When my husband and I were first dating, we spent the first few months of our relationship long-distance. And because we courted before the iRomance age, we couldn’t rely on FaceTime, texting, and social media to keep things hot and steamy. Rather, we had phone calls, love letters via snail mail, and the occasional surprise care package. Our courtship is a throwback to a bygone age.
Frankly, it was pretty damned romantic, I must say. I delighted in coming home from work to find a letter he’d written or a silly card. And on the day he sent me a bottle filled with sand from the beach we went to on our first date, I knew he was a keeper. his gestures from thousands of miles away told me he was thinking of me and helped me feel connected to him on the days that long-distance romance felt hard to manage.
Then, of course, we got married. And bought a house. And had kids. Romance was in the form of “I’ll do the 3 a.m. feeding so you can sleep,” and “Baby, go ahead and get the upgraded washer and dryer,” We were connected, sure, but the hot fires of desire had cooled to a lukewarm cup of coffee that we always forgot to heat up.
And that worked, for a while. Over the years, we did our best to put romance first, but let’s face it: Kids suck the life right out of candlelit dinners and quiet moments behind locked doors. We settled into the role of supportive companions and chose the comfort of stable parenting over the passionate affair we used to have when we were young. Romance was a luxury our chaotic, time crunched life couldn’t afford. Romance wasn’t necessary because we were beyond that stage, right?
It wasn’t until we found ourselves struggling in our marriage that I started to think that romance is necessary in every relationship stage. Maybe not sweeping Pretty Woman moments with Richard Gere rescuing Julia Roberts in a white limousine, but rather purposeful moments shared between a couple that help smooth out the rough edges of a long-term union.
In one of our therapy sessions, our therapist explained the concept of “we moments”: the idea that a couple needs to create moments they cherish to use as an aid to conflict resolution. In carving out time for date nights, quiet time to reconnect, or time to just relish in a glass of wine on the patio while the kids wreck the house, couples can repair the little cracks in their relationship foundation. Learning to listen to each other’s love language amidst the noise of your daily life is crucial to the longevity of any relationship. Positive shared experiences can do a world of good toward diffusing tough situations or help a disconnected couple remember what it was that bought them together.
Recently, I had a discussion with a friend about romance versus companionable partnership in a relationship. He argued that couples expecting to feel romantic all the time would feel an overall dissatisfaction in their relationship particularly if one partner is more involved or better at romantic gestures. He said that, sometimes, the Hallmark, Disney-fied version of romance that movies and television bombard us with daily can make a couple feel that they aren’t doing enough to be romantic. He said that romance wasn’t necessary after a while because couples could find happiness in companionship. Basically, we agreed to disagree that romance isn’t necessary in a relationship, but I do respect his opinion, and I can understand how TV’s version of romance can leave us feeling deflated at times.
Romance shouldn’t be an expectation, of course. That defeats the purpose. Romance needs to be practiced and incorporated into the daily routine of our lives. As my husband and I have worked to find our way back to our romantic selves, I am finding that romance, like marriage, takes time and effort. Romancing your partner and being present in the moment isn’t easy, and some days when I’m frazzled and catch a glimpse of myself in yoga pants and a messy bun, I definitely don’t feel romantic. But the simple act of being kinder to my husband or recounting a special memory to him over a glass of wine has helped me realize that I can’t live without a little bit of romance in my life. I need it to feel fulfilled. It seems he does too.
At a wedding this fall, my husband discreetly requested our wedding song from the DJ. As the familiar tune hit the air in the ramshackle barn strung with soft globe lights (hipsters, sigh), my eyes met his and the years of marriage melted away. Suddenly, we were that young couple just starting out, and I could almost feel the sand and ocean breeze from the beach where we had our first date. We aren’t that couple anymore, not by a long stretch, I know. But I still have that bottle of sand he sent me so many years ago to remind me of how far we’ve come.