The other weekend, while my wife was busy industriously re-arranging our entire attic library, I did something too: I got up off the couch. On the way from there to the bathroom, I grabbed my empty coffee mug, set it on the dining room table. Went to the bathroom. Came out, grabbed the mug, set it on the counter next to the kitchen sink, at which point I looked at it, sighed, rinsed it out and shoved it in the dishwasher.
Now, several things could have happened during this scenario, one of which was: I get up off the couch, I go to the bathroom, I come back to the couch.
Or: I get up off the couch, go to the bathroom, see my empty mug on the coffee table, grab it, leave it by the sink, go back to the couch.
There are always endless scenarios to my laziness, but what ended up happening was this: after I washed the mug, I looked around the kitchen and thought, well, I’m here, might as well do the rest of the dishes and clear the counters a bit.
On the way back from that excursion, I noticed that the dining area rug was kind of gross. Also, the living room rug could use a vacuuming. And the coffee table could be decluttered and dusted.
And I really, really didn’t want to do my school reading.
I set to work. Before I knew it, I was a cleaning madwoman, and as I enjoyed the way the rug was getting de-crapped while I ran my Dyson over it, I realized that I was doing one of the most romantic things I could do for my partner.
Instead of waiting until she said, “hey, can you do me a favor and vacuum the living room?” I simply did it. Instead of leaving the clutter where she would eventually put it away (not on purpose, mind; because I just Don’t Notice Things) I looked at it and did the thing.
By the time she came back downstairs, victorious from having organized the upstairs to within an inch of its life, I was like a proud cat, except instead of having brought her a dead rodent with a half-severed head, I’d cleaned the downstairs.
Reader, her face said it all.
When we first got together, I wanted to do everything for her. Everything that I considered romantic. I wanted to gift her with flowers every other day (she hates being gifted with flowers). I wanted to bring her the finest chocolates (she enjoys Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). I wanted to spend every second of the day with her (she really needed her alone time). And, well, I did do Intensely Romantic Things that weren’t Things She Wouldn’t Necessarily Enjoy. I even made her a book—written, illustrated, and bound. And she loved it.
But it wasn’t until we began living together and getting to the nitty-gritty of what a relationship entails that it slowly began to dawn on me what romance really meant.
And I wasn’t good at it. In fact, I was terrible. I had never before considered how I would have to change my ways to suit someone else’s. (I’d lived with someone before, but the less said about that, the better.) I didn’t quite understand why I would have to compromise my ways because her burning need for an orderly living space seemed just a tad over the top to me.
In the meantime, she, without my realizing, bent over backwards to adapt to my ways.
It took me too long to see that—honestly; I have the observational skills of a wooden spoon—but I see it now. I see that more romantic than any extravagant gift is noticing when the trash gets full and taking it out. It’s folding the blankets that are strewn over the couch before leaving for the day so you can come home to a neat-looking living room. It’s setting up coffee the night before if I notice she hasn’t had a chance to do it yet. It’s filling up the car on the way home so that she doesn’t have to do it on the way to work the next day. It’s my wife knowing that I’ve had a difficult day and simply cleaning up after dinner with no strings attached. It’s my wife coming back from that with two cups of tea before I can even ask.
It’s work, and it can be hard, because my head is constantly and consistently in the clouds, not helped by a natural tendency towards laziness and procrastination. There may well be an elephant in the room that I am simply not noticing, because so much of my attention is turned inward. But hers is on constant alert, making sure everything is done when it needs to get done while also asking about the minutiae of my day because I’d mentioned something I’d been nervous about on the way to work that morning.
So, what do we talk about when we talk about romance? What sorts of reflections do we seek when we escape into books marketed specifically as love stories with HEA/HFN? So much is grand sweeping getting together, sure, but what about the little things that happen afterwards? The fights and the miscommunications? The small resentments that build up and have to be meticulously worked out like a series of delicate chains tangled up in a jewelry box?
This, more than anything, is what I look for in romance books. Because ‘romance’ can be all of this, at once. It can begin as a terribly sweet meet-cute or a torrid affair but, then, what happens after?
I love reading about the after. I love getting to see couples working through what it takes to make two separate lives into one rich and complex experience. And I love seeing what romance means to each character, independently and together. Because, let me tell you—the possibilities are probably endless.
Now, excuse me while I go wash out a pot from last night, because I don’t want her to even have to think about it.
Liz Jacobs has lived in many places and has no idea how to respond to simple questions like “where are you from?” She has planted roots in Boston with her wife and hopes of a dog, and is doing too many things at once but enjoying the hell out of it. She reads voraciously, writes as much as possible, and has recently begun doing a truly alarming number of online puzzles while watching TV. She also spends a fair bit of time shouting at clouds on the Internet.
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