This Valentine’s Day, I’ll be up at o-dark-thirty to drive my husband to the airport for another overseas military work trip. As long as the minivan doors aren’t frozen shut, I’ll load my shivering body into the driver’s seat, clutching my coffee in one hand and the frigid steering wheel in the other. I’ll back over the sooty snow chunks in our driveway, and we’ll drive, silently listening to news radio along the way.
How’s that for romance?
Not to worry. We’ll make plans to celebrate when he gets back, just like we have for all the other holidays, birthdays and special events my husband wasn’t home for during his 26 years in the Navy. It’s something we “senior military spouses” are accustomed to by now.
Truth be told, life is so hectic — we have three teenagers, enough said — I’m kind of glad to have a little extra time to prepare for a make up Valentine’s date when my husband returns.
In the early days of our marriage, romance required no special planning. Everything seemed inherently romantic back then: sharing a mediocre egg roll at the mall food court, canoodling while in line at the DMV, taking turns gargling at our shared bathroom sink. We were in that goofy-in-love-stage, when the world was seen through rose-colored glasses and ordinary occurrences such as misshapen pancakes were interpreted as serendipity: “Oh, Honey, look! It’s shaped like a heart! Don’t eat it, let’s save it…[smooch, smooch]”
However, when you’ve been married for more than 20 years like we have, romance might need a little coaxing. Like a couple of old gas grills, our easy-start buttons broke some time ago, so if we want to get cooking, we need a plan to ignite the flame.
#1 Make reservations. Gone are the days when we could show up for a romantic dinner without reservations, and stare into each other’s eyes while waiting for 45 minutes at the crowded bar. Nowadays, the hostess better seat us quick, and put in a rush order of chowder while she’s at it, before my husband gets “hangry” or I start to yawn.
#2 Don’t just talk about the kids. When we were young, Valentine’s Day dinner conversation was dominated by quixotic plans for a perfect life of adventure, a white-picket fence, and an ever-deepening love. But two decades into marriage, we find ourselves chatting about mundane details such as the status of the leaky dishwasher, the latest college bill, and how far we have to drive for the next away game. Steering the conversation in a more amorous direction requires considerable effort, but it’s worth it… even if our dreams for our future now involve post-retirement walks on the beach wearing wrap-around sunglasses and pants pulled up to our armpits, while carrying metal detectors.
#3 Don’t fall asleep on the couch. In the old days, we wandered around after Valentine’s dinners, arm in arm, stopping to admire urban landscapes or bucolic scenery. But as middle-aged parents, we head home as soon as the waitress boxes up the leftover chicken piccata, and resist all urges to “wind down in front of the TV for just a bit,” because the odds for intimacy decrease considerably after you fall asleep on the couch with your mouth open.
#4 Brush, floss and gargle. When we were young, passion was a given. But now, if we are able to muster a bit of affection in the midst of stretch marks and male-pattern balding, we wouldn’t want to let something like personal hygiene kill the mood: “Honey, I love you and all, but you’ve got a fleck of pepper between your teeth, and I’m getting the aroma of clams casino.”
#5 Keep it real. Don’t obsess over recreating the passion of your youth. Instead, think of what you and your spouse have shared over the years — the dreams, the milestones, the joys, the hardships, the moves, the deployments, and the real life experiences. What could be more romantic than knowing you’re with someone dedicated to lifetime companionship, right?
Plan your Valentine’s Day strategy, and the romance will happen… spontaneously.