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Valentine's advice

02/04/2013 @ 9:29am

My wife and I will soon celebrate our 32nd anniversary, which means our marriage has outlived its warranty by 31 ½ 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.

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