When we first started dating almost 23 year ago, it was hard to imagine what life would look like for us. We couldn’t have known what it would be like to deal with things like miscarriages and newborn-induced sleep exhaustion. We couldn’t have known what it would be like to deal with family health challenges and job changes. We couldn’t have known the astonishing highs and gut-punching lows that we’d experience. Yet I knew one thing: I wanted to experience all of that with you.

When we started dating, we were in our early-20s. We felt so mature and worldly, but in reality we were ridiculously immature and naïve. We were starry-eyed and filled with simplistic optimism. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. 

But I did know one thing: you were the person I wanted to figure it out with. You were the person I didn’t just want to grow old with, but the person I wanted to grow up with. You were my favorite person then. And you’re my favorite person now. 

Related: No, having a baby didn’t ‘ruin’ my 20s 

I know I don’t say it nearly enough but thank you

Thank you for being my safe place and my soft landing when life knocks me down. 

Thank you for catching me when I fall and steadying me when I spin out of control.

Thank you for being such a great dad to our kids. For being so involved in the daily grind of parenthood.  

Thank you for knowing how to make me laugh and when to make me laugh. 

Thank you for taking care of me when I'm sick, and for taking care of me when I'm well too.

Thank you for showing our sons that being a good man doesn’t mean being macho or any of those other displays of toxic masculinity. But for showing them that being a good man means being kind and vulnerable and honest.

Thank you for showing our kids what it means to be a supportive partner by being a supportive partner.

Thank you for remembering the little things, like my favorite kind of candy and our kids’ favorite cereal. 

Thank you for loving my family like they were your own. Because they are.

Thank you for being honest and forthright, for being generous and for going out of your way to help strangers. 

Thank you for knowing how to make me laugh and when to make me laugh. 

Thank you for also knowing when to let me cry, and comforting me when I do.

After all these years, I can say even more confidently that there’s no one else I’d rather do life with than you. 

Thank you for working so hard for our family, whether it’s in an office or doing grocery shopping. There is never a doubt that whatever you are doing, you are doing with me and our kids in mind.

Thank you for being my partner, my lover, my confidante, and my best friend—all at once.

Mostly, thank you for being you. For being a better husband and father than I could have hoped for (and I had high expectations). Thank you for being such a great man.

I could write about how you’re my soul mate or talk about how I’m #soblessed or make comparisons to fairy tale love stories. But now that we’ve been married for 18 years—together for 23 years—we both know that life isn’t a fairy tale. It’s raw and gritty and really hard sometimes. 

Related: Dear partner: I’m sorry for when I take my mom rage out on you 

Spending your life with someone isn’t just roses and love songs. It’s diaper blowouts at the beach and arguments about how much to tip in a foreign country. It’s falling asleep on the couch together and laughing at inside jokes. It’s bringing tea and toast when we’re feeling sick and listening to sports talk radio on long car rides. It’s ups and downs, big things and little things, and everything in between. 

We didn’t know what life would have in store for us when we said “I do” all those years ago. Does anybody, really? All I knew is that I wanted to face this unknown future with you. And now after all these years, I can say even more confidently that there’s no one else I’d rather do life with than you.