Marriage is hard. Regardless of whether you work, how many kids you have, how good-looking you are or how much money you make, it’s not easy to keep a marriage sizzling while dealing with the day-to-day trials of ordinary life.
I watch TV (who doesn’t?), and I’m beginning to think I’m the only married person out there who’d rather have a baked potato than have sex many days of the month. The TV couples I see—those with many kids (“7th Heaven”), struggling to have kids (Chandler and Monica Bing on “Friends” reruns), with kids from other sordid relationships (Lorelei and Luke on “Gilmore Girls”), even cartoon characters (Marge and Homer Simpson)—all seem hotter and happier than I am.
My husband and I would dive under a bus for each other; I have known he is The One since I was a teenager and vice versa. But we have a hard time keeping things hot.
Well, no more. I want to be hot and happy, too.
So I decided to turn to The Experts—women’s magazines—for advice on how to “spice things up a bit” and “get the romance back.” And there’s lots of advice out there, believe me. I did some research, collected some tips from our nation’s top relationship gurus (Redbook, Self, Cosmopolitan among them) and tried them out on my lab-rat husband. How would he respond? Would romance be revived—or would my unsuspecting husband need to be after, say, Tip No. 4?
Spice-things-up tip No. 1 (Family Circle):
Home in on his interests.
Most women’s magazines have touted this as the top hook-him-and/or-keep-him-hooked tip: You feign (or “develop”) a common interest. It’s often recommended that you research and develop an interest in a hobby or activity your man is mad about. “Sports” is often suggested.
This will not work so well with my husband, Gary, because we already share an avid interest in most sports and most of the same sports teams (though I have an affinity for Allen Iverson he never shared). We often watch games together; when we lived on the East Coast, I often got us kicked out of New York City bars because of my, er, aggressive support for our hometown Sacramento Kings. Three years running, I’ve kicked his butt in NCAA March Madness bracket pools.
But there is one object that clearly represents a difference in not only interest but opinion: the newspaper. Despite my love of most sports, I never read the sports section. I have reasons for this: Namely, if you have attended the game and/or have seen the pre- and post-game shows on ESPN, you do not need to read about it in the newspaper, now do you? The rest of the newspaper, on the other hand, you should read: the front pages, the metro news, the business section, even the entertainment section for ideas on what to do (or at least what to rent at the video store) for “date night” (see final tip)—it’s good to read the paper. Gary refuses to read the paper except for the sports section.
So one lazy Saturday morning after a big Kings blowout, I fish out the sports section and begin reading. Once the kids are happily munching on their toast, my beloved sits down on the couch, pulls the paper over and begins hunting through it. He shuffles through it for a while before asking, “Where’s today’s paper?”
“That’s it,” I reply.
He looks through it a bit more, then adds, “You know what I mean. Where’s the sports section?”
“I’ve got it.”
“I’m reading it.”
“You are not.”
“Well, yeah, I am.”
He sighs and gets up from the couch.
“I’ll be done with it in a second,” I tell him. “Why don’t you . . . ”
“I know what you’re trying to do,” he laughs. “It’s not going to work. I don’t care about what happens in Washington. I don’t care about what happens in the world. I don’t want to read the rest of the paper.”
And he’s off to pick up the dog poop in the backyard.
Not the romantic exchange I’d hoped for.
Later that afternoon, I try a different tack. (Unfortunately, I realize later, I do this just as he has finally sat down to read the sports section.) I suggest that he teach me to play golf, a sport he enjoys immensely and I have declared in the past to detest.
“You wanna learn to play golf,” he snickers.
“I think it looks like fun.”
He laughs. “Like when you decided you wanted to learn how to ski, and I spent the entire afternoon snowplowing downhill with you on your skis wrapped around my waist,” he reminds me.
“Well . . . ”
“Or the time you wanted to learn poker right there in Vegas, and lost 400 bucks at the table,” he adds. “Or what about the time I tried to teach you chess, and you got so frustrated you hurled the queen across the room and broke the window? Or when I first taught you how to run, you threw up all over my shoes?”
He shakes his head. “Let’s just keep golf one of those ‘me-time’ things, honey,” he concludes, going back to his paper.
