- Gender and Relationships»
Romance for the Clueless Husband Part I - Getting Started
Isn't it true that guys romance the heck out of the women they date and then go into a coma after the vows are spoken? It's also true that married women desperately want to be pursued by their men. They feel unloved and undesired because the men in their lives stopped chasing them and moved on to some other project. If we're looking for a great marriage, the most important thing we can do is continue the pursuit (ie. be thoughtful and romantic long term). But it's not as easy as it sounds. Most men have enough romantic tools in their toolshed to survive for about a year (maybe two). After that, everything is a re-run (like Friends or Seinfeld).
I can honestly say that I have no instinctive or natural prowess related to romance whatsoever. I am in no way a romantic genius. In fact, it's probably true that the one thing that makes me a worthwhile choice to write on this subject is the fact that I've failed so much at it. At the very least, I can serve as an example of what not to do. But I have learned a lot in my efforts to figure out this whole romance thing. Really the most irritating thing about romance is the fact that it is so hard to nail down what the definition is. The word romance seems so nebulous.
Webster's dictionary apparently defines romance the noun in several useless ways (love story, relationship between two lovers, Latin languages). As a verb, Mr. Webster gives the following options:
1. Make amorous advances towards.
2. Have a love affair with.
3. Talk or behave amorously, without serious intentions.
So now, armed with my new understanding of romance, I asked my wife if this is what she has been talking about. Shockingly, it turns out that her definition is nowhere to be found in the various options provided by Webster.
Not to be disuaded, I moved on to greener pastures--the internet. Then I found some books. I even resorted to interviews, which actually worked out because it became clear that the guys I talked to were every bit as clueless as I was. I did not discover the Holy Grail of Romance, but my search did lead me to some very useful nuggets of wisdom. It also led me to some very practical things I could use in my quest to keep the fires burning.
You might be wondering why we should bother at all. Doesn't every guy know that, once she has said "I do", you're done? That may be true, but apparently someone forgot to inform the women. Married guys, go ask your wives. See if they think it's reasonable for you to have abandoned your romantic proclivities (assuming you had any to speak of) once the wedding was over. I'm confident that you will discover that she needs you to give chase (and quickly).
According to Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn in their book "For Men Only":
It's common for men to think that pursuing goes with dating, not with marriage. But women don't see things that way. There is never that magic moment of closure, when they feel permanently, fully, deeply loved. They think that's what the rest of married life is for! That's why they need and deserve to be pursued every day.
In fact, several women compared the need to feel pursued by their husbands with the need that a man has to feel sexually desired by his wife! If it's that important, what is a smart married man to do?
Big screen answer: Give chase.
Pixel answer: Ask yourself, "What did I do when I was dating that made me so picken' irresistible?"
My first stop on the internet was askmen.com. Ironic I know, and it did in fact occur to me to say "What do men know about romance???". It turns out that their input was certainly reasonable but not necessarily the practical help I was looking for.
"Make a list of the special days on the calendar that you celebrate together." I can recite all of the important dates from memory. I don't need a list. I need a way to not become so distracted by life that the special days sneak up on me.
"Toast each other when you sit down to dinner." Really?
"Use the power of touch to make a lasting impression throughout the day." Wouldn't that be considered self-serving? While we both enjoy it, touch is certainly more my thing than hers.
"Create a photo album." Do people make those anymore? All of our pictures are online.
"Do something thoughtful for her every day." Like what? A unique idea every day??? No pressure there.
"Discuss your day." Now that I can do.
"Tell her about your moods." Yeah, yeah. Talk. I get it.
"Keep up your appearance." I do my best.
"Share significant things from your day with her." Didn't we just cover that one?
I looked back over the list and realized that it was mostly just good every day relational stuff. That's not so bad (except for the thing about coming up with something thoughtful to do every day). If I do these things every day then my wife will feel loved? Romanced? This was great news!! So I asked her about it to confirm that I was understanding the process. It turned out I still wasn't there yet. True enough that these were good things from her perspective. The little things are great. But if that's all there is then apparently her little "gas tank of love" will eventually start to get empty.
The search for answers continued, but I had come to a realization. If you want help with romance, ask a woman (not askmen.com). In fact, don't ask just any woman--ask your woman. "What makes you feel loved and appreciated?" "What do I do that makes you feel unappreciated?" "What is romance to you?" The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what the 1,641,805 readers of Cosmopolitan magazine think romance is. I'm not in a relationship with them!
Finally Something Practical
So, I knew I needed help. I could develop software in my sleep, but that complexity truly is nothing compared to the complexity of a woman. And then we went to a marriage seminar. Tip #1: Do not pass these things up. Go. Listen. Learn. And, don't forget to buy. We found a collection of books published by Family Life (shown below under "Helpful Resources") which had fantastic ideas for us (mostly me). And these ideas weren't high level things like "do something thoughtful every day." This was "nuts and bolts" kind of stuff--the kind of thing you want in your toolbox.
I started reading through idea after idea and quickly realized something about myself. I had gone from wandering through an idea-free desert to drowning in a sea of possibilities. Deep down, I didn't just want an idea. I wanted the best ideas. I was subconsciously looking for the perfect romantic gesture. I was quickly getting overwhelmed and was in danger of doing nothing any time soon. As I thought about it, I wanted to be able to rate the ideas and then sort the most interesting ideas to the top. I didn't want to go hunting through the book over and over. So like the nerd that I am, I created an Excel spreadsheet that contains a priority column (1-100) for each romantic idea from the books. Then I sorted the best ones to the top. I also added a last used date so I could filter out the ones I'd already used.
With that done, I started working down the list of ideas. My new motto: at all costs, remove impediments that would cause you to stand still and do nothing.
Historically, I've always had an issue with timing. Most guys don't think about romantic gestures until they're in trouble (myself included). At that point, the romantic gesture (whatever it is) is clearly being presented under duress and everyone knows it (especially the targets of our affection). Regardless, we still think we're entitled to a ticker tape parade when we finally step up and do something. Men often think of romance and relationships in terms of points. "I forgot to pick up Lucy from daycare so I lose 20 points, but I bought flowers the next day so that's got to be worth at least 10 or 15." "I haven't done anything nice or thoughtful in 3 months so you got mad about it and I lost 15 points. But then I bought you a massage the next day. I bet that's worth a lot of points!" Shockingly, it turns out that it's not worth a lot of points. It's not even worth zero points. You actually lose points (again) because you were a dork and thought you could give a gift under duress and receive credit for it.
Truly, when we're in trouble the smartest thing we can do is sincerely apologize and do nothing else. Any other action at this point insults her intelligence (and she knows it). We should save our great ideas for when they can provide the most bang for the buck. If you're not in the dog house and are completely off the radar, that is the moment--your opportunity. I say seize it! If one of the kids is creating problems for your significant other, be a team player, do your part as a parent, etc. But, then let her calm completely down. Do something wonderful and romantic when she's in a better mood. I would not jump into the fray and paint a target on yourself right then. If it's duck season, let it be duck season. You'll thank yourself for it later.
To Be Continued
In Part II, I'll share anecdotes from my attempts at romancing my wife that went well (as well as those that didn't go well). If you have pearls of wisdom from your own experiences please share! May the women in our lives feel like princesses, and may we be the ones who made them feel that way.
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