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True marital romance is a gas

Sunday, January 24, 2010; C03

One busy night after the kids had gone to bed, I settled into my well-worn spot on the sofa for some mind-numbing television.

"Can you believe this guy?" I asked my husband, seated in his favorite recliner beside me. When no answer was forthcoming, I glanced over to witness an all-too-familiar scene: Deeply embedded in the recliner's cushions was my husband of 17 years, sound asleep.

Normally, I would giggle, turn the lights out around him and go to bed -- a sort of revenge for being "abandoned" for the umpteenth time. He'd eventually wake up alone in the dark and trudge upstairs to find me tee-heeing under the covers.

But on this particular night, I gawked at my dreaming husband as if I were seeing this for the first time. Is this the man I married?

Panic gripped my soul as I realized: We've changed. We're tired, boring, predictable. We're doomed.

One evening in 1992, my husband-to-be and I were at an Italian café in Pittsburgh, sipping wine and falling in love.

"I really want to travel," I said. "Me, too," he said. "I want to live near the ocean," he said. "Me, too," I said. "I don't care about money, I just want happiness," he said. "Me, too!" I said. It was a match made in heaven.

But maybe if we understood the reality of marriage our conversation would have been different: "I might have a lot of stretch marks," I should've said. "That's OK, we'll just dim the lights," he might've said. "I'm going to go bald, but ironically, hair will sprout out of my ears and nose," he should've said. "I'm good with tweezers," I might've said. "I have no mechanical ability whatsoever and will feel no embarrassment if my wife handles all the home repairs," he should've said. "I won't have a problem with that for the first 10 years or so, but then I'll get really fed up," I really wish I'd said.

But back then, we weren't thinking about annoying habits, taxes and clogged drains. We were too busy planning our perfect life to be bothered with reality.

Our unrealistic expectations persisted after we were engaged. "Oh, pardon me!" my fiancé yelped after accidentally belching. Although he insisted that he would never expel any kind of gas in front of me, it didn't take long to erode his steely resolve. Today, expelling gas is almost commonplace and happens as soon as the urge beckons. Mid-sentence, under the covers, in the recliner. "Why do you have to burp while I am talking to you?" I've said. "I didn't burp," he's said, sincerely oblivious.

Before marriage, I preened and pampered my fiancé like a primate, manicuring nails and plucking stray hairs to maintain his ruggedly handsome good looks. I thought this giddy nurturing stage would last forever; I had no idea that those stray hairs would later multiply so profusely that our grooming sessions now take place in the garage and involve the leaf blower. The pedicures have become completely intolerable, because my husband's left piggie toe now resembles a tiny hoof. One of the kids recently asked him if it was made of wood. I had to draw the line somewhere.

So what am I saying? Are we doomed because we haven't met our premarital expectations?

That night, as I watched my husband dozing, I realized something very important: We did not meet our original expectations -- we've exceeded them. Back when we were dreaming of a life of romance uninhibited by responsibility, stress and aging, we couldn't fully comprehend the complexity and depth of the marital relationship.

What we didn't understand then is that romance is more than candlelight dinners and adventurous travel. The foundation of long-term romance is really commitment, companionship and comfort.

Realizing this, my initial repulsion at the sight of my sleeping husband turned to adoration. And as I turned out the lights and sneaked upstairs to wait for him to wake up alone in the dark, I felt happy that our marriage is on an unexpected course to paradise.

-- Lisa Smith Molinari, Germany

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