“Yes,” I said without hesitation. “He gives me flowers for no reason, and when our family is together for dinner, we eat with music and candlelight every night.”
Surprised by the reaction, I looked at the faces of the other women with me. I saw disbelief, and envy.
“Every night?” another woman finally said. (It’s true. Except for Stanley Cup finals, Grey Cup, Superbowl and occasional nacho feasts in front of a Sens game.)
This conversation took place over dinner during my recent Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia—a land of Latin American passionate love, of serenades and amorous wooing—the romantic ideal. The problem is, that romantic notion of love sometimes comes with a dark side: sexual exploitation and a sense of proprietary ownership.
Nothing romantic about that.
We think we want the idealized romantic kind of love that people try to cram all into one day on Valentine’s Day, but the kind of romance we really want doesn’t fall all on one day in a chocolate box. It brushes up against us in moments of quiet surprise. It startles us into spontaneous laughter and abandon. It embraces us in a tight, supportive hug when we sob from life scraped raw. It doesn’t lead to expectations, disappointments or loneliness.
When I thought about it, I regretted the reflex to say that my husband was romantic because of flowers, music and candles. I appreciate those things. I really do. (My husband loves to create occasions for celebration. “Let’s have champagne. It’s Tuesday!”) But I only appreciate those things because they are part of a healthy balance. The real romance in my life comes when my soul glows in response to action selflessly taken.
Like when my husband:
- Spent evenings carrying our baby daughter in a Snugglie so I could attend night classes at university.
- Took the snake out of the cottage bathroom at 3:00 a.m. without any remarks about my snake phobia.
- Bought sanitary napkins when I was too sick to get to the store.
- Squeezed the hand of a dying friend.
- Taught Little League players proper batting stance.
- Broke the news to his mother that she couldn’t live in her own home anymore and then held her when she collapsed and sobbed.
- Earned a Master degree in his fifties while working full-time, looking after his mother, coaching baseball, coaching hockey, etc., etc.
- Lead me into adventures by saying “Let’s take this road and see where it goes” when we travelled through Europe.
- Perched on tiny kindergarten chairs during parent-teacher interviews.
- Changed diapers. (That one’s important.)
- Bragged about me to friends and coworkers.
- Made me laugh when I was feeling down.
- Took on all the family responsibilities so I could travel—to conferences, on my Habitat trip, and to other fun places.
Nothing contrived or confined. Effortless romance.
Whether it’s telling the same story over and over (and over) again to keep family history alive, or doing the middle-of-the-night run to the emergency room with a feverish child, my husband’s real romance doesn’t come from the idealized romantic love of Valentine’s Day, but from courageously doing the hard stuff that just needs to be done, and from allowing me to be the person I am.