. Just … wow. The love, the real love, is bursting from my laptop screen and heart simultaneously.

  • Mrs. Airplane girl

    So beautiful.

  • jes

    Panic attacks he sees coming on AND we have a dog named Rocket.

    You nailed it.

  • Zeph

    Wow. This just might be the most beautiful truth that I have ever read.

  • Stunningly gorgeous and bookmarked for reading over and over and over. Thank you so much for this Manya!

  • Jessica

    No one post on APW has meant more to me than this one and is part of why I keep reading 2 years after my wedding. Beautiful!

  • Hannah Leigh

    These words are so beautiful! Brought tears to my eyes! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful words Manya!

  • Now THIS is one to cut out and keep. Thank you so very much, Manya, for sharing this most beautiful, most incredibly sexy, most wonderfully written portrait of an intimate relationship. So much to aspire to, here.

  • This is perfect.

  • Paranoid Libra

    I feel like this should be the next beautiful romance novel….about real love not these weird made up vampires or an actually abusive shades relationship.

    This right here is what everyone should know as love.

    • Manya

      Thank you so much everybody… Writing for this community is something really special and motivating. You all have made me smile and cry and feel so honored. Thank you.

  • CW

    This post expresses so perfectly what I look for in love and hope for in marriage. Gives me goosebumps.

  • MaineGirl

    Wait, I’m from Blue Hill! I really want to know why you put such a teensy (but beautiful) town in the same category as Cairo and London. I did such a double take reading that paragraph.

    • Manya

      Ha! We had a family reunion there that was pretty important to us because I got to know all of his family. We also celebrated our first anniversary there with a big lobster boil. It’s just special because it was a journey that brought us closer. We got engaged in Cairo, and recently had a weekend honeymoon in London that was particularly special because it preceded a really big deal hip surgery that we were both pretty terrified about. These are all special beautiful places where we got closer for some reason.

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  • Dawn

    Does it make me a bad person that I couldn’t get through this post without laughing? The language was really flowery.

  • Azal

    You did an amazing job of describing concepts and feelings that I didn’t think could possibly be put to words. I cried a lot while reading this!

  • Kim

    Beautiful. Witness the beauty of someone you love. Allow them to unfold. Experience profound joy.

    Thank you for your wholehearted post….

  • You really make it seem so easy with your presentation however I find this matter to be actually one thing that I feel I would by no means understand. It seems too complicated and extremely huge for me. I am taking a look forward in your next put up, I’ll try to get the cling of it!|

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  • michelle

    Love it. Love it. Love it.

  • BCA

    I come back to this all the time. How could I not read it today when Meg mentioned it in her post?! This is still one of the most touching, loving, inspiring things I have read.

  • Nugget

    A week out from the wedding. Read this and bawwwlllleeedd. Feeling all the feels.

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