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A Love Letter For All the Days After Valentine’s Day

Susanna Schrobsdorff is an Editor at Large for TIME

A version of this article appeared in this week’s It’s Not Just You newsletter. SUBSCRIBE HERE to have an essay delivered to your inbox every Sunday.


~ The most loving thing I ever saw my father do for my mother was getting up before dawn in the permafrost of February to warm up her car. This was no small feat in rural Massachusetts. Half the time, just to get out of the house, you had to hurl yourself against the door to push through two feet of drifted snow.

Mom hated being cold more than almost anything. Her little birdy shoulders would contract at the start of winter and not unfold until the end of April. So this is what Dad did for her on minus-five-degree days when she had to be at work before 7 a.m.

What do you call the pre-dawn, de-icing-the-car kind of love? It’s love that shows up unheralded, small kindnesses on ordinary days. And I think it’s the kind of love that kept them together through trouble and strife. Though I’m not sure I realized that till I was grown and married myself, and only because I could feel its absence

But somehow, they managed the most elusive feat of all: they wove something durable from the flimsy threads of drama and romance. My parents’ life together started with a rapacious, let’s elope kind of love. They met on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, each from the shore of a different continent. It was not a recipe for longevity.

“Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love,” writes social philosopher Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving. “Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.” He believed that loving is a skill you develop, like playing the piano or cooking.

But our dating app universe is rigged to reward the ability to create a lovable avatar of yourself. So instead of learning how to love, we’re fixated on how to attract love — or at least accumulate evidence that you are lovable. And the appetite for that kind of validation is, as we know, bottomless and addictive.

So what if we took Fromm’s advice and stopped thinking of love as a goal or a reward for being loveable. Make it a verb, a habit, like getting up to make coffee for the one who needs it most. This is the everyday practice of loving. You practice not to master the art of loving, or to stage a grand performance of love on anniversaries. You practice so that loving gets easier and isn’t such a strain on your heart. Eventually, that muscle gets stronger, and it can withstand things that would break a less-practiced heart.

By the time we’d get up for school, the car exhaust would have thawed a patch of the driveway, and Mom would be pulling on multiple pairs of mittens just to get from the back door to the old car, which was still drafty, but no longer unbearably frigid. That little bit of warmth helped her make it to summer when she’d unfurl in the sun while Dad sat under the umbrella content, and slightly sunburnt. 💌

Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.

Toni Morrison, Jazz

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