I haven’t written anything in a long while; in fact, this is the first time I’ve opened my laptop in over a month for anything non work-related. We’ve had some significant life changes in our family, one of which I’m not quite ready to write about. The other was moving to a new home. It’s been rough–roughest, perhaps, on our barely 5-year-old who doesn’t understand what’s happening or why everything has changed and all her grown-ups aren’t smiling as much as they used to, and she’s launched into a behavioral nosedive of some kind. But this, too, shall pass, and we will get through it with the same love, support, consistency and gratitude that we try to apply to our family life in general.

These types of stressors can often drive a wedge between husbands and wives, but the mister and I have actually grown closer these past couple of months, spending most evenings after the kiddo has gone to bed checking in with the other, supporting one another and discussing ways to help ease our family through these transitions. We remind each other that the marriage we’ve worked so hard to build these last six years provides a sturdy foundation to carry us through any challenge we face together.

As we talked, I got to thinking of something I did when I was 21. One night in college while sitting around with girlfriends and bemoaning our romantic lives, one friend announced that if we made a list of all the qualities we were looking for in a mate, then put that list in a Bible, said perfect mate would show up on our doorsteps, or in our O-Chem classes or at Coffee Bean, somewhere, anywhere, and soon. After a few pints of Guinness, and who knows what else, everyone thought this was the best idea ever. As a former Catholic school girl, this might as well have been witchcraft, but I had a Bible on my bookshelf, so I was in! We got out some pens and notebooks and wrote furiously. I put my list in the Bible and I didn’t look at it again until I was about 30 and I came across my Bible during a move.

At first I was impressed with the lack of superficiality of my 21-year-old self. I focused my list mostly on qualities of character, wanting my future mate to be “compassionate,” “funny,” “concerned about the world.” But then I chuckled to myself, thinking, “You could still end up with a real asshole who has all of these qualities.” Because, when it comes down to it, love isn’t something that can be described in a list of one-dimensional character traits. Love is in the down and dirty of the deepest, shadowy caverns of life. Fortunately, this became clear to me before I met and married my husband; he does have every single quality on my list, but he is so much more. He is the difference between 42-year-old love and my 21-year-old idea of love, and this is something that I realize over and over again as I go through life with this wonderful man.

Yes, love is compassion. But real love is caring for and loving your wife’s family as if they are your own, and taking them into your home when they feel scared and need comforting. Yes, love is funny. But grown-up love is changing the wound dressing on your wife’s botched c-section twice a day for two months with no complaints, and cracking jokes while doing it to distract her from the pain. Yes, love is being concerned about the world, but more importantly, it is about lovingly nurturing the world you’ve made for your family. It is about accompanying your wife’s ill parent to a doctor’s appointment when your wife is not emotionally strong enough to do it herself. This is 42-year-old love. It is real love, a love for which I am so grateful. And I hope the husband knows how much I 42-year-old love him back.

It’s a little belated, but Happy Father’s Day to my husband, the love of my life, to my dad, the first man I ever loved, and to all the fathers out there. You all make the world so much better.