"How do you know you've found the one?" young friends ask me.
"Does your boyfriend make you happy?" I ask. "Does being around him boost your sense of well being? Does he help you be the best you can be?"
Funny that I can be a love advisor when more than 30 years ago I almost said no to love.
In movies, love hits like a freight train in a cathedral: hard, fast and unexpected. But for me, love was a slow simmer that over time came to a full boil. It has continued to simmer and enrich its flavors ever since.
A first impression deferred
My first date with my now husband was a blind one -- or almost blind. Craig and I went to the same small suburban private high school. We appeared together in two school plays. But more than a decade after I graduated high school, when Craig called to ask me out, I didn't even remember he existed.
My first impulse was to say no. I had given up on matches arranged by well-meaning relatives and friends -- a date who had the hiccups for 48 hours, another who arrived with his macrobiotic meal in a brown bag, and a third who carried his leftovers, a container of garlicky shrimp lo mein with the noodles dripping off the side, to a downtown movie on a hot summer night.
Thankfully, instead of saying no, I looked Craig up in my high school yearbook. In all the photos I found he had a knit cap glued to his head that made him look a little goofy. Yet I couldn't deny his handsome face. I said yes.
When we met in person, he got my attention by letting me know that he'd had a crush on me ever since high school. Whether it's true or not I'll never know. On our second date, he almost sent me running when he told me that he thought he was going to marry me.
I was attracted, but I resisted; he wasn't totally how I envisioned my dream guy. He was smart and funny. He had great hair and a sexy deep voice, kind of like soul singer Barry White. But he also had a paunch, and his attire was nerdy: sandals, a t-shirt and the same pair of gold pants I soon discovered he wore at every date. And he was in his late twenties and still figuring out what he wanted to do.
My real reason for hesitating was that, though I yearned to find my soul mate, I feared replicating my parents' less-than-ideal union. But I couldn't deny that Craig and I effortlessly connected: talking, joking and laughing. We both were obsessed with learning new things, new words, new concepts. We fully embraced anything we explored, from biking to family history. And we loved going to inexpensive authentic ethnic restaurants and taking in all the culture we could -- plays, movies and books.
I took pleasure in the way he surprised me -- with a made-up poem in the middle of an otherwise silent moonlit hike. Or by playing Tangerine Dream's music from "Risky Business" in the car when he picked me up, music I once casually mentioned I liked.
All's well that ends well
After a year and a half of dating, when my landlord and his wife (who lived in the same building and acted like my second set of parents) went on vacation, Craig came to stay at my apartment for a week as a trial run. He was smart enough to know he had to reel me in slowly. A week turned into two and then three. Soon it was clear that he was never going to leave, and I didn't want him to.
Sharing my life with Craig has amplified the joy and made the difficult times easier -- except for when I worked as bookkeeper for Craig's computer networking business. We'd crabbily peer at spreadsheets together -- we both hated accounting -- and the misery of the numbers invaded our marriage. To this day he says he fired me. I say I quit.
But our love remains strong. Last year I had major surgery and relied on Craig for months. His loving round-the-clock care, emotional support and cooking of all my favorite foods, from kasha and varnishkes to spaghetti and clams, brought me back to life.
So how do you know when you've found the right one? If you pay attention, you'll know, even if you're a little dense about it at first like me.
Now at night we have what we call "The Best Time," when we cuddle, laugh and talk after the lights are out. I tease him, "Let's pretend it's our first date and this time I won't be so slow to realize how much I love you; I'll just jump your bones." He laughs and pulls me toward him.This essay first appeared in www.Newsworks.org.
"It creates a physical connection in addition to your lips," says Jill Blakeway, clinic director at the YinOva Center in New York City and author of the forthcoming book Sex Again: Recharging Your Libido. "Where you put your hands isn't really all that important -- roam a little."
"Look into his eyes as a prelude to a kiss or sometimes the whole time you're kissing," Blakeway says. "In Chinese medicine the eyes are related to an energetic pathway that surrounds the genitals."
"If you've been married for a long time, it gets a little routine. You have a [certain] way of kissing and that's what your husband is expecting," Blakeway says. "Surprise him! He'll faint with amazement. Vary the pressure, the speed and the technique." Kissing when/where your partner least expects it or taking turns kissing your partner the way you'd like to be kissed are some ways to knock the routine out of your smooches.
"Which way you tilt your head when you kiss makes a difference," Blakeway says. "If you both tilt on your left side, lean in and embrace a little, your hearts are touching. And that's more than nice symbolism -- it's also a way to experience a deep connection because you both have an awareness of your heartbeats, which may be a little elevated because of kissing."
"Gently slide your tongue into your partner's mouth and then move deeper," Blakeway says. "Besides lighting up all the nerve endings in the mouth, it also stimulates the salivary glands. Believe it or not, saliva contains testosterone, and testosterone provides a little jolt to your libido. So 'swapping spit' is actually a key to activating your sex drive!"
"Kiss him longer than it takes you to sneeze," Blakeway says. "Passionate kissing is something people forget to do."