ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker
FIRST DEGREE ROMANCE
Well, it’s finally happened. After 33.5 years of marriage and 34 Valentine’s Days as a couple (I count that first one because I was TOTALLY concentrating on her from across the room during that church Valentine’s dance even though she was so busy being a dancing queen with that one ballroom dancing guy that she didn’t even notice me), Anita and I have hit the wall – Valentinsically speaking.
This realization dawned on me last night, shortly after the following conversation (the “I saids” and “she saids” have been omitted because, frankly, I forget who said what):
“Well, Valentine’s Day is coming up.”
“So . . . what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.” Pause. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.” Another pause. “Do you want to go out to dinner or something?”
“We could do that, I guess.” Still another pause. “What do you want for dinner tonight?”
“I don’t know.” Pausing yet again. “What do you want?”
Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that the fires of romance have gone completely cold in our relationship. It’s just that Anita and I are . . . well . . . older than we used to be, and we both channel so much energy into daily living that it’s kind of hard to generate much enthusiasm for life’s hearts and flowers. I mean, do you really think Anita wants to have me chase her around the house all night after she’s spent the day chasing information from the world financial markets at her office? And then there’s me – the way I see it, I figure I used up at least a love sonnet’s worth of energy just making up the word “valentinsically” a few paragraphs ago.
Romance is a very different thing for us today than it was 34 years ago. And that’s OK, I guess. “Different” doesn’t necessarily mean “worse.” It can also mean “deeper,” “richer” and “more fulfilling” – especially if we can find a way to follow Janet and Jerry’s example.
Janet and Jerry have lived in our neighborhood for years. They raised a good family together. They were successful enough in their professional lives that they had a lovely home and the time and means to do the things they wanted to do in their retirement years. But for all of that, there was never any question in the minds of those who knew them well what was most important to Janet and Jerry: Jerry and Janet, respectively.
You could see it in the way they held hands at church. You could hear it in the kind, loving, respectful words they used to talk about each other – even when the other wasn’t within hearing distance. And you could feel it – palpably – whenever you were with them. The stolen glances, the knowing winks, the gentle teasing and words of praise – every shred of evidence convicted these two people of First Degree Romance.
Jerry died recently after a long and difficult illness. And while I don’t think any of us who knew them will ever get used to seeing Janet sitting by herself at church, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to see Janet without seeing a little of Jerry there, too. They became so much a part of each other, so inseparably connected, it’s almost as if their love transcends death.
Which, in a very real way, it does.
“I’ve always drawn strength and energy from our love for each other,” Janet told me not too long ago. “That hasn’t changed. It’s different now, obviously. But the love remains, and still gives focus and meaning to my life.”
So I guess it’s OK if the onset of Valentine’s Day doesn’t set our hearts aflutter like it used to. Life’s seasons ebb and flow, and the only thing we can absolutely count on is that things will change. But change can be a positive thing, even in our most cherished relationships. Hearts can grow fonder even as they grow older. Love can be compelling even when it is calm. Passion can burn at any number of different temperatures. And romance can flourish even when you’re too tired to be romantic.
Valentinsically speaking, or otherwise.
— © Joseph Walker
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