Learning the Language of Love

By: Marine Yanikian-Sutton


I was a freshman at USC double majoring in Psychology and English. The Psych professor stood before a hundred of us and held up a rubber band.

"What does this represent?" he asked.

Silence filled the room.

He answered his own rhetorical question. "This is a representation of relationships. Once formed, they need to be flexible. They need to be able to stretch, change, expand, and retract."

"What do you mean? If you overstretch it, it will snap," another freshman said.

The professor held up a stick and continued, "Exactly. If your relationship can't change over time, if you can't walk down different paths and reconnect when needed, if it is as inflexible as a stick, it will break. That being the case, if you overstretch it, it will snap," with that he snapped the twig which could be heard as far back as the last row.

When I met Ryan December of my freshman year I held on to what I had heard  about the rubber band, about facing life's challenges flexibly.

He was a world away, studying to become a history teacher in Northern California. We conversed for months in an old-school chatroom. He was driven though, determined to change the world. He wrote poetry, and loved all things outdoors. He seemed to take to me too. His letters, poetry, words, I was doomed from the start. When he was done with his credential, he moved to Los Angeles and found a job that was less than two miles from where I lived.  He worked hard.  He played hard, while I studied nonstop.

During breaks, he whisked me away to see the stars that are absent from the Hollywood skyline and lakes that fill endless craters.  He reintroduced me to the adventurous life of the wanderer which I had only experienced during the first year of my life when my parents immigrated from Armenia to Lebanon to Italy to the United States. All this had created the gypsy in me which had been simmering for twenty years and was finally flying free.

But I was torn, scared. I tried to sabotage it all-

"I'm Armenian, you're not," I told him, trying to push him away.

"I'm broken in so many ways, maybe you should find somebody else," I suggested.

"What will people say? We come from two different worlds."

"I'm a city gal that's traveled around the planet to be here and you're from the country."

"I don't care!" He'd say each and every time, "I'd rather love once, than never find love again."

It wasn't until a University buddy of mine told me that "pleasure spiked with pain," is the only pleasure one would ever find within our world, which woke me up to alternate possibliites. I slowly, but surely let him in because I realized that regardless of who my partner in life was, there would be complications, struggles, and challenges that we would have to face.

So on Shakespeare's whims and my girlfriend's wisdom, we fought our cultural, regional, emotional, and mental differences.  We got married. We were young, the world was our playground and we took full advantage. We wandered through 50 distinct countries or states in the last 18 years.

Over those years we grew together, stretching the cords of our bond. It wasn't always perfect, but we knew that our rubber band was for life. We worked on our relationship like a gardener would tend a garden. We read books like The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman and made sure that although the rubber band stretched, it did not snap.  We learned to hone in on each other's distinct needs. We laughed together, cried together, and now are fighting a new battle together.

"I wish I had never gone into the hospital," I told him this last week, "I've put you guys through so much."

"And losing you in December would have eliminated all that? You're back.  Every day that passes you're stronger, wiser, you're my Ma-ri-neh!"

I nodded and hugged him as tightly as I could.

"I miss our old life though, not having to worry about the temperature outside, jumping into the car and going for hikes, picking a location on a map and figuring out what and when and how we can explore it," I said.

"This is just a bump in the road, trust that it will be over soon. You've always overcome challenges, you will overcome this too. Give yourself time, you'll figure it out."

"But this is cancer," I said.

"Come on, I know your emotions go up and down with these damn chemo treatments, but you've got this. You are usually the one that lives in a world of positives. See the positive, and walk towards it."

"I think I'm supposed to share this experience with others, to change lives, to inspire others to fight the darkness?"

He grinned.

I sighed and squeezed him tightly.

He grabbed my hand and led me to a corner of our property.  As I'd been writing to make sense of the world, he'd built me a Zen Garden. After reading The Five Love Languages, he'd come to realize that "acts of service" is my secondary need, with "quality time" being at the center of who I am.

"It's beautiful," I mouthed.

"So you can sit and write and find inspiration," he whispered.

The stone path made the ground easier to walk on. He led us to two chairs that faced a cactus outcropping.  The bees hovered around the blossoms, the hummingbirds fluttered in and out. The slightly warm breeze caressed our skin.

"I can't whisk you away, but we can sit here and enjoy what we've got today?"

And so we did. We locked fingers and eyes.

We inhaled the deep nectar smell of the blossoms. We spoke of life and our boys, our past and our future. We sat and took in the beauty and knew that all anybody has in the current moment is the current moment. And now, in the current moment, our love was stronger than ever, as flexible as the rubber band, as pure as the nectar the hummingbirds seek.
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   Till next week, go, live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

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Much obliged for your support and time! :) Marine. 



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