No Roses, Please

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Personal Romance

I feel the need to say something here: I love my husband. For the most part I regard myself as happily married, and I think -- I like to think -- he does, too. So I've had to ask myself: How can we be this content if our marriage is a romance-free zone?

Well, it's not. We've got romance, all right, but it's a romance requiring no special effects, one built on familiarity and shared history, one that grows more potent with time. I've finally come to realize that what I've been giving a wide berth to all these years is not romance, per se; it's institutionalized romance as embodied by the Hallmark Stations of the Cross: birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day -- occasions when you can put out your credit card without putting out any effort. To these I say, thanks but no thanks. Like me, my husband is not overtly romantic. But he has made himself a student of me in matters trivial and large.

He knows I'm not fit company until I've had my morning swim. He knows how I take my tea from Starbucks (Venti, Tazo Awake, one tea bag), when I'm about to lose it with the kids, where to put the pressure during a foot massage. Before a recent trip that involved a stay at a hotel without a pool or fitness center -- anathema to me -- he called around to find a health club in the area.

I've been similarly educated about my husband. One Equal, half a finger of skim milk in his coffee; Merlot (never more than two glasses); no starch in his shirts; the New York Yankees; the New York Giants; not while he's reading the paper; not while West Wing is on; take yes for an answer. Stay the course.

Several months ago, my friend Stephen talked to me with admirable frankness about the demise of his brief, unhappy marriage. "My next relationship is going to be romantic, played out on a grand scale," he vowed. "I don't want it to be about trips to the hardware store."

That was where we parted company. To me, trips to the hardware store are exactly what romance is about. They're girl Viagra. I'm not going to start getting jiggy about grout and number-two nails. But a walk down the aisle of Ace Hardware with my husband spells a very particular kind of intimacy for me.

I remember, years ago, being in a relationship with someone and going with him to the laundromat. Reflexively, I began sorting out the whites and colors, and my beau became furious at what I guess he saw as effrontery. Sex was one thing. Wielding the Wisk was getting just a bit too cozy. We broke up soon afterward.

Just as well; it would never have lasted. When you live with someone for a long time -- let's say, almost 17 years -- the big thrills become infrequent (but oh, honey, it was magical last night, really). So it becomes infinitely useful to celebrate the small stuff and the small, miraculously ordinary moments. That romance, I'll take.


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