My wife and I will soon celebrate our 32nd anniversary, which means our marriage has outlived its warranty by 31- years.
Time has transformed my wife into a mind reader. For instance, we may be conversing with another couple, and someone might say something that cries out for a good punning. Before I can say a thing - before I even open my mouth! - my wife will give me a preemptive jab, squelching my witty rejoinder. Her clairvoyant abilities are spooky.
People often ask "What's the secret is to a long and happy marriage?" My advice can be boiled down to three words: "Don't be Don!"
I am a fan of the TV show "Mad Men." Its main character is a suave advertising executive named Don Draper. Don is handsome, charismatic, successful, wealthy, powerful and handsome. Did I mention that he's also incredibly handsome?
This unhappy combination of factors has turned Don into a lady magnet. Women throw themselves at him like Asian carp leaping at the sound of a speeding boat. Saying that Don is a philanderer is like stating that Antarctic winters tend to be a bit chilly.
I have learned from such bad examples. I have done my best to avoid becoming successful or wealthy or powerful, and Providence has spared me the curse of handsomeness.
Yet it takes more than the avoidance of bad things to make a good marriage. It also takes hard work, especially in the romance department.
Getting married is like buying a new car. It's all very exciting at first. You spend a good deal of time exploring its features and learning about all its settings. You really enjoy your new car and can't help but admire its gleaming paint and sleek lines.
But sooner or later, familiarity sets in. Your new car no longer seems sleek or exciting; it's just a comfortable, ordinary car. This is when the hard work of romance begins.
Cars and marriages need regular maintenance. Buying your wife flowers for no reason is similar to having your car washed and waxed. Accompanying her on a shopping expedition is like getting new seat covers for your vehicle. And taking your wife on any sort of outing that includes the words "bed and breakfast" is like overhauling your automobile's engine and installing a new transmission.
As with all maintenance, romance is perpetual process. In other words, you can't say, "Well, I bought you flowers that one time in 1987! Shouldn't that be enough?"
Accomplishing romance can be difficult at times. A Valentine's Day from the early years of our marriage is a good example.
We were young dairy farmers with two small sons. Even though we were incredibly busy, I decided that we were going to mark Valentine's Day by going out on an official date. At night! Without the kids! My wife looked forward to an evening meal that didn't involve a box of wet wipes and saying such things as "Quit playing with your food!" or "Don't put spaghetti in your hair!" It was even worse when we dined out with our kids.
There was a fly in the ointment in the form of a dreadful cold our kids had brought home from school. Nasal secretions at our house reached such levels that Kleenex had to be purchased by the case. But my wife and I were determined to enjoy our Valentine's date, cold or no cold!
In an effort to avoid the spectacle of excess expectorations, we loaded ourselves up with large doses of an over-the-counter cold remedy. Thus fortified, we left the boys in the care of a sitter and went out on our date.
"How's your food?" I asked my wife as we ate our restaurant meal.
"I cand daste a ding," she replied, her nose still hopelessly plugged. "How's yours?"
"OK, I guess." Truth was, the only way I could tell that I had ordered the super-hot chili was the burning sensation that was building in my stomach.
Next on the agenda was a movie, a flick that was an epic depiction of a world-class romance. Or so we were told; my wife and I fell asleep shortly after the movie began.
We were startled awake by the sound of people leaving. As we slunk from the theater, we hoped that no one had noticed our napping.
I took the sitter home and returned to a quiet house. Our bedroom was romantically candlelit and my wife was wearing a lovely blue nightgown.
She was also snoring. Marveling yet again at her eerie mind-reading abilities, I silently slid in under the covers and was soon asleep.