For Valentine’s Day this year, my husband “gave” me a pair of warm, winter boots that I’d purchased for myself. In return, I gave him much needed winter mittens. At first glance, these might seem like bad Valentine’s gifts, but we were both perfectly happy with them. Lest you pity us too much, that night, we cracked open a bottle of champagne together (Yay!) We then sat next to one another to finish work after the kids were in bed (Boo!) Yes, I’ll admit it wasn’t a Hallmark holiday. But for all it lacked in sex appeal, it wasn’t without romantic sentiment.
What my husband and I have learned to do in our middle age is, what I’m calling, romance the dinner dishes. This is the essence of middle age romance.
What the heck is romancing the dinner dishes, you ask? If you’re a child of the 80s, you may recall a movie starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas called Romancing the Stone. I’ll confess to not recalling much of it actually, as I was 8 when it came out, but I remember she’s a writer and that there’s action and adventure and kissing in the movie. All things I wanted for my own life. What I’ve got instead is a whole lot of dinner dishes. What’s a girl to do? Settle? No way.
Instead, we look for ways to bring middle age romance to the dinner dishes or whatever the heck else is going on in our lives.
It may be helpful to know what I mean by romantic here. I’m not talking about the stereotypical trappings of romance: flowers, naked babies in diapers with arrows (definitely NOT romantic), violins, and candlelight. To me, romance is anything that’s done to demonstrate love. That includes the dishes. Also, laundry, bill paying, and oil changing. The things we do for one another to show our love, are by definition romantic. What follows is a list of things we’ve found romantic at my house over the last month.
Not those kind of messages. I’m talking, “The water isn’t draining out of the tub and you need to fix it,” romantic. Yesterday, my romantic husband texted me that I had a dentist appointment today. Our dental office can evidently only have one number on file for reminders, which means he got the reminder phone call and I, in turn, got a reminder text from him. Twenty years ago, would this act have made me want to have babies with the man? Noooo. Today, does it make me glad I did have babies with him? Yeah. I’m glad and my teeth are glad too (glad teeth are totally a thing).
A side benefit of texting reminders and scheduling details to each other is that we don’t have to spend time in the evenings figuring out who’s doing what when. Quick text confirmations keep our lives on track meaning we can enjoy a real conversation over a glass of wine together once the kiddos are in bed.
This might seem counterintuitive, but I think it’s important to ignore a lot about your spouse. And in return, hopefully, they’ll ignore a lot about you. My husband walks past the full laundry basket of folded clothes waiting to be carried upstairs 100 times; I’ve learned to ignore it. The compost bin fills to the brim and I leave it on the counter all evening; without a word to me, he takes five minutes to carry it out for us. We could choose to have a fight, to point out how annoying these behaviors are. But after living together for 18 years, we instead choose to let some things slide.
This isn’t to say we don’t get annoyed with one another.
I regularly mumble curses under my breath as I pick up that full laundry basket and deliver it to where it belongs, and he’s not above sending me a glare as he walks outside in 0 degrees to wrestle open the frozen compost bin in the yard. We just pick and choose our battles these days. Managing work, home, and kids can make it too easy to notice all the things that annoy you. If you want middle age romance though, you’re going to have to soften your gaze just a bit.
Taking the Kids Wherever They Need to Go
We have one car, so getting the two kids to their two sets of events on top of our two jobs is often too much. When my husband hits the door at 5:45 and says he’s ready to take Nell to taekwondo practice, I am putty in his hands. No, it’s not Fifty Shades Freed, but the gift of an extra hour to finish my work some days is better than a box of chocolates. When we sit around the table that night at dinner, I’ll be less frazzled, and more capable of conversation. Later in the week, I’ll return the favor when I take Libby to tutoring and my husband can have an hour to enjoy making his special spaghetti sauce.
Scheduling a Babysitter and Dinner Reservations
Our romantic gestures are not always practical or mundane. Sometimes they are the practical and mundane work that gets us out of the house and alone together. Scheduling a babysitter is easy for some people, I imagine. For us, it’s a slog down the list of college students who HAVE THEIR OWN LIVES and/or ARE ON BREAK. Rarely are they instantly available for babysitting. Add to this mix the impossibility of getting reservations, the fact that the movies I want to see start after my 8:30 pm bedtime, and the bribery I have to commit to escape the house without my children, and sometimes going out is almost not worth it. But we persevere, somehow keeping the romance alive.