I Love Him to Death but He’s Boring Me to Tears
I’ve got two choices: cheat — or turn up the heat.
I saw them at Starbucks: a couple probably 10 years older than I am, acting like lovestruck college kids. I watched as the man patted the woman’s hand as they talked; how she leaned into him when she spoke and giggled girlishly as he murmured in her ear. Their ease and delight with each other was palpable. After what I presumed were years together, she clearly was still interested in and excited by her husband.
And I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that way about mine.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Paul* dearly, and I feel so lucky to have found him 14 years ago when I was knocking on 40 and feeling like I’d be single forever. When we were first dating I lived for Friday night, when I’d make the pilgrimage from my ’burb to downtown Orlando for weekends spent exploring the city, dining at trendy restaurants and getting to know each other.
Back then, every other sentence Paul said made me double over with laughter. Even his idiosyncrasies — a germophobe, he presses elevator buttons with his knuckles, not his fingertips — seemed special and smart. Sex was never more than a glance across the room away. (Once, at his company’s awards dinner, we snuck out in the middle of the speeches and got hot and heavy in a single-occupant ladies’ room.) And when he looked me in the eye, my breath stopped, my stomach flipped and I couldn’t even hold his gaze. For the first time, this self-assured, spotlight-loving woman felt acutