My husband and I are not hugging people. I can count on two hands the number of times we’ve held hands or hugged in public, and most of those were in the early days of our courtship. And neither of us come from huggy, lovey-dovey families.
It’s true that there were times I longed for those easy, casual touches other couples exchanged. But, I told myself, that just wasn’t our style. At least, that’s what I thought—until our daughter was born.
It took me a while to notice it. But once I did, I couldn’t stop seeing it.
When she was a toddler, I watched him seek her out in the morning before leaving for work, making sure he had her attention before asking for a hug and a kiss goodbye. When she started preschool, I heard “good morning” and “have a great day” fall so easily from his lips—words, I realized, that I had longed to hear. Coming home with her from play dates or the grocery store, I’d watch his face light up at the sight of her, without so much as a backward glance at me.
At first, I felt ashamed. Was I jealous of my own daughter? No, that wasn’t quite it. I didn’t want to deprive my daughter of his affection, or take it away from her. I only wanted to share it. I wasn’t jealous—I was hurt, surprised to learn that the man I married was not the stoic, cards-close-to-the-chest person I had believed him to be.
And, I began to realize, neither was I.
How easily I reached for my daughter to give her a hug or a kiss. How quickly I gathered her up into my lap and held my cheek against hers. Here at last were those easy, casual touches I had longed for.
I did not know how hungry I was for a love like that until she came along.
My husband and I had been holding out on each other. We had so much love to give but it seemed we had been saving it up all these years, and now it came pouring out. And the love that poured out of my daughter, in return, was so unbridled and unselfish, so abundant and rich. She loved each of us without hesitation or reservation, and did not need us to be anything other than ourselves. I did not know how hungry I was for a love like that until she came along.
Seeing my husband love our daughter has been as beautiful as it has been painful. He is a wonderful father: caring and kind, endlessly patient and a great teacher, and I begrudge her none of his devotion. But now I know what each of us is capable of—and what we are withholding. And after the heady joy of my daughter’s unadulterated affection, the love my husband and I have to offer each other is a thin gruel indeed.
Our marriage has not been without its challenges. Work and stress pushed us apart years ago but couples counseling gave us a bridge back together. Our union feels stronger now than ever—but still, I struggle to find the courage to ask for that which I now know I badly want and need. And it stings to ask for him something that is given so freely to someone else.
I want to find a way to take the confidence, bravery and hope my daughter’s love has given me, wrap myself up in it like a cloak, and charge back into my marriage with new resolve. I want to love, and let myself be loved, in the way she has taught me.
So I am taking the first steps—awkwardly, hesitantly. I am reaching out my hand toward those easy touches I crave. Right now, it doesn’t feel easy at all. It feels meek and strained. But I want to believe that I can shelter and nurture this small seed of a beginning into something that, one day, could bear rich fruit.
*Editorial note: The writer's name is a pseudonym. The mom who wrote this post wishes to remain anonymous.