Last November, Hyong Yi’s 100 Love Notes project, created to honor his late wife’s legacy, inspired millions of people worldwide to reach out to their loved ones.
And now the man behind the movement (and a forthcoming book on the subject) wants to speak directly to newlyweds—and anyone who wants to build a relationship that lasts.
It started in November 2014, when Yi, a Charlotte assistant city manager, said goodbye to his wife of 15 years, Catherine Zanga, after a years-long battle with ovarian cancer. Yi was devastated. But after a few months, he decided to begin the healing process by writing. And sharing it.
On the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, Yi and his two children walked through uptown Charlotte, passing out notes that contained poetic snippets of their love story—from their first date (“Hi. I’m not asking much/just a partner for a bike ride/a buddy so I’m not alone”) to the birth of their son (“Sleep. You did the hard work/I’ll take care of this beautiful boy/This is how I love you”) to their final goodbye (“You remain in my heart/Your name is etched on my arm/I am a better man because of you”).
Yi launched a website, 100LoveNotes.com, where all of the notes are displayed. The hashtag #100LoveNotes became one of the top trending hashtags in the world, appearing millions of times. And media outlets from the U.K. to Korea to Australia picked up the story.
Now, Yi wants to spread his message of encouragement, not despair, to lovers everywhere—with three key pieces of advice:
The act of getting married reminds me of the time I got my driver’s license. The piece of plastic was a testament to my ability to drive on roads by myself, but it didn’t say that I was an expert driver. I’d just met the minimum standards.
It took decades of driving in different weather conditions, times of day, types of roads, and near misses for me to feel confident in my ability.
Similarly, getting married marks the beginning of something else: a lifetime of learning how to live and love each other. Here are three lessons I learned:
1. REMEMBER THE ‘SPACES IN BETWEEN’
Grand gestures are important (ask any spouse who has forgotten a birthday or wedding anniversary), but you can’t rely on flowers for Valentine’s Day or a box of chocolates for an anniversary, or a piece of jewelry every Christmas to maintain and sustain your relationship.
They’re nice and—while they may lead to sex—a relationship built on big things will have a difficult time weathering life’s everyday challenges.
Your work, house, birthdays, significant milestones, family obligations, community responsibilities, and children are all big responsibilities that occupy most of our daily attention. So it’s good to have a standing date night.
But love is not a flower you can water once a week. Marriage is nurtured by what you do in the spaces between those responsibilities and grand acts: an unexpected text message, a thoughtful note, a simple phone call to say “I love you,” a walk around the block together. Those are all simple commitments that grow love over time.
Maybe you just decide to take 30 minutes and turn off all electronic devices and just be in each other’s company. You don’t even have to talk; just sit there and hold hands.
Catherine really liked sci-fi TV—often bad sci-fi TV. But I’d sit in the room with her while she watched it, reading a book or surfing the internet. My left arm would always be touching her leg, her thigh, or her feet. If you’re going to waste time, waste it being present with the person you love.
2. END EVERY CONVERSATION THE RIGHT WAY
Before leaving home, always say “I love you.” In our youth, we expect our love to be there forever. And days are taken for granted on the promise that there will be a lifetime, measured in decades, of love.
But what if you didn’t have decades? What if you only had two years? Two days? How would you love? Live like you only have two more minutes with your love.
Of course, no one is perfect. And being in love isn’t sufficient to overcome our deficiencies by itself. You will have misunderstandings and knock-down-drag-out fights. We did. Sometimes you’ll question your decision to marry that person. But what matters is how you respond when it happens.
Will you be hell-bent on being right and proving your spouse wrong? Or will you find a way to discuss, resolve, and move forward together? Be kind, forgiving, and empathetic. Find a way to do what’s best for the two of you. If there’s a winner, you’re both losing.
3. CHOOSE LOVE
Lastly, choose love every day. When you wake up, choose love. When you fight, choose love. When you have a spare moment, choose love. Let it fill you and radiate from you to others.
I think about Catherine and the happiness I felt in loving her and being loved by her. She chose me. She didn’t have to. I cherish that and it brings me joy. My life is so much better— even now—because of that.
So to you good newlyweds, I offer this closing exhortation: Live fiercely. Love completely. Choose love every day. Love can get lost in the mundane. Find it, hold onto it tight, and let it fill you. Then, listen to what it has to say, and be moved to action.
Letter was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photos (in order of appearance): Charlotte Observer file photo, photos courtesy of Hyong Yi