Love. It’s such a small word for such a big thing. My oldest daughter, age twelve, has recently been asking a lot of questions about what it means to love someone, what it means to be loved, and what marriage is all about. These are the current topics in our household. In turn, I have been giving love a lot of thought. My experience as a therapist, witnessing severed and damaged relationships, and my own experiences throughout my twenty-year marriage (and twenty-five-year relationship) provided the answers I would need. Then I got to thinking about how little time we give to defining what real love is and how we will help our children seek out the love they need in their future relationships. I think we idealize love in our culture… depriving our children of real examples. They see the fantasy, Disney and Barbie, starlets, tabloids and reality TV shows. I think the most important and impactful example is what they witness every day between my husband and me… real love and real marriage. I am constantly reminding myself that we are showing them what to expect from their partners when they grow up. Here is my Love Letter to Our Daughters on what love is – a handbook or manual, so to say. Maybe it can help you think about the meaning that love and marriage holds for you. More than anything, I hope it reminds us all of the scope and depth of real love and marriage… how much work it is …and just how beautiful it can be. Real love never dies. Once established, it is forever. You can be separated by space and time, by situations and circumstances, but there is always a longing and drive to be together. Real love always yearns and works to be together and never goes away. You are never again alone. That person is with you on the inside in spirit whether near or far. Real love, means knowing someone’s “insides”. Their wounds, their fears, their strengths, their weaknesses, their faults and mistakes, and accepting them all. Real love means knowing what makes the other tick and acknowledging the other’s limits. Real love forgives, but never forgets. It realizes we are all walking imperfections and we often make poor choices. Yet real love recognizes that it’s the core of a person that needs to be embraced. Their mistakes or bad decisions do not define them. Forgiveness is a decision. You must not sacrifice yourself for forgiveness – there must be remorse and a lesson – but, most importantly, a change. Real love means you have the ability to hurt someone deeply. It means being accountable for their pain and helping them heal when you have hurt them. Real love realizes the underlying “goodness” of a person and a core love. Real love never means continuous pain, repetitive hurt, and never physical or mental abuse. Real love believes in facing challenges from time to time. Challenges often make you come out stronger, with greater understanding of one another, and with more respect, compassion and deeper love. Real love remembers: history, time, tradition, lessons, miles, growth, and life. Real love means a shared life – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – and amazing memories and milestones. Real love is deep. It carries wounds, knows dark sides, knows childhood history and understands how it shaped the adult. Real love knows how to help heal the adult with support, love and care. It knows we cannot entirely heal the other person – it is not our job to do so. It knows that we are just a point of strength and support. Real love sacrifices. It takes the burden when the other is weak. It provides strength when needed. It shelters and protects the other. It will go to the ends of the earth to ensure that the partner is taken care of when in need. There is no limit to what one will provide when the other is in need. I will caution that you can do only so much of this – and not to your own detriment. Real love has a future. It plans and it sees tomorrow and all the experiences yet to share, and finds joy in sharing it with just that person. When something good happens, they are the first person you want to tell and be with to celebrate. They will be the one person with whom you can share you deepest desires, dreams and wishes for your life. Real love sees uniqueness. It honors the character, idiosyncrasies and personality in their partner and believes it cannot be found in another soul on earth. Real love means someone “gets you” and you “get them” more than anybody else. Real love is passionate and exciting. It lights you up, makes you smile, makes you laugh – not all the time, but most of the time. Real love is inside jokes and knowing what one another is thinking without words. Real love means always wanting to come home to that person because that person is your home base. Real love means riding the roller coaster of life together, with all of its joys, along with its heartaches and disappointments. Real love is rare. Once found, you must protect and nurture it. Life has a way of presenting difficult times and it’s hard to remember what love means. Know that real love is strong; it must bend, but it never breaks. Real love is unwavering and constant, no matter what life circumstances are at hand. It stands next to hospital beds, graves, illnesses, sadness, disappointments and anger. Real love actually comes closer in these times. Real love means helping the other person be their personal best. Helping them to push their limits, challenge their doubts, and reach for their aspirations. This is done by believing in them and letting them know you have their back and reaffirming that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. Real love means being your partner’s greatest supporter and fan. Real love means a beautiful life. But it is not void of sad times, challenging times, angry times, lost times, bewildering times. Real love is never just rainbows and sunshine. Real love means doing it together and knowing that there isn’t a single other person you’d like to “do life” with other than that person. Real love is friendship on fire. Last, but not least my dear daughters…love yourself first. If you get the order wrong it will set you up for much heartache. Need no one but yourself to be happy. Once you accomplish this you will be able to share yourself with someone. Know that you are lovable without question and value yourself enough to be alone if the right person isn’t out there for you at the moment or at a certain time in your life. Understand this when you are dating someone and it’s not working out. Know that you are enough. My hope for you, my dear daughters, is that you will be blessed with a partner who loves you in all of these ways and that you will be able to fulfill all that love means. Real love can be your greatest joy or your deepest sorrow. It can last you a lifetime when it is right, but only if you both protect it. Make sure that your expectations for those you let into your heart are high. I kissed them goodnight and tucked their sheets beneath their chins – as I have done thousands of times. I looked into their beautiful, innocent, untouched, big brown eyes. One day, someone will love them like I do – well, not exactly – no way. No chance! Anyone who proclaims love, or asks to share their life with them better come equipped with all of the above…and these girls… they will expect it. But one thing’s for sure. Whoever loves them will have to get through me first.