On the way to the store today, my sister and I had a conversation about romance. I shared with her that the best advice I received about romance was from a marriage retreat Mel and I attended before we got married. It was a requirement for our Catholic wedding, and at the time I placed little value in the experience but now, years later, I realize that much of the advice and wisdom imparted on me then applies to the core of my relationship now.
At the retreat, a couple who had been married for over 30 years stood on stage and literally held hands through out the entire presentation. My first impression was to give an eye roll because I questioned if the overt display of public attention was necessary, an act or genuine. The husband seemed to be leading the presentation, and awkwardly used his other hand to gesticulate his points; meanwhile the wife’s voice quivered at times, both her hands clutched his. But at the end, I understood why they were in complete embrace.
The husband brought up romance and asked if anyone knew what that meant. No one, in a roomed filled with at least 50 couples, raised their hand, or at least that’s how I remembered it. He explained that romance is not what we envisioned it to mean. It’s not always about roses, spontaneity, or stolen kisses. Instead he said that romance is telling your partner exactly what you need. It’s easier said than done, he stated. One has to be completely honest, vulnerable and have a depth and breadth of oneself to fully articulate their needs to their partner. One practical advice the wife gave was to write a list together and revisit it from time to time. She shared that when she was a new mother, she expressed that her needs were a little different than they at the beginning of their marriage, where she wanted date nights, dancing, and vacations. But when she was a new mother, she remembered that nothing was more romantic than her husband allowing her to sleep, getting the groceries and making dinner, or folding her clothes while she nursed the baby. He on the other hand wanted to watch a movie together on Friday nights, go camping and fishing, or wake up to a pot of hot coffee.
On paper and especially in society, these small acts of intimacy aren’t necessarily considered “romantic” but it’s what was meaningful at the time, and while getting coffee or folding clothes doesn’t seem like tall orders to ask, for a new couple with a child, they seemed like the most impossible things to regularly commit to. But they both understood that this is what their partner wanted and weighed a lot of meaning, and sometimes begrudgingly, but always lovingly they were there for each other.
I guessed that maybe, on the wife’s list, at the time what she needed was for her husband to hold her hand whenever she felt nervous; it was obvious that this was difficult for him to do-emotionally and physically support his wife while he gave a presentation to a room filled with complete strangers. But he did it. And when I think about the vulnerability it required the both of them to display and muster during this important moment, I couldn’t think of a more grand and romantic gesture each partner could do for one other.