Perhaps our greatest notoriety, as a couple, is the Queen’s and my perpetual wandering. Our social media timelines often resemble a vacation brochure of sorts depicting our travels near and far. More than once a stranger has walked up to me at the gym or on the street claiming to know me from the Queen’s Facebook page and a picture of she and I before some tropical or majestic canvas.
From the beginning we agreed that experiences, instead of things, would be the thread used to weave our memories and our relationship. While many couples find their loftiest romantic ambitions in procuring a great view or the latest German sports sedan, we remain convinced that stuff breaks couples apart far more than it brings them together.
Within a month of dating, I had planned our first vacation – a long weekend biker’s getaway. Few things better test the bounds of new romance than endless chrome, motorcycle gangs, and biker chicks. It was the first hit in what has since become our addiction.
To be fair, there were less charming reasons that made our wandering spirits a relationship necessity – we never lived together before getting married. To this day, few can get their minds completely around why any couple in the modern age would date for almost seven years and never shack up. Regardless of how noble, that decision wasn’t without a cost. It became routine, with kid’s schedules, visitation, and work obligations to go several days or more without setting eyes on one other. Travel, for us, then, not only became a way to spice up our online profiles, it acted as a glue holding our relationship together when we were so often kept apart. Longing is made easier when it’s capped off with an airplane ride to sandy beaches and azure waters.
But while our separation often urged us towards distant shores, it also had another affect; one we hoped wouldn’t get lost after our marriage. Those times apart forced us to be more intentional about our relationship than we otherwise would have been. It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder; it also can make the will much stronger. Relationships can easily stale when distance is involved. What we discovered during those long periods apart was how we unknowingly set each other to the back of our minds. In the midst of being taxi, cook, teacher, and all-in-one parent, we might go an entire day without giving the love of our life a sincere thought. Out of sight out of mind, as the adage goes. Furthermore, we noticed that coming back together required a warming up period. We needed time to get reacquainted and reconnected.
Likely the greatest relationship book ever written; “The Five Love Languages” talks about every person having a ‘love tank’. The tank represents how much we feel loved by another person. If our tank is full, we feel confident and secure in the other person’s love for us. When the tank is low we’re not getting what we need. Each partner is responsible for keeping the other’s love tank brimming. That’s a hard enough job as it is– adding distance and separation makes that even more complicated.
We got so into this idea that she and I could tell how full or empty the other’s ‘love tanks’ was just by how we sounded over the phone. If my tank was low, I would often be terse, indifferent, and businesslike. She would typically go dark or have very little to say. That usually sent me into an unspoken monologue punishing the Queen for her neglect and detachment.
If we had any hope of keeping this from being a bi-weekly occurrence, we needed to do some things different. We needed to act intentionally. This meant remaining mindful and keyed into the other’s queues more closely. Being sensitive that times of separation would make it easier for those tanks to get low. Text messages, hidden love notes, surprise phone calls – and vacations – were just a few of the arrows in our romantic quiver. Sending the Queen ‘good morning’ texts became an art form, as someone who isn’t naturally creative; I had to find ways to make exciting and spontaneous what would otherwise drift into the mundane and robotic.
This was the fear as we neared our marriage. How would living together and seeing each other every day change that intentionality we had worked to so hard to achieve? Would we find ourselves taking the other for granted simply because that distance and separation were now closed? Waking up with her every morning, would those ‘good morning’ texts stop and love notes disappear? In other words would we suddenly stop trying? Our fear was manifest in this one thought, would marriage make us complacent? And our concern was heightened because of the baseline we had to measure from – the necessary things we relied on before our marriage that we still remembered after. Put another way, would becoming husband and wife show us both to be masters of the bait-n-switch?
Many years ago I overheard a woman talking to her friend about the disappointment she was experiencing after she had moved in with her boyfriend. “He doesn’t send me text messages in the morning any more”, she said. While they had bridged their separation, they had lost something in the process that she wished was still there. I often remember that story and wonder if it could ever becomes our own.
Complacency is a danger for any couple, whether a first marriage or fifth. But I believe couples in second marriages are more often susceptible, for many reasons but mainly due to the element called children. For the most part, couples in marriages without children have margin to continue growing in their relationship in a new framework of matrimony. But couples in a second marriage, and particularly those that result in blended families, simply don’t have that luxury. There isn’t the risk of a honeymoon that ends because for most second marriages the honeymoon never really got started.
Several years ago, before our engagement, I wrote an essay titled, ‘Dating As If..’. In it I talk about how I was approaching our dating relationship as if we were already married. Perhaps I need to write a follow-up post about treating our marriage like a dating couple and call it, ‘Married As If…”
Click here to read the other essays in this five part series.