My husband and I were lying next to each other in bed the other night when he spoke the words I had been longing to hear for months. Outside, the gloomy January light had dimmed to black, and we were tucked under our king-size quilt on the brink of satisfied sleep. “I’ve been thinking,” he whispered, breaking the stillness. “We should get some new towels.”
I recalled that conversation a few days later, when I happened across HuffPost’s compilation of tweets meant to illustrate the difference between dating and marriage. Reader, I laughed:
But some of them also made me wince:
The observation that marriage bleeds the romance from love is obviously not new. “Men are April when they woo, December when they wed,” Rosalind told Orlando in As You Like It. It’s the foundational premise of family sitcoms from The Honeymooners to Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s funny because they’re married, but they hate each other! And indeed, some of the tweets on the list were downright depressing, like the suggestion that guilt is the only reason to say “I love you.”
So as I idly chuckled my way through the Borscht Belt–worthy zingers, I thought back to those towels. Pillow-talking about Pima vs. Egyptian cotton could have been a scene in American Beauty, a dreary encapsulation of middle-class marital ennui. But I knew better. We weren’t just talking about towels, we were talking about the future, our values, and plans to make our shared life incrementally more enjoyable. Texting about tile preferences and investigating weird household smells are not the same as giving stingy massages and fighting endlessly. The latter make for quiet misery, and the former for quiet romance.
I’m not talking about the cliché that men paying attention to household chores is “porn for women.” That stubborn canard assumes that women have no erotic desires, only logistical ones they are willing to trade for sex. Talking about towels is not sexy. It is not a matter of eros, but of philia, the kind of love Aristotle summarized as “doing kindnesses; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done.”
When I asked about the pleasures of domestic intimacy on Facebook, dozens of people immediately knew just what I was talking about. Their responses made for a sweet catalog of domestic … well, maybe not bliss, but satisfaction:
• I recently couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband that the local grocery store had Cracklin’ Oat Bran back in stock. They hadn’t carried it for months!
• My spouse does all the dishes because he knows I have a pathological hate for it, probably because of reading The Second Sex when I was like 12.
• This morning, my husband and I were discussing going shopping for a desk and bookshelf during the upcoming weekend and I’m filled with anticipation!
• Yesterday we bought the new tiles for our bathroom remodel. The tiles were ½ off. HALF OFF. We are still talking about our awesome find as if we struck gold.
• A childless couple like us keeping our sourdough starter alive has been the drama of my half-century.
It’s true, as the sitcoms warned us, that not every moment in a long-term partnership is erotically charged. But time doesn’t have to kill romance. There’s a deep kind of sweetness in exulting or commiserating over things that no one outside your own household could possibly ever care about. The grandiose wooing in the early stages of a relationship sends a primal and obvious message: I want to have sex with you. Big whoop. Almost everyone wants to have sex. But there’s only one person in the world who knows exactly what you want to hear about towels.