How being his girlfriend and his wife brought the magic back to a marriage.
"How many times did you vomit?" my husband, Andrew, asked, smiling at me as the ski lift climbed.
What? Did he really just ask me that? I thought.
Even worse, his tone suggested that there was a competitive bent to his questioning—like we were about to engage in our own game of "Who Was More Sick," right there in the sky.
Earlier in the week, we'd both fallen victim to a stomach virus that made its first attack on our toddler daughter, Sadie. We were standing at the Air Canada counter, eager to embark on our snowboarding vacation, when Sadie first tossed her organic cookies.
I had always believed that parents were impervious to their children's ailments, until I learned better firsthand. For Andrew and I, it started with a middle of the night tummy grumble and got worse from there. But three days later we managed to suit up and find ourselves high above the snow-covered mountains of British Columbia. Our vacation was beginning—or so I thought.
"Dude…" I finally managed to reply. What I wanted to say to his barf challenge was that there ought to be some sort of line we didn't cross sharing those kinds of details with each other. Instead, all that popped out was: "I'm your wife."
Then I realized that the word "wife" actually made it sound like I should be reveling in his graphic recount, and, I suppose, sharing my own.
After all, I wasn't his "girlfriend," "lover," or "fiancée." And wife, let's face it, is a dirty word—and not the good kind of dirty. A wife might buy your toilet paper. She might wash your underwear. She's expected to be the willing, concerned ear, listening like your mommy would, to the details of your popped blisters. Once I realized the absurdity of what I was trying to say, I stammered "…but I still want to be your girlfriend."
Ah yes, the girlfriend days. The beginning of our romance was a passionate time filled with decadent late-night dinners and weekend road trips to bed and breakfasts up and down the eastern seaboard. But on occasion, after a meal, Andrew wound up with an upset stomach and retreated to the bathroom. I, blissfully unaware of the play-by-play, was left to sip wine and write in my journal about my new love. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Andrew was lactose-intolerant. But my point is that, as my boyfriend, the bathroom door was closed—with good reason. So, why, as my husband, was he trying to blow it wide open?
In truth, it could be my fault. When we first moved in together, I was very candid about discussing my time-of-the-month. He's not a girl, I figured, let me shine a bright light on the female experience. And that mentality carried over into my pregnancy. I thought, wow, here I am experiencing this miracle of life, the least that I can do is to share my own notes on the underbelly. Like this:
"Hey babe, I just peezed."
"Oh, that's when the pressure of the baby on your bladder causes you to pee a little bit when you sneeze," I cheerfully informed him.
No wonder Andrew thinks it's okay to talk about the goings-on on the other side of the door now.
Once you've admitted to peeing your pants, it's tough to close the floodgates. The problem being: These discussions are the opposite of hot. Not to mention that Sadie is a solid sleeper, and my maternity clothes were deep-sixed long ago, so hello, I'm ready for hot again.
And now, ever since I uttered it on the ski lift, I keep returning to the idea that, while I may be his wife, I still want to be his girlfriend, too. And I try to think of Andrew as my boyfriend as well as my husband of six years. Fundamentally, I think, the difference is a willingness—or desire—to impress. I'm not saying you need to return to a place of self-consciousness — as if we could. Rather, just a place of thoughtfulness in the way you move around the other person and what you share.
Yes, we want to foster closeness. You want to feel closer to that person than anyone else on earth. But, at the end of the day, sharing everything can do you a disservice. That's because, come nightfall, you still want to turn that person on. And having a kid means that, on most nights, we don't have the luxury of moving close on a sweaty dance floor or sharing a heated, late-night cab ride home. We need to find the erotic in the same home where we change dirty diapers.
And we're both doing our best.
When I know we're settling in for a movie night, I recall what I might have worn with Andrew when I was still trying to woo him. And I'll take off the paint-stained fleece and put on something with a sexier neckline. And if I need to go to the bathroom to pick the steak out of my teeth, I now close the door to do it. For his part, Andrew's never again asked for the blow-by-blow of my bout with the flu. And he's stopped watching TV in his old, worn T-shirt and boxers a la Al Bundy. Thank God.
It might seem silly to give one word such power. But for better or for worse, girlfriend signifies that he still has to work, or at least think—and wife doesn't.
And you know what? Sometimes, ignorance is not only bliss — but a turn-on.