Michele DeLuca, editor of Niagara Living Magazine for the Greater Niagara Newspapers

Hearts and flowers are nice, and I like chocolates as well as anyone. Actually, probably more. But, real true love, the kind we all seem to hope for when we pick our mates, doesn’t have much to do with all that white lace fussiness.

That was reaffirmed for me this past month as I went about finding and interviewing couples who have been married a long time and are living the gritty, real-life version of happily ever after.

I sat in parlors, kitchens and just outside a colorful nursing home bedroom to interview men and women who clearly seem to love each other after long years spent together, so I could do the story for today’s centerpiece.

“Please don’t make this all mushy,” one of the husbands asked me. I could. But, I won’t.

Surely, as a culture, we get a little tripped up by what passes for romance on television and in the movies. But you take those little vignettes of lingering kisses and passionate embraces and stretch them like taffy over a period of 40 or so years, and what you’ll see in the open spaces is the same crappy stuff life deals out to the rest of us in lost jobs, broken dreams, sickness, boredom, frustration and even death. Every human has to decide how they are going to survive such challenges. Every couple has to decide how they are going to survive those challenges together.

So I spent evenings and afternoons with these folks and listened as each described the moment they met and how they felt when the saw the face of their other for the first time. “Dreamy eyes,” recalled one. “I was in awe of him,” said another. And any of us who have ever been in a relationship can recognize the initial flood of emotions that draws us toward our partner. In the movies, the music crescendos and some of us watching get a little teary-eyed. Those are the feelings that inspire Hallmark artists to draw those lovely, sappy cards with hearts and flowers and pretty poems. And those feelings are great and priceless, and I wish some for each and every one of us. But they aren’t what keeps a relationship together for decades.

Couples who stay together for long periods do so when the music stops. The stuff of their relationships doesn’t necessarily involve soft kisses and love letters. The stuff of the relationships that stick together is much grittier. The out-takes include the times you have to reach really deep inside to talk gently with someone who has hurt you. Or trying to find the will to say “we’ll be fine,” and mean it, when somebody’s just been fired or laid off, and you are scared that the two of you might lose everything you’ve worked for. Or sitting at the hospital bedside of your loved one while ungodly things are being performed on them in a fight to save their life, while trying to push down the fears that if you leave that room you might never see them again.

So, I don’t know if the couples I interviewed are lucky or what. But, as they told me their stories, most often sitting near each other and sharing a bit of laughter and tears, I could see the love and connectedness between each of them. I deeply enjoyed being witness to that.

I may someday forget the names of the couples I interviewed, but I will never forget the way each of them made me feel, in every case, proudly walking me through the pictures of their families and relatives and really underlining for me the influence that one happy pair of people can have in the world.

In the simple act of sitting with me, so I could share a little of their lives in these pages, they left us all to consider that, even through some of life’s greatest challenges, a relationship can survive and thrive — if you stay at it — into the greatest blessing of all.

Contact editor Michele DeLuca at 693-1000, ext. 157.