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Debbie Macomber: What I’ve Learned About Love

No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Debbie Macomber has crafted yet another in a long stream of wonderful love stories, the holiday-themed Angels at the Table. The new novel, in bookstores now, marks the return of angels Shirley, Mercy and Goodness, with the addition of angel-in-training Will, who bring together two lonely people on New Year’s Eve.

“I write books that leave you feeling hopeful and happy,” Macomber tells us in an exclusive interview. “I have a vision in mind from when I was struggling to sell my first book. The vision was that of a reader, and for whatever reason, they were pushing a cart as if they were in a grocery store and they would go past the books and stop. They would see a book with my name on it, they would grab it and put it right next to their heart. That is the vision I hold even now.”

With more than 160 million copies of her books in print worldwide, Macomber has achieved her goal of writing her way into people’s hearts. Her Cedar Cove and Blossom Street series have definitely hit a chord with readers, so much so that Macomber began a new series that takes her readers back to the Pacific Northwest town of Cedar Cove with the release of The Inn at Rose Harbor earlier this year.

In 2013, Macomber fans will be able to see her stories come to life when the Hallmark Channel turns the Cedar Cove franchise into a TV series, starring Andie MacDowell. “Cedar Cove” will begin with a two-hour movie on Jan. 19, followed by the series in the spring.

eHarmony also spoke to Macomber, who has been married for 44 years to husband Wayne, about what she has learned about love.

eH: What do you love most about your life now?

Debbie: I think this is really the best time of Wayne’s and my life. We’ve done our job, we’ve raised our kids and they are all productive, taxpaying, not-in-jail, gainfully employed adults. We have the freedom that we haven’t had since we were first married and a little bit more financial security too.

Although I’m still very active in my career, there’s that freedom to do things that we never… like, we took a river cruise this year. Wayne had never been to Europe before so it was quite an adventure.

eH: What has writing taught you about love?

Debbie: It’s because of my husband that I have a writing career, so it’s even rooted in love. Wayne encouraged me when I wasn’t published. He said, “Oh, you’re so talented, you can do this. I know you can do this.” There was a time when he worked construction that he had been out of work and we were so far behind in our bills. He asked me if I could go to work and take a job that would actually pay money. I knew that I would have to give up the dream of being a writer, that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t keep up with the kids, the house and work 40 hours. The kids were in Scouts and sports and all these other things. I went to bed and I couldn’t sleep. Wayne woke up and said, “Are you awake?” I said, “You know what honey? I haven’t been asleep yet.” And he said, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “I really think I could have made it as a writer.” He didn’t say anything for a long time and then he sat up and said, “All right honey, go for it.” I wish I could say I was so talented, I sold within the next month but it was another two and half years. So that’s what writing has taught me about love.

eH: Do you think it’s more important to be loved or to love?

Debbie: You know what? If you love, you get love back and that’s just a simple basic truth. If you are loved, it is because you love. It’s like a mirror. We get back what we give out. We reap what we sow.

eH: What is the hardest thing about love?

Debbie: I just think it’s the sand in your shoes. Did you ever hear the story about the man that walked all the way across America? They asked him what was the hardest thing he had to endure. Was it the steep hills? The mountain passes? He said, no, it was the sand in his shoes. And that’s the way it is with a marriage and with love. It’s the everyday stuff, like Wayne not picking up his dirty socks. It’s the day that I have to leave early and he doesn’t make the bed. It’s the sand in the shoes, that’s the hardest part.

eH: A lot of men have this attitude: Why make it? You’re just going to sleep in it again.

Debbie: Exactly. And that’s what he says. He can’t really understand why it’s important to me that the bed’s made.

eH: When was the first time you really found love?

Debbie: I thought I was in love in high school. I was still a teenager when we got married. I don’t think I really understood the meaning of love until I became a mother. I was totally crazy in love with my husband when we got married but it wasn’t until we had children that you realize, “Now THAT’S love.”

eH: What does love mean to you now vs. when you were younger?

Debbie: I think so many of us look at love as receiving flowers on Valentine’s Day, or the gifts that we get at Christmas time. But really, what’s love is Wayne waiting up for me till I get home and the plane’s late and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s more of what he does than what he gives. I think it’s more acts than it is gifts. Or laughing with me, or watching a movie that I want to watch that I know he’s not going to enjoy.

