In the first weeks after her wedding, Sofía realized that her marriage prep process hadn’t covered some of the more mundane questions of married life, like the positioning of the toilet paper roll and regular chores. She also realized that she was bringing really big assumptions to those questions.
This is a story about beans. Or rather, a story about how beans (red beans in particular) taught me an important lesson in what it means to love.
My husband and I had just recently returned from our honeymoon and were settling into married life, attempting to establish a routine after the whirlwind of the wedding. Though our marriage prep process had challenged us to discuss the big, crucial topics (finances, kids, careers), it had failed to bring up mundane issues (sides of the bed to sleep on, position of the toilet paper roll, chores) that inevitably come up in a relationship.
Another topic the weekend marriage prep hadn’t really tackled was how my husband and I viewed our roles within our relationship, and how these roles would play out in our marriage. Having grown up with a mother who handily and ably managed to juggle raising children, keeping house, and cooking, I subconsciously expected myself to do the same.
While the childrearing bit would have to wait, I assumed that it was my responsibility to take on the lion’s share of cooking and cleaning, while also continuing to work full time. Without thinking twice, I somehow believed that I would develop a rigorous cleaning routine while whipping up nutritious, affordable, and delicious meals. Though I had never managed to do either of these tasks particularly well before getting married, I believed that I should take them on — and believed that my husband expected me to as well.
Beneath my assumption that I would take on tasks traditionally ascribed to women was the unconscious belief that in order for my husband to love me, he needed to rely on me. Good marriages have a dynamic of mutual support where spouses rely on each other, but my attitude here was more like codependency.
Without realizing it, I believed the only way my husband could love me was if he couldn’t get along without me, and needed me in order to survive. Mastering chores and household tasks became a sort of obsession as I subconsciously believed that my husband’s love was conditioned on my (extremely limited) ability to cook and clean (nevermind the fact that my husband is not only a better cook, but can clean a bathroom in about a third of the time it takes me).
So there I was, approximately three weeks married and trying to decide what to make for dinner. It was past 6 p.m. on a dreary Tuesday, and our refrigerator held only the sad, wrinkled remnants of previous meals. And a huge jar of red pepper paste.
With no fresh ingredients and even less inspiration, I dumped two cups of dry red beans into a pot and filled it with water. As I was placing it on the stove, my husband asked me what I was doing, his voice filled with genuine curiosity.
“I’m making red beans and rice for dinner,” I answered, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“You know that you have to soak dried beans for at least 12 hours before you can cook them though, right?” my husband informed me.
“Fine!”, I snapped back, turning off the pot of rock-hard beans that had settled in the bottom of the tepid water. “I guess we won’t eat dinner then!”
The fact that my husband did not laugh in my face is one of the thousands of reasons that the Vatican will list him as a saint one day. Instead of telling me to get a grip, he gently suggested we grab a quick dinner at our local joint.
As I stomped along beside him, I tried unsuccessfully to stop the tears from spilling down my cheeks. Ridiculous as it may sound, the sad pot of uncooked red beans was more than just an unrealized dinner. It was a tangible sign of my failure to fulfill what I believed was my role as a wife. It was confirmation of the deeply buried fear that my husband did not need me, which opened up the terrifying realization that he could choose to stop loving me.
Once you grasp the terrifying reality that love is a choice — and one that we don’t just make once while bedecked in bridal white, but day after day after day — you realize the deep vulnerability inherent in marriage. It’s positively frightening in its implications: We freely choose to trust another person with our very selves, knowing full well that at any moment they could choose to walk away. Yet it is within that freedom that the choice to love and commit to a flawed human (even one who doesn’t soak beans for the proper amount of time) truly shines and brings a glint of the divine into the everyday.
Like the rings that we choose to wear every day, love is a choice — a conscious decision to lay down your life for your spouse, even if that spouse has morning breath and eye crusties.
I thought I knew that love is a decision and not just a feeling, but it took ruining a weeknight dinner for me to realize that loving someone means not keeping score. It isn’t about who took out the trash, or who forgot to put the clothes in the dryer, or who’s “turn” it is to do the dishes. Parsing out responsibilities makes life smaller, darker, narrower. I’ve had to forget about “fair” and I’ve banned the phrase “your turn” from my vocabulary — because the only way to live the full beauty of marriage is to give of ourselves totally, even if it means I might have to empty the dishwasher more often than my spouse.
Over burgers and beer at the neighborhood bar, I poured out my insecurities to my husband, revealing why I had become so upset over a pot of red beans. My husband was surprised at my assumption that it was solely my responsibility to handle the bulk of the household chores — and I realized that not taking the time to communicate expectations over something as mundane as chores had real consequences. We both committed to be more open with each other, and to avoid making sweeping assumptions.
It was a watershed moment in which I also recognized the deeply flawed thinking pattern that I had fallen into, and the harm it had done to my marriage. It was the beginning of a realization that allowing myself to be unconditionally loved by my husband meant that I did not need to prove my worth in order to be loved or valued.
This conversation was also the beginning of a realization that the same unconditional love was true in my relationship with God. Unlike my husband, God is infinitely perfect and has absolutely no need of me, my accomplishments, or my pot of red beans — yet He lavishes love upon me with wild abandon.