Spice-things-up tip No. 2 (Cosmopolitan):
“Leave a steamy message for him at work.”
Another classic spice-it-up standby: You call your husband at the office and leave a sexy message, the idea being that he’ll simmer all day thinking about you and scurry home to sweep you off your feet for a night of passion.
I work in a cubicle a few feet away from Liz, a hot, hip 20-something who is thoroughly entertained as I begin my experiment.
She’s not the only one.
My husband’s office manager answers the phone. “Hi, Sue,” I begin. “Um, I need to leave a message for Gary.” (I usually call his cell, and when he sees my number, he almost always picks up, thinking it’s some kid-related emergency.) “Does he have voice mail?”
“No, we don’t have voice mail; I’m it. You can leave it with me,” she says in her no-nonsense way.
“Um. OK. Well, tell him,” I pause and lower my voice. “Tell him, ‘Oh, baby, I’m . . .’ ”
“You need to speak up—it’s loud in here,” says Sue.
I go blank. I can’t think of what to say. In a singsong voice, I stammer, “Um, oh, baby, I’m thinking about you. I’m sitting here with no clothes on. I can’t wait for you to come home tonight.”
There is silence on the other end as Sue, the consummate professional, writes it down. “OK,” Sue says. “I’ll give him the message.”
“You should have signed it off ‘licks and kisses,’” Liz suggests as I hang up the phone.
“Why didn’t you say something?” I ask.
“It sounded private.”
Turns out Gary doesn’t get out of his deposition that day until well after office hours. When he calls in to retrieve messages, one of the other attorneys working late picks up the phone. He reads two messages to my husband, and Gary asks if there are any others.
“Well, yeah, there’s one here,” Steve begins, and pauses. “But I’m not . . . something about Andrea not having any clothes on?”
Later that night, mentioning the message to me, Gary’s reaction is not exactly amorous. “Thank God it was Steve and not one of the female attorneys who picked up the phone,” he comments dryly, adding, “I hope Sue doesn’t decide to sue for sexual harassment.”
Spice-things-up tip No. 3 (Romancestuck.com, an online magazine devoted to “helping you add more romance to your life!”): “Leaving a phone message for your partner can be a creative way to express your feelings. All you have to do is call your partner when you know he isn’t home. If you’re at a loss of what to say, use one of the short messages below. Go ahead and try one out on your partner. You may be surprised by the response you get!”
This time, I call Gary’s cell when he’s
in court, and now I have a script: a list of sexy, soulful messages guaranteed to rekindle the spark that once burned between us. These suggestions include:
“I didn’t think about you once today. Twice, three, maybe six times, but not once.”
“Hi, I just called the hotline, and they said you are on duty tonight. My romantic side needs first aid. What is your prescription? Please return this call ASAP.”
“No one has ever touched my heart the way you have. Please keep touching it.”
When his voice mail picks up, I try very hard to say, “I was walking through a garden a few minutes ago and smelled an incredible flower and thought about you. It’s beautiful to see our love blossom” with a straight face. I only giggle once. After I hang up, my cubicle mate asks, “What the hell was that?”
Gary does not mention the message when he arrives home that night, but does offer to take the kids to day care at the gym for a while so I can “get some rest.”
Spice-things-up tip No. 4 (Parents):
“Break out the bubbly: Have a romantic bath with your honey, and get ready for some good, not-so-clean fun.”
The only time Gary takes a bath is when he’s coming down with a cold, so this tip is already tainted by association for us. Still, I figure, what the heck? Remember the baths Monica and Chandler used to share, the baths on TV soap operas (pun not intended)? How about that bath Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson shared in A Star Is Born—hundreds of candles glowing, mounds of bubbles that hide the stretch marks, cellulite and redneck tan . . . I rush home from work but do not have time to brave Highway 50 to purchase hundreds of candles at Linens ’n Things. I have to make do with the candles we have at home: two kitchen deodorizer candles that smell like lemon-scented Raid. It takes me a half-hour to remove the baby bath seat attached to the side of the tub that our 10-month-old uses. I nearly pull it from the porcelain before finding the plastic handle you turn that dislodges it. I run a bath but realize the only bath product we have in the house is Mr. Bubble—soap so mild the lather doesn’t last. I add some dishwashing detergent for a Hollywoodish foamy froth. It suddenly occurs to me that the bath toys, rubber duck bath mat and smiley-face shower curtain don’t exactly exude a romantic aura, but it’s too late; I hear the key in the lock.
