Why do we think that love, emotion, or romance only count if they’re spontaneous, rather than something that’s planned?
This week I’ve been talking about how to love your husband and how to treat him well, and I want to address this issue of expectations of romance in marriage, too, with this post that I wrote a while ago but which most of you haven’t read. Personally, I think sometimes we make too big a deal thinking that spontaneity = genuineness, and everything else must be subpar.
It reminds me of Anne of Green Gables (seriously, I can use Anne for illustrations about almost anything; it’s the Canadian in me). Anne is forced to apologize to Mrs. Lynde, after telling off Mrs. Lynde when Mrs. Lynde insulted her by noting that her hair was red. Anne is flabbergasted. How can she apologize when she doesn’t mean it? An apology must come from the heart; it can’t be forced. It must bubble up from what’s really inside!
I think we’re all rather sympathetic to Anne. We share her perspective about all kinds of things:
- A hand-written note from a child.
- Romantic gifts.
- Date night.
- Even sex.
To be real, these things must be spontaneous. They must flow from the heart, not from calculation or planning. If people have sex because it’s in their calendar, it doesn’t count. If they buy flowers because they were reminded to, or because they “should”, then they don’t win brownie points. Romance, love, genuine feelings should all proceed from the feelings of the moment, not from cool calculation when looking at a calendar–shouldn’t they?
What If We’re Looking at Romance Wrong?
When I’m speaking at marriage conferences, I often make the point that women should tell their husbands exactly when they expect gifts (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.), and then either give him a list of acceptable gifts, or give him the emails of several of her closest friends to ask. So many women are disappointed by men on holidays, and it seems to me that we should just make our expectations clear. (I keep a Pinterest board with things I’d like as gifts, and put things on my Amazon wish list. It works much better!).
But this approach isn’t always embraced by women. “I don’t want to have to tell him to get the right gift,” they’ll explain. “I want him to study me and love me enough that he would think of getting the right gift.”
I understand. I really do.
But may I offer another way of looking at romance?
When I was 8 years old, my grandmother taught me how to knit. I found it so awkward to hold the needles. And as I knit, I had to repeat to myself: “The bunny goes into the hole. He puts his sweater on. He goes out of the hole, up the street, and around the corner…”
I’m not like that today. Today I can knit without looking at my hands. (Here’s a picture I shared on Instagram recently of me knitting at the dentist’s chair to relax.) (Oh, and you can follow me on instagram, too!)
In fact, I rarely even have to look at a pattern. I can just figure out what’s next by looking at the row before it and knowing how to make patterns appear.
That’s because I worked at knitting for countless thousands of hours until it became natural, almost an extension of myself. I did it over and over again until I didn’t have to think about what my hands were doing. I can watch a movie while I knit and still not miss a stitch (or miss the plot of the movie). But it took concerted effort to get here. (PS: for any fellow ravelers, my ravelry name is just sheilagregoire! Come find me! And only hardcore knitters will know what I’m talking about).
Don’t you think relationships may take the same course?
When we start out, when we first get married, we don’t really know what we’re doing. There’s a lot of adjustment required.
And sometimes the best way to make those adjustments is to actually plan it. To put things in your calendar. To make lists of ways to be nice to him. As one commenter said on the weekend, even to schedule sex!
This doesn’t mean that we don’t really love our husbands, and it doesn’t mean they don’t love us. In fact, it’s the opposite. When you put something in your calendar, you’re saying, “this is important to me.” When you make a list of the things that you’re supposed to do, it’s because they’re so important that you don’t want to forget them.
And the more we do things, even if it’s by a list or with reminders, the more natural those things become.
When we spend scheduled time together, we start to share and talk more. And as we share and talk more, we feel more intimate. We feel closer. We understand each other better–so much so that next time perhaps we won’t need to schedule it; it will just happen.
But at different points in the relationship it’s important just to say, “I know that we’re missing something here, and I want to prioritize our relationship more. So I’m going to start writing things in my daybook. Can you make me a list of the things that I can say to you to make you feel loved? Can you write me a list of gifts you want? Can you write me a list of things that would make you feel special?”
Is it spontaneous? Perhaps not. But it’s building intimacy. And once we start to plan it, to make it a priority in our lives, then it will slowly start to become a habit. And then the spontaneity will come! If sex is a problem in your relationship, try scheduling it! When it becomes more frequent, with less stress associated with it, then it may also grow more spontaneous with time.
So instead of being upset that he isn’t romantic enough, or that your love isn’t authentic enough, maybe we should ask a more fundamental question: how can we prioritize each other? How can we be more deliberate?
Structure is not always the opposite of authenticity. Sometimes it’s simply the beginning of it.
What do you think? Have you ever had to plan something to make it happen in your relationship? How did that work for you? Let me know in the comments!