I really do like getting Christmas gifts but let me tell you a story. Wayne is not a romantic guy. He just isn’t. He tries, but he just isn’t. One year for Valentine’s Day, he was building a plane in our basement. He became really concerned — because I frequently have to go potty — that he was going to have to land the plane so I could go potty. So he got me the most romantic gift he could imagine — a portable urinal. And he was so proud of it because it was a thoughtful gift. And he’s telling his friend that and I’m listening to his friend and his friend said to him, “Wayne, you can’t love a woman more than that.” I think if you were to ask Wayne to define what love is, he would say, “It was the time I got her that urinal.”

eH: So how do you know if someone is “The One?”

Debbie: I really think you’re attracted to a certain person and that attraction can hold you a long time, but love is really the commitment. It is to say, “You’re the one, I’ve decided that I’m going to link my life with yours.” It’s that commitment. Wayne and I had some really rough years when the kids were teenagers and we actually separated for a while. When we got back together, we had to decide that this was going to last and that we were going to make it last. We had to be 100% committed to one another. So, I think it’s a decision that we make. If you rely on hormones or if you rely on lust or infatuation, it isn’t going to last long. You just have to make that commitment.

eH: What do you think one needs in a partner to make the relationship successful?

Debbie: I think you have to have a good sense of humor. I think you have to both have the same basic belief system. I think faith is a strong factor. A belief system, commitment, being able to laugh together, being able to cry together, too, and the same honor system. That is what I would say off the top of my head.

eH: What advice would you give to those struggling with self-love and those who are looking for love?

Debbie: For those who are struggling with self-love, I would suggest stop looking at yourself and look at how much you are prized by God. God loves you, and if you realize how much you are worth in His eyes, then you stop thinking about your own feelings of inferiority.

eH: And those who are still looking for love?

Debbie: When I was struggling…my husband can be so wise sometimes. I was struggling to make the New York Times’ list. That was just such an important goal in my life, and my husband said, “What you have to do is write a book that’s worthy of the Times’ list.” So I started looking at what books were making the Times’ list. I started studying those and seeing what it was that attracted readers to those books. If we are looking for somebody to love, we have to be loving to others first. It’s just an attitude. We have to be the person that somebody would fall in love with.

eH: We talked a little bit about how when you became a mother you then really understood love. Do you think becoming a mother deepened your ability to love?

Debbie: Even though this being has been a part of your body for nine months, once that being is born, you have to look outside yourself. You know, we tend to be so self absorbed and then here is this tiny being who’s part of us, who absolutely needs us. All of a sudden your focus is not on you, it’s on them. That’s what love is — giving yourself away.

eH: How do you think being a public figure has affected your ability to love?

Debbie: Again, you’re going to get kind of a long answer on this. Several years ago, I made a list of people I wanted to meet. These were really high profile people. The first person on my list was Pat Conroy, a phenomenal writer, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, a lot of writers, a lot of artists, a couple of presidents. I made a list of people I wanted to meet.

When I met them — I made a list of 30, I’ve met 20 of that list now. There are some pretty amazing stories of how I met these people. I discovered that unless the person was God-centered that they became so self-absorbed, so conceited, and instead of reflecting the glory back to God, it kind of just settled inside of their spirit and spoiled them as a person. [Note: Macomber says that none of the people that she mentioned by name have disappointed her. Those people she left unnamed.]

And then one day I was complaining to God, I had met someone I was soooo disappointed in, it was just not the person I had built up in my mind, and I was complaining to God. Right away God said to me, “You know, Debbie, you’re my daughter. I love you. If you wanted to meet these people, I’m happy to send them into your life. But why don’t you make another list and leave it blank for the people I want you to meet?” And that has changed my perspective about meeting people so much. I now look at people and the first thing I think is, “Is this someone God has sent for me to meet?” I’m far more open. I take the time, I listen a lot better than I ever have before. I don’t really see myself as a public figure. In fact, I was in a restaurant at this conference and I had my name badge on and this waitress came up and said, “Oh my goodness, you have the same name as my favorite writer!”

So I don’t really view myself as a public figure, but I do go on the road and do autographings and things and people will come to see me. It’s just so important to me to be the person that they love because they love my books, and to live up to their expectations, to be the kind of person that I would want to meet and be gracious and open and encouraging and being a listener, that’s the way I always want to live my life.

Macomber’s Angels at the Table is now in bookstores everywhere.