This is happiness.
We don’t go on many date nights, I rarely buy flowers, and I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally covered anything in our house with rose petals. Nothing about our day-to-day lives exactly screams torrid romance.
And, yet, I still consider myself a hopeless romantic. I love my wife desperately. I worry about not showing her enough that I love her all the time. However, my definition of what constitutes “romance” has definitely evolved over the past two decades.
I know realize that true romance is all about the small things. The tiny, quiet moments that scream out that you know and love someone down to their core.
When I was younger, I’ll admit, I was all about the grand sweeping gesture.
I bought extravagant gifts. I planned secret vacations. I used an old photograph to track down the exact lunchbox that my wife had when she was in elementary school to give her as a Christmas present one year. In terms of big, showy signs of romance, I thought I was hot shit.
But, as I got older, I started to realize that many of my grand gestures were more about making me feel like a hero than giving my wife what she actually wanted.
For example, one year, my wife had mentioned that she really wanted a new desk. (She’s a writer.) So, to surprise her, I went out and found an antique desk that I thought was just PERFECT. I presented her with my oh-so-thoughtful gift, and she was extremely grateful. But, over the next few weeks, I noticed that something was off.
She wasn’t using the desk very much, and she seemed uncomfortable when she did use it. When I finally confronted her about it, she reluctantly admitted that it wasn’t the kind of desk she would’ve picked out for herself. The size was wrong, it didn’t really fit her laptop. She loved that I surprised her, but, ultimately, she would’ve preferred to have been the one to pick out her own desk.
But that doesn’t sound as sexy and romantic, does it? Going out to IKEA to shop around for desks together?
The thing is — that’s what my wife actually wanted. She wanted to pick out her own desk, so who cares if I get the thrill of being the person who surprised her? It’s supposed to be about her, right?
Over time, I started noticing that some of my other “thoughtful” gifts were falling into similar categories. I kept buying her rare books from her favorite authors until she finally admitted that she had enough books and she was too nervous to actually read the first editions I was buying her. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t being practical — I wasn’t thinking about things from her perspective.
I was making a show out of what I thought she wanted more than actually listening and figuring out what she really wanted.
No, I wasn't as bad as Christian Grey from (or so I hear) selling his girlfriend's car and buying her a new one without asking. I'm not a psycho.
But my wife didn’t want me to book a couples spa weekend.
She wanted to fall asleep on my lap while watching dumb TV.
She didn’t want me to re-decorate the kitchen while she was away on a work trip. She wanted to be part of the decision-making with me, picking out paint together and having her opinions heard by me.
I found myself buying her fewer unique knick-knacks and pieces of jewelry (which she rarely wore) and buying more practical things. And, while buying your wife a new skillet might sound like something a neglectful husband does in the first act of a romantic comedy, if you’ve watched your wife curse your old one for months while making quesadillas and you know that this one simple thing from Bed Bath and Beyond will make her life SO much easier — isn’t that more romantic than a diamond ring?
Maybe not for some people, but it is for us.
I now realize that my wife doesn’t want bombast, she wants thoughtfulness. She wants me to load the dishwasher after she goes to bed, she wants me to say I’ll clean out the garage and actually follow through with it.
She wants me to show her that I love and appreciate her by walking the walk and doing the work, rather than hiding behind a price tag or a clichéd gift.
It makes buying birthday and anniversary presents a lot harder — gestures are easy, insightful empathy is hard — but my tiny acts of affection are far more meaningful in the long run.
That’s what our romance looks like now. It’s small and it’s mundane and it means EVERYTHING. And it took me far too long to realize that.