The courtship had been romance-novel perfect. There were grand gestures – he filled her apartment with long-stemmed red roses; she packed a gourmet picnic basket and drove him to a secluded beach. He picked her up after work one Friday in a limousine filled with balloons and champagne; she painted his apartment while he was away on business. It was exciting and heady stuff. It was enough to make one’s head spin, with big demonstrations of affection and commitment.
The wedding was magnificent – ice sculptures, live doves, a string quartet, and a horse-drawn carriage to carry away the bride and groom. It was straight out of a dream.
It turned out that the tricky part wasn’t the courtship. Both of them were good at doing and appreciating the grand gestures. The tricky part was how to navigate the day-to-day affairs of being married. It quickly became obvious that real life couldn’t be carried out at that sustained level of excitement. Oh, it’s not that they didn’t try. But real life kept intervening. Romantic dinners every night became expensive and exhausting. Their complicated plans for weekends away bumped into the lawn that needed mowing, the dog that needed kenneling, and the all too frequent need to bring work home.
As it became impossible to keep up the grand gestures, they started to drift into habits of carelessness with each other. It was as if they figured that if they couldn’t do big things for each other, they’d be fine to do nothing. They both became discontented and restless, missing the demonstrations of affection and commitment.
He was the first to act to change this direction. His first impulse was to reach for another grand gesture. He was going to surprise her with a trip to Bermuda. Researching the plan online quickly made him disenchanted with the idea – they could in no way afford to do this, no matter how satisfying it would have been to see the look on her face when she saw the tickets. But he wanted to do something.
He knew of her fondness for her Corvette and her dislike for washing the car. So he took one of the Bermuda brochures and inserted a note that said, “I wish that I could give you this. But instead, I hereby promise to wash your car every month for a full year.”
He put the brochure on her pillow and waited for bedtime. When he came out of the shower, he was greeted by the broadest smile and warmest hug that he’d seen in a long time.
Two days later, he came home to find a note on the kitchen table that said, “Meet me out back.” When he went to their backyard he found that she had spread out a blanket, lit candles, and put out pizza on paper plates. It was the most romantic pizza he’d ever eaten.
The next month he grumbled casually, over a basket of laundry, about how much he hated matching socks. The next laundry weekend, he found that all of his socks appeared on his side of the bed, already miraculously matched.
A week later, he began a ritual that he kept up almost every day of their marriage — each morning, he’d bring her a cup of coffee before she’d even gotten out of bed. She said it was her favorite good-morning kiss.
The marriage prospered for many years, through children and grandchildren. There was still the occasional grand gesture, for they both truly loved the dramatic. He scooped her up right out of her office and took them on a trip to Paris for a surprise for their 20th anniversary. She surprised him with a fishing boat wrapped in a red ribbon for his 40th birthday.
And each week she matched his socks. And each morning he brought her coffee. Although it was the big gestures that made family lore, it was the small kindnesses and considerations that made the marriage.