When you find yourself silently rooting for your husband as he poops with the door open, or when you spend the whole day on the couch next to him without even looking over, or when you notice that the only things you text him are Miss J gifs and bank account information, you may one day look to your husband and ask, “What’s happened to us?”
At this point, you may summon vague images of your former self. That lithe, quick-witted person. That person whose clothes always fit them just right. You might remember sitting in the sun with your then-date-now-husband and talking for hours. You have forgotten what you said back then. All you can remember is what it felt like to be interesting. You want to feel that feeling again. You want to feel that feeling, but cannot summon the energy to say something clever. Your synapses are no longer firing in the way that makes you articulate things that are both heartfelt and electrifying. So you sit. And you fall asleep next to your husband at earlier and earlier intervals.
“What’s happened to us?” you may ask your husband, aloud or silently. You are no longer romantic, maybe that’s it. The mystery is gone. Between your credit card bills and your boba cravings and your existential crises, romance is but a fleeting thing to you both--like 4loco, like Slamball, like JoJo in the day.
But you can be romantic. You can do it. You may be out of practice, but it’s not impossible. You can fire up those synapses once again. Tell your husband this. Make sure he knows. Your marriage doesn’t depend on it, you tell him, but it sure would be nice.
At this point, you should know that your husband doesn’t like surprises. Ignore this and plan one anyway. A romantic one. Drop hints that he should clear his schedule. When he forgets and schedules to meet up with a guy from Craigslist to play drums, don’t get upset. Let the Craigslist guy have your husband for a night, because you have your husband for the rest of your life. Postpone your surprise another week. Let the excitement build. Drop subtle, and then not-so-subtle hints until you’re afraid that you have built it up too much. Tell your husband it might not be so great after all. “But at least we’ll get out of the house,” you say.
This delay gives you more time to plan your surprise. Remember all the things your husband has told you he likes. List the things he couldn’t possibly be mad at if they caught him unawares: football, sausages, spaceships, brunch, Frank Ocean, scenic views, Express for Men. Browse Groupon for activities related to these things. Find tickets to a music festival in LA. Recall the bank account text messages. Keep looking.
Keep looking until the day you have planned comes. Your Super Date. You have mental-noted some things. You’ll cook him breakfast. You’ll go for a walk. You’ll take him for boba (really that one’s for you). You’ll go to a planetarium show (See: interests, spaceships. Check.). You’ll be home at a reasonable hour. “It’s going to be great,” you tell your husband, “...just not too great.” Your goal: give your husband the best day ever, and by default have a pretty good day too. Shoot for pretty good. Don’t imagine ways he’ll return the favor. His joy will be enough for you.
When the day comes, a Saturday, don’t set your alarm. That’s part of the fun. You’ll wake up when you wake up. And when you roll over to your sleeping husband closer to 10:00 am, you’ll have to revise your breakfast plan because he’s already hungry. Don’t panic. You’ve planned for this. You’ve been mental-noting brunch places for weeks. Pick one. Don’t tell him which until you pull up to the parking lot. Savor his bewilderment. You’ve never seen him this clueless.
At brunch, you won’t have anything to talk about, but your husband will watch football on his phone. This does not discourage you for two reasons: 1. You are giving your husband the freedom to have his perfect day and 2. You have long ago realized that being married to someone means you don’t always have something to talk about. When you spend so many waking hours with a person, sometimes there’s nothing new to say.
Next you take your husband to a park, with big red rocks jutting out of the ground. (See: interests, scenic views. Check.) You get out of the car, and you can tell your husband is in a great mood. You think it’s the brisket, but he’s looking at you in that way he used to. He takes your hand. You resist the urge to say something in a funny voice.
But then your husband begins to sweat through is casual henley. Always, it’s that Arizona sun, even in October. “This isn’t fun,” you and your husband say to each other, and so not 500 feet from the car, you turn around. This is one thing you love about your marriage. No longer do you have pretenses. You empower each other to live your truth.
But now you have nothing to do, and it’s still early in the day. In the car, you type “phoenix attractions” so frantically on your phone that you actually just search “enix attractyin.” Your husband is pulling out of the parking lot already. Search “enix museums” in hopes of finding someplace to walk around that isn’t a mall (See: bank account information). There’s an instrument museum that costs $20 a head. At that point you could just go to Express for Men. Decide together on a free art museum. You used to go to those all the time, back when you were younger, thinner, and wore pants around each other.
Take many pictures at the art museum to populate your Instagrams. Finesse new profile pictures in the sculpture garden. Take a selfie with a paper mache head. Feel whimsical with your husband. Look past the art and appreciate him for who he is, the artful way he skims the little sign next to each piece. The way he tolerates it when you say everything looks like a vagina. Bask in the gravity of his body, flitting from gallery to gallery. Leave the place holding hands, saying you need to come here more often.
When you have two hours to kill before your next thing, have your boba, but get it to go. Like before, you could sit with it in the shop, but you won’t have anything new to say to each other. Instead, take a practical detour. Tell your husband it’s unstructured “you time.” He suggests a car wash. Spend about half an hour vacuuming between the seats of your Corolla, shaking out the hair and chip pieces and dust particles from the mats. Get back in the car, and appreciate how nice it feels, and how productive you two are, even on your date. Appreciate how dynamic you are as a couple. Then go to Target to buy laundry detergent and wet wipes.
Don’t get upset when your husband guesses your planetarium surprise while you’re both at Target. In the checkout line, don’t lament how you’re really bad at surprises. Instead, appreciate how excited he is. Tell him you’ve been excited about this for weeks. Tell him about all the times you wanted to tell him, but didn’t. Tell him you’ve heard good things about it.
Pay the $13 for you both to enter the theater. Put on your 3D glasses. Feel your husband vibrating in his seat with excitement. “I love this place,” he tells you, looking at the model rockets on the walls. “How have we not done this before?” he asks, even before the show starts. Sit down next to him. When you realize you chair is broken, move to the other side. When that chair is also broken, ask your husband to move down with you. When that angle is wrong, move a third time. Thank your husband for being obliging. Settle back in and wait for outer space.
Savor your husband’s tightening grip on your hand with each close-up on a supernova. See his leg jiggle in excitement when you watch the dying stars. Feel him sit a little taller when you deep-dive into the rings of Saturn. When the show is over, applaud vigorously and walk tall out of the auditorium.
“What’d you think?” you ask your husband on the way out.
“Best date ever!” he says.
You feel like maybe you’re okay at this romance thing after all.
When you get home, tell your husband the date isn’t over. Let him watch more football while you cook dinner. Around you, the house may be a mess, but don’t let this stress you out. One task at a time. Your husband bangs his fist against the couch. His team scores.
The dinner you cook is tasty, and you do the dishes too, because this is your husband’s day, you have already decided. Leave a few in the sink for tomorrow, just to be kind to yourself. Just to remind yourself that you can set appropriate boundaries. Go sit next to your husband. Finish the game with him.
End the night sitting next to your husband on the couch, pants off, eating pretzels out of the bag. The romance of this day has worn off, but you’re sitting just a little closer to your husband on the couch now. When you nod off around 9:30, your head may droop, and this time, it may land on your husband’s shoulder and not the couch cushion. As you doze, your husband puts his arm around you and watches one more episode of The Office before going to bed.
Good job, you. You still have it, you rascal. You’ve done the romance. Tomorrow, you’ll wake up feeling a little bit brighter, like you’ve put a little bit of good into your marriage. For now, that’s all you’ll need to carry on.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.