The Love I Choose

Jessica Mercer Zerr - Grand Forks, North Dakota
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, November 12, 2010
Jessica Mercer Zerr

After many years, college writing instructor Jessica Mercer Zerr still considers what it takes to stay happily married. She believes the loving relationship she shares with her husband is rooted in the mundane activities of their daily lives together.

Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: family, love
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My husband gets up first to shower, giving me an extra twenty minutes to sleep. He wakes me with a kiss on my forehead and whispers he loves me. Then he leaves without turning on any lights, so I get five more minutes. He unloads the dishwasher and makes the decaf coffee we began drinking when we decided to start trying to conceive more than a year ago. When I emerge from my shower, my coffee is ready—two sugars, cream—and he hands me the paper. We speak little. Morning Edition and old-fashioned oatmeal bubble in the background.

At the end of the day, I cook supper, giving my husband half an hour to watch the news without interruption. After the weather report, he sits down at the table and watches while I finish cooking our meal. We eat and talk. Mostly we talk about what has to be done—groceries to buy, grass to mow, bills to pay—and I mention that the door still sticks. After dinner, if the weather is nice, we go for a walk, maybe watch a little TV. Bedtime comes at nine-thirty. When the lights are out, we confess the things that worry us, drawing strength from each other’s nearness.

I believe this is love.

When I was a child I thought a lot about what it means to love. I knew the romantic ideals of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but it was the love story of Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder that I returned to again and again. In contrast, their love story was so stark and so deliberate, and it alone continued beyond the ever after.

I once asked my mother if she loved me or my father more, certain I knew the answer: me. Instead, she bent down and looked me in the eye, hands gently on each shoulder. She explained that she couldn’t help loving me and that the love of a mother for her baby was incredibly strong. But then she told me that the love she had for my daddy was a love of choice, which made it extra special. Of all the people in the world, she chose him and he chose her.

I would think about her declaration often in the coming years as my parents adjusted to my mom’s new career outside the home and coped with raising a teenager. When my parents sometimes couldn’t have a conversation without turning it into an argument, I suspect they, too, thought about their choices.

Now that I’m married, I consider each day what it takes to stay married—and in love—as long as my parents have. It’s not that I don’t believe in romance and the extravagant spontaneity of last-minute weekend trips or witty conversation over champagne brunches. But I believe more in the sacred of the ordinary. I believe in love that is sustained by deliberate kindness and the choice to see little acts as testaments of love and commitment rather than indicators of a spark that has died—of love communicated each time he cooks oatmeal and I schedule his dental appointment. This picture of love is certainly less exciting, but decidedly real, and in its own way more romantic because of the weight of its reality.

So, in the small silences of our predictable, boring day, I choose him, and I choose love, all over again.

Jessica Mercer Zerr is a Senior Lecturer and Administrative Director of Composition at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, where she resides with her husband, Ryan, and sons, Eli and Caleb. This love she chooses has continued to reveal its quiet beauty for nearly fifteen years.

Independently produced by John Gregory for This I Believe, Inc.