So, here we are. Thirty-five.
I know that for many people thirty-five isn’t a significant birthday, but to me it marks the penultimate chapter of our youth, the last five years in which it’s still acceptable to experiment, to not know who you are or what you’re doing.
That probably isn’t as relevant to you as it is to me, but I often wonder what direction our lives will take in the next five years. I imagine, as we stand on the precipice of forty, that we’ll be much the same people as we are right now just with a few more wrinkles (me) and bit more grey hair (you). But the last five years have changed our lives so dramatically that it’s difficult to picture another five passing without something coming along to challenge us, to transform us into new versions of the people we are today.
When we first met as teenagers, I never would’ve imagined that I’d be celebrating with you on your 35th birthday. Much less writing you a love letter.
That sounds mean, but it’s not news to you or to any of our close friends. We’ve laughed over the years about how much I disliked you in those early days, about how I found you too loud and too confident and about how annoyed I used to get when you would say hello to me in the corridors of our university in a voice that I always thought was a piss-take. Turns out you were just being friendly.
Because that’s the kind of person you are, isn’t it? Friendly. Thoughtful. Nice. I remember the first time you bought me a coffee – we weren’t in a relationship, we weren’t even friends, but you were insistent. That was the day I realised that you weren’t the person I thought you were and, in the years since, I’ve come to realise that you’re so very different to most of the people I know.
Life hasn’t been the kindest to us in the thirteen years we’ve been together. We don’t try to hide it. Without sounding cheesy or clichéd, in the time that I’ve known you, you’ve always worn your heart on your sleeve. Some people see that as a failing. They think sensitivity is an undesirable quality in a man, a hindrance, but it’s never held you back, far from it.
I love your honesty. I love that you’re not afraid to talk about your feelings. Out loud. To people who aren’t just me. So many men can’t do that. It might sound like a huge exaggeration (and I’m aware that I’m so very, very biased), but I truly believe that it is men like you – the ones who can be unflinchingly honest about their feelings – who will help to change the perception of what it means to be a man in the future. We can’t raise our son in a society where men continue to suppress their feelings and you’re already taking an active role in changing that.
You are the best role model for our boy that I can possibly imagine, and I know that your openness and integrity is an inspiration to others too.
I could wax lyrical about the things that I love about you; about the complete lack of competitiveness that you show in any game you take part in. About your constant concern for everyone else. About the packed lunch you used to make me every day for work for the best part of a decade because I was so terrible at time management that I would’ve survived on Boots Meal Deals if it hadn’t been for you and your sandwiches.
I hope that you don’t need me to tell you these things. I hope that I show you how much I love you every day, but I’m aware that life can so often get in the way of that.
Since we’ve become parents our time is focused on our son and rightly so. We worked hard to get him and, like so many parents, we’re terrified of messing things up. I’m conscious that there are times when we neglect each other, and I know that there are days when I let stress get the better of me and I take it out on you.
So, think of this letter as a pledge. From now on, I will work hard to prioritise you as much as I prioritise everything else. If only one thing changes in the next five years, I hope it can be that.
And, contrary to what I said at the beginning, I know that our youth, our time to experiment, doesn’t suddenly stop at forty. We can spend the next twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years working out who we really are and, if I know us, we probably will, because that’s just what we’re like. We reflect, we psychoanalyse, we strive to become better (even if we don’t necessarily achieve it).
Someone once said (don’t ask me who. Socrates? Harry Potter? Who knows?! This isn’t a direct quote!), ‘Life isn’t about the things we achieve, it’s about the choices we make’.
I’m sure I made a good one in marrying you. I hope you feel the same.
Happy birthday, my love.