My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
– William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
It’s Valentine’s Day. I want to talk about romance, but I don’t know what it is anymore.
I asked my husband for his picture of romance. “Fog. Moon. Love,” he said. “A man and woman staring at the moon.”
How often do we do this? Almost never. Should we? Probably. When? Good question.
Most of us think romance is something separate from everyday life. An escape into mystery, dreaming, feeling desired, cared for, supported. Women go at it from an emotional standpoint, and men (according to polls) look at it as a task. A chore – to please his partner.
A man’s wardrobe of romantic fantasy: Stiletto heels. Fishnets maybe. All allure.
What is the man wearing in a woman’s fantasy? Maybe an apron and he has just finished the dishes, after having cooked a full course meal and tucked the children in bed.
I’m married to a wonderful man. Really. An Italian prince. A real-life Cinderella story. I came from modest means and worked my way through school. While on a scholarship at Pepperdine, I met the man of my dreams, who just happened to be a prince.
In our beginnings, he made candlelight dinners, we dined on the beach, stared at the moon and talked until dawn. We met in a club. (I know “they” say that’s a no-no, but for us, it was a yes-yes.) After our second date, we spent our time nonstop together. In the first light of romance, we see the very best in one another – the possibilities.
Now, after 13 years of marriage and two young kids, that quality of mystery and romance is hard to find among the daily chores. Life becomes about organization, not spontaneity. A divvying up of who does what and when. Dishes, cooking, shopping, kids.
Even romance has to be scheduled. Date night and all the rest of the “happy partnership” advice is both real and a little pathetic. The very nature of romance is spontaneity – creating the magic. Rather than a box of chocolates, romance for me is an action that says, I’ve been thinking of you – desiring you. But with kids, the spontaneity you most often have is riddled with poop, wails, and tears. Things you can’t put off. I want to be surprised, pleasantly, sometimes.
The challenge of domestic life is how to keep the magic alive.
How do you, as a friend of ours put it, “never stop wooing”? To me, that means never taking your partner for granted.
Ask anybody what romance is. Almost every definition includes candlelight – or something hazy. Mystery. The unexpected. Dreaming together. Yes, illusion. We’re heading into the sometimes baffling dynamics of couples and how they work together or don’t – what is meaningful and stays meaningful through the years, the kids. All of you growing up – and into – a family.
The picture changes over time. What once was mysterious rarely stays mysterious in the practical light of day and chores, and seeing each other in the best and worst light of parenthood.
“I love you,” I said to my toddler, Alessio.
“Why?” he asked. (He’s at the stage of one hundred questions – all of them why?)
“Why do I love you? You tell me,” I said.
“Because I love,” he said.
That’s the truth of it. Love is an action. It’s prescribed by relationship experts like medicine: date night, pinch each other’s butts daily, kiss your partner a full two minutes when you get home. But it has to come from the heart – and quit thinking about the kids while you’re doing it! It’s harder than you think to grab those moments wholeheartedly in the middle of the day’s rush.
The woo factor: A nooner. Surprise. A hotel room. Make space for magic. I try to remember myself as a romantic person. Someone who is creative in love. And to see my husband that way. To remember what we had that started it all, and what we have now, that is no less than our beginnings – only deeper and maybe even more mysterious than elusive romance.
It takes work to be romantic. Time and energy. We set aside Valentine’s to remember what we once had, and maybe still have – now we just have to find time to do something about it.
Illustration by Rima Hawkes Graphic Design