My wife and I have been married for fifteen years. We have been together for almost twenty. There is not a lot of romance in our relationship. We are best friends and partners in parenting. We are raising three healthy, happy boys who, by all counts, are kind, well balanced, upstanding citizens.

We don’t get hung up on “special” days. Valentine’s day is a joke. Even our anniversary is kind of a “whatevs” occasion.

“We’ve been married for fifteen years,” I mentioned to her as we were walking up the dirt road by our house. The sky was brilliant blue and the autumn leaves were frosting red and gold. Our little high country valley, nestled against the spine of the Green Mountains, is spectacular on most days. In autumn it is like living in God’s fur lined pocket.

“Yep,” she said, “one day at a time.” My wife is practical. It’s one of the things I admire about her most. Sometimes, however, the starkness of her practicality takes me aback. This was one of those times. It was our anniversary, and this was how we had chosen to “celebrate,” just taking a walk.

This practicality has been instrumental to our sanity as a couple. We have dropped much of the societally programed, nostalgia-laden, Hallmark Card junk out of our lives so that we can communicate with each other in an authentic way. It’s hard to do, but it is so liberating to release yourself and your partner from somebody else’s vision of what a relationship should be.

Let’s take a minute to unpack these glittering, heart-shaped boxes full of emotional confections that we are told we need to swallow. What is Romance anyway? I asked the Oracle (google). Here’s what it said:

A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.

Love, especially when sentimental or idealized.

An exciting, enjoyable love affair, especially one that is not serious or long-lasting.

A feeling of excitement and mystery. Yes, we all want to feel that, right? – the thrill of the chase! But what good is that to me when I’ve been with my true love for twenty years? The courtship was amazing, thrilling, difficult, exhausting, and ultimately so very worth it, but what am I going to do with that 20 years later? To try and live there is like polishing your high school soccer trophies.

Sentimental and idealized love is great for “Titanic.” I watch it and I feel the feelings. Two hours of emotional popcorn and Boom, it’s over and I can get back to my reality, which is much more concerned with washing dishes and putting kids to bed. If I try to live in that space of emotional intensity for too long my relationship is going to sink like that ship.

An exciting, enjoyable love affair, especially one that is not serious or long-lasting… Yes! Now we’re getting somewhere. Marriage is many amazing things, but if it is to be serious and long-lasting as well as enjoyable it needs to be made of sterner stuff than you will find in a greeting card.

What is it that we really want when we are pining for romance? Intimacy? Our lost youth? Our innocence? Are we asking for some recognition of ourselves as attractive and desirable? Romance is a wonderful, powerful force, and I am so glad to have experienced it. At this point in my life and relationship, however, I am so thankful to have a partner who is willing to call me out: Grow up! Live in the present! Keep your eyes open to the unfolding mystery of life!

Intimacy is something that we all need. Human touch and emotional connection are as vital to our survival and well-being as food and water. It is easy to confuse or conflate intimacy and romance but they are not the same.

Sometimes intimate partner relationships, like marriage, can fall into the rut of familiarity. We fall into habits and patterns that can lead to thoughts and feelings being left unexpressed. We might take our partner for granted.

We may resort to a kind of communicative emotional short-hand, assuming our partner knows how we feel and understands what we mean, because doing the work of constantly being connected and responsive to another person is exhausting. Most of the time this works fine, but when the ships start drifting too far apart, it often takes an effort to bring the relationship back into focus.

Romance is a good tool for this situation, but I think it can often ring false. If you expect your partner to bring you flowers for Valentine’s day, is it really romantic when he does? If he doesn’t, haven’t you set yourself up for a disappointment?

Is it possible that what the flowers (or jewelry, or chocolates, or whatever) represent is really a symbol for something else? We all want to be recognized as important and valued and cherished to the ones that we value and cherish. At some point in a relationship, however, we need to dispense with the demonstration of love and get down to the root of what it is to love and be loved.   

What is the baggage that we carry into these situations? Isn’t it unfair to burden someone you love with an expectation to meet some vague idea of romance when what we really want is an emotionally intimate connection? Well, if you want an emotionally intimate connection, communicate that, and leave the confusing baggage of what is and is not romantic out of it.

When you let go of the fire of romantic love you need to replace it with a more stable form of love that involves mutual respect and caring for each other’s needs. How do you support your partner’s efforts at self-care?

In my own marriage, my wife and I create space in our busy lives for each other to practice our particular forms of self-discipline. I practice and teach yoga. My wife practices and teaches Tai Chi.

These forms of self-care take priority in our lives within the context of our marriage. We both understand that to be centered enough to provide the stable ground for our relationship to flourish, we both need to maintain our personal health and well-being first. By creating the space for self-care, we are taking care of each other.

I’m not advocating for everyone to chuck all the romance out of your relationships. But seriously, when was the last time Valentine’s day actually lived up to your expectations? The place for the candy of romance is in new relationships. In mature relationships, we need to nurture a deeper and more nourishing form of sustenance.

Grow up, live in the present, and keep your eyes open to the unfolding mystery of life!