My youngest brother recently announced his engagement, and asked if I had any advice for him, since my husband and I recently celebrated our double-digits anniversary.
I thought for a moment and said, "Yes. Keep dating."
There was a pause over the phone, and then he said, "Really? Are you sure? I thought that was one of those things, you know, that you give up when you get married . . . ?"
I hung my head and sighed. Patience, I thought. He's a newbie.
"Not other people, you idiot," I said gently. "Keep dating each other. Have a date night, like every Friday, and go out together."
"Date my wife, huh?," he said. "Okay. Right. Uh-huh. Do I have to, like, have her home by ten? Hahaha . . . date my wife . . . good one!" He hung up chuckling.
I knew he didn't understand, and I knew that he wouldn't, truly, until he'd been married for awhile and maybe had a child or two. He simply wasn't at that point where romance and passion maybe don't come as easily as they once did. And I also know that even when we're at that point, understanding the concept isn't necessarily enough, either.
For example, I crawled into bed the other night at ten o'clock. The kids were asleep, finally, after the requisite stories and arguments over teeth-brushing. The dog was in his crate. The laundry was folded and lunches made for the next morning. I was wearing my favorite old faded nightgown, and my pillow never felt so good. My eyelids started to flutter the second I lay down.
Then I felt a nudge.
I opened one eye and focused it on my husband, who was smiling and giving me his best come-hither look. I smiled back at this man I love and said the first thing that came to mind.
"You're kidding me, right?"
I just wasn't in the mood -- for that, anyway. I was, however, in the mood for a little chat, because I spent the next fifteen minutes listing the various reasons I was not in the other mood. They ranged from the cat puking on my shoe to the dog eating my fundraiser order to my husband's barbaric need to get up before dawn.
"Honey," he asked, exasperated, "what can I do? Rub your back? Foot massage? What? What do you need?"
I thought about it, and finally said, "Empty the dishwasher. Make the coffee for the next morning. Have the kids in bed when I get home from teaching my night class. Take charge of deciding what's for dinner sometimes. Walk the dog without being asked. This kind of thing," I wrapped up, "is what turns me on."
"Roger that," he replied. "Um . . . tonight's probably a no-go then, huh?"
To answer his question, I turned over and went to sleep.
It's the truth. Traditional romance can get watered down once there are kids in the picture; who doesn't imagine the horror of a child walking in while mom and dad are in flagrante delicto? With light-sleeping children, the vision of years of potential therapy bills surrounds us every time my husband and I try to remember how we made them in the first place.
Passion has to be worked on to be sustained. When the busyness of life takes over, it's easy to take the relationship for granted, to let the can't-wait-to-see-you-again feelings fade. Throw menopause into the mix, with the hot flashes and night sweats, and the mere idea goes the way of skinny jeans . . . with about as much relief.
Even I would have thought it amusing ten years ago, the possibility that housework could someday be foreplay. So even though he thinks it's funny right now, I need to thank my brother for reminding me about a part of marriage that's easy to forget. I need to thank him for making me think about my marriage at all.
And I need to tell a certain fella that I'm free for dinner Friday night.