Once in the house, kids in tow, Gary finally finds me in the bathroom and wants to know why the house smells like Dawn. Rose, our 2-year-old, sees the bath, cries, ‘Bubbles!” and pulls off her clothes. She has to be restrained when Gary points out that the detergent might be too harsh for her skin and might get in her eyes. The fit she throws shortly thereafter makes Gary forget to ask, once more, why I put the stuff in the bath to begin with.
Not one to give up easily, I try this again, a slightly different variation: I arrange to pick up the kids after work and tell Gary it’s OK if he wants to work late. I manage to get the kids fed and in bed by 8, then I go to work. Climbing into the sexy outfit and the high-heel shoes I haven’t worn since 1996, I scatter rose petals at the front door and create a path halfway down the hall to the bedroom. (I run out, and there’s no time to sneak over to the neighbor’s yard to get more.) I put the petal-less stem in my teeth as my husband drives up and wait in bed.
I hear him open the front door. I think I hear the television, and then the door to the garage open, and finally, the sound of sweeping. Swish swish swish swish. A pause, and then it starts again, swish swish swish swish.
My rose petals!
I totter out to the living room, where Gary is sweeping them up into a dustpan, eyes glued to ESPN.
“What’s going on?” he says when he senses me standing there. Then he looks at me and laughs. “Are you drinking?” he wants to know, then, warily, “Where are the kids?”
Spice-things-up tips Nos. 5 and 6 (Self and For Me, respectively):
“Protect your alone time by spending time together, just the two of you” and “Upgrade your night out: Get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant.”
Date night is another classic tip the experts strongly recommend. Couples must, they insist, hire a sitter at least one evening a month, get all dressed up and have a special night out on the town, reconnecting and enjoying each other’s company. In the past, my husband and I have left the kids with our parents, but hurry home from a quick dinner to find one parent fallen asleep on the couch and the other looking exhausted. (Bedtime for my parents is 7 p.m.; his parents, veritable night owls by comparison, turn in around 9.)
“Let’s get a sitter,” I suggest to Gary.
You don’t have to pay your parents; sitters you have to pay. And they’re expensive.
“If we’re going to pay someone, I’d just as soon do something we enjoy,” says Gary. And I wholeheartedly agree. Dinner and dancing do not fall into this category. A good long run does. Both of us are still carrying baby weight from my last pregnancy—Gary substantially more because he didn’t breastfeed. We haven’t been able to enjoy a run together since Tommy was born almost a year ago.
So Amy the Angel arrives at 10 a.m. that Sunday to watch the kids while we run. A scheduled four-hour time block, with an hour for running. And the rest of the time . . . ?
Gary and I have not been grocery shopping without the kids since Rose was born. A trip to the grocery store without any children on a Sunday afternoon is exactly the kind of activity you never realized was so enjoyable until you have kids. We are able to compare prices! Shop for deals! Select (slightly) healthier foods—all without one screaming/crying fit (except for mine when I can’t find the peanut butter cups I like in miniature size), without having to change one dirty diaper in the frozen food aisle because the bathrooms are a football field away.
Groceries in the car, basking in the afterglow of productivity and efficiency, my husband checks his watch.
“We’ve got some extra time,” he says. “You know what would be great right now?”
“Yes, I think I do,” I reply coyly.
We find a shady spot under some trees near the park around the corner from our house. We push our bucket seats back and there, in our Honda Civic, the two of us take a blissful, uninterrupted nap.
So how did my experiment in spicing up my marriage turn out? Forget romance—I’m just happy my husband didn’t have me committed. No matter how strangely I behaved while I tried these things out, my husband was just too preoccupied, too stressed and too tired from real life (child rearing, working, running a household) to think much of it. When I explained the purpose of this experiment once it was over, he was a little bummed.
“Next time, tell me beforehand,” he said.