Dennis treated me to an amazing "date night" recently, courtesy of a coupon to one of the area's best restaurants--four course dinner for two, at $47, with choices of appetizer, entree and dessert, and the house salad. Not a chain restaurant, either, but a romantic little place out in the country. It's called The English Inn, a renovated mansion in Eaton Rapids that also serves as a bed and breakfast as well as a sweet wedding destination, with riverside gardens and a lovely gazebo. Even though it's winter, I was looking forward to sitting by the fireside.
Well, we didn't get the fireside room. We got a little table next to the kitchen door, flanked by two other couples, around our ages. Hardly any privacy for our conversation, and hardly any privacy for anyone else, for that matter. And then there was the loud young woman at the table across the room. I found her bright and cheery. Dennis found her utterly annoying, as we shared notes about our evening on the way home. Since his back was to her, he didn't know she was sharing a table with her husband and her grandparents, who all seemed a little hard of hearing. She apparently had to carry the conversation for all three of her curmedgeonly companions, a chore she did admirably well.
As the room filled up, and the bustle of the wait staff turned up a few notches, it was hard to not notice a few other things. The couple on my right had nothing to say to each other, except when the husband rambled on and on about work. His wife had nothing to say, and he didn't even ask her about what she thought or felt about anything. They had nothing in common. The couple on my left were full of tension, it is hard not to notice when the wife raised her voice to a jarringly terse "I'll take care of it!" to what seemed to me like a gentle request by her husband. Whatever the issue, why couldn't it be left at the door so they could relax and have a good time? No one was smiling over there, that's for sure, and no one was kissing and making up either.
So, as we were sandwiched between these two "happily" married pairs of people, I noticed lots of other middle-aged couples in tables for two. One woman complained about their placement by the loud and noisy kitchen (so what? we were practically in the door). Another man seemed to have eyes following the young waitresses than focusing on his wife (note to wives, always take the seat facing the room, and let your men face only you and the wall behind you).
As for us, I think we had a good time. I loved the table by the kitchen, as I watched what was coming and going through the doors on platters and trays. The clatter of pans told me this was an unusually busy night, but there was no yelling or agitation from the culinary team behind the scenes. Obviously, they were pros and operating like a well-oiled machine. Everything was refilled by one young woman constantly on the go, her job seemingly just keeping water glasses full and coffee cups brimming. I'd take two sips, and she was right there.
The waitress, when told we had a coupon, at first looked a little like we were "one of those". After taking away the official menus, she brought out the special menus with our discount choices. Either she was disappointed that our order would not be as profitable or that time was wasted because we didn't tell her about the coupon in the first place. My opinion of her changed, however, as I heard her throughout the evening deal with a variety of complaints exceptionally well. I also made sure she got a big smile from me whenever she came by. I was proud of my husband for making sure he complimented her service as well as the whole staff. As she hustled off through those swinging doors, I wondered how many people took the time to notice how great a waitress she was.
And Den and I had a lot to talk about although we already had spent the whole day off together. We talked about making "play dates" for our dog with other friends with dogs. When we expected our cat to deliver her kittens. My plans for a sabbitical next year. Traveling to Montreal, maybe my studying French before going and surprising my husband's family with newly accrued fluency. Or teaching English in China. Camping. Plotting to get my sisters over to Michigan, or perhaps as far as Chicago. Reminiscing over old cross country car trips and train trips together. Swimming techiniques. Getting me back to playing racquetball again. Taking a spinning class together. And so on.
It wasn't deep or emotional. But a pleasant evening where we dressed up, ate a nice meal and drank a bit of good Cabernet. Even though I did a little people watching on our special date (it was hard not to with everyone crammed in so close) it didn't dilute our connection with one another. We smiled, laughed and let our eyes lock. It's been almost 19 years, and we have not lost the ability to have a good time. And that took a good bit of time and effort before the date night began.
Yes, we've had our share of silent and boring meals in public, trying to find something to say. And those tense moments during a date, too. But in the course of the evening, distance and communication gaps were filled, or heartfelt apologies were made. That's part of the marriage story for everyone who cares to work through those moments, understanding that those are just moments. After awhile, you learn a few skills. Like acceptance and appreciation, as well as forgiving well.
Keeping the spark alive at our ages is not impossible. It can be done, but I think it couldn't have been done if not for the mercy and grace of God lavished on us both. Relationships are really difficult, no matter who you are or where you live, single or married.
Today, I had to battle a little voice inside of me that kept trying to tempt me to take offense at every small thing I felt my husband neglected towards me. Since starting to work on my weight issues, I realized just how "husband-centered" I was. My moods went up or down according to how well I felt loved by him. It's a lot of pressure to put on anyone. I was free only when I remembered that God noticed me, knew me and loved me. Yes, my husband missed the last two laps I sprinted to finish out my workout today--it was something I have never done before, to push myself so hard to go so fast. Although I wished that he could have been there to see how well I can swim, to see I've turned a corner in my fitness beyond my own expectations, I still had joy in the moment, delighting that the Lord has indeed brought me this far, delighting that this 45 year old woman still had something in her, that she wasn't dead yet. Hubby didn't have to be there. But God always is.