An Ode to the Strong, Silent Type: One Writer's Love Letter to Her Untalkative Boyfriend

Words are my language. Actions are his.

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More than the cut of my dress or the flower arrangements, I used to fantasize about the actual program of my wedding. There would be brief but tender poems and tastefully chosen pop songs repurposed for an organ and perhaps some scripture if I could find something sufficiently unrelated to property transactions. Though there have been many changes in my plan throughout the years, one constant has been this quote: "I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it's these things I'd believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn't all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything."

The words were written by F. Scott Fitzgerald about his wife and fellow writer, Zelda.

I know several women who admit to dreaming of a man who writes about her. And I'll confess that I've found myself faced with my fair share of novel passages and Modern Love columns that made me wish for one with just the right words. Words are my primary social currency—and, as a freelance writer, the source of my actual currency—yet I've found myself in love with a man of alarmingly few.

The foolishly courageous have always been my kind of saints.

So he'll likely never write about me. And usually, I wouldn't write about him either. There's a phrase I hear often when people recall lovers in art: "He captured her so well." "Capture" doesn't sit well with me. To capture something is to make it captive. Even in a sweeping tome, the beloved is portrayed in frightful austerity, a handful of their virtues, anecdotes, and charms replacing all three of their dimensions. But I have decided to capture my boyfriend here, with three anecdotes, just this once, to show you precisely how someone like him, whose natural form of expression isn't verbal expression but silent, mostly unprompted action, communicates so much more fully than me and all my words.

I'll start with the first of my favorite things: On his seventh birthday, my boyfriend was walking with his best friend across a frozen lake in Rhode Island when his friend fell through the ice. Momentarily recalling that he had been taught never to jump in after someone, he jumped in anyway, because he is exactly the type of person to think that you can't just not jump in. He, too, was quickly sucked under, and the boys only lived on account of a truck driving by with two men who broke up the ice with their forearms. The single rhetorical flourish my boyfriend allows himself when recounts the story is how manly he remembers the ordeal looking from below—men breaking ice with bone and adrenaline. I realize he shouldn't have jumped in, of course, but the foolishly courageous have always been my kind of saints.

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The second story takes place on an island off the coast of Belize where he was visiting a local man he befriended on a prior trip. The friend has since married an American woman and they have a son. Though my boyfriend claims to not have much experience with children, he had the forethought to bring the toddler a gift. The island is remote, so it is largely dependent on imports—my boyfriend bought the boy a harmonica, an item low on the import priority list but bearing the promise of entertainment to a subset of the juvenile population. Years later, he sees the boy on Instagram from time to time, breathing tropical blues into the world with his harmonica. My boyfriend told me this story in passing, with the brevity and casualness with which one might recall a grocery run.

I appear in the third story. Within a month of meeting, we came home from a date and settled in for Winter Storm Jonas to blanket New York City. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by the smell and taste of smoke. I insisted that there was someone barbecuing in the snow at 2 a.m. but he insisted that we get out of the building. Smoke began billowing into my apartment from the fire we would later learn was spreading directly below us and would take five engine companies two hours to subdue. My ever-contrarian cat attempted to hide and just as I was telling myself, We have to leave him behind, my boyfriend grabbed the cat and got him into a carrier—the fact that he'd been scratched to Hell barely registering on his face as we descended the fire escape just in time for the windows not to blow out on us. When I tell the story he shrugs and says that these are standard protocols in a fire.

His impulse to fill my life with comforts and joys is part of the language he speaks.

I'm going to withhold any further anecdotes because they belong to us, and withholding things together makes them secrets, not captives. But there are many moments that add up to so much more than words can: He buys me a turkey-shaped plant holder with a lavender plant because lavender smooths out the nerves and mine are hopelessly jagged (and because he calls me "Turkey" for reasons we can't recall). He presses hard on the pressure point in the web of my hand because I find it healing, and trusts me to say when to stop. He fills my gas tank nearly every time he uses the car, even for just a little while. He always places a glass of water next to me before bed, even though I drink it less than half the time.

Some might call these courtesies, the kinds of chores that the farm boy did at the behest of Buttercup in The Princess Bride. But the difference is that I have never asked him to do these things; his impulse is to fill my life with comforts and joys. It's part of the language he speaks. And different languages be damned—between the declarations that gush from my lips and the gestures that pass from his hands, we understand close to everything.

Alana Massey

Alana Massey is a writer and editor covering identity, culture, virtue, and vice. She's the author of All The Lives I Want and has written for Elle, The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Vice, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, BuzzFeed, The New Inquiry, and more. She lives in the Catskills, where she writes, reads, drinks champagne, listens to pop music, and Photoshops glamorous collages of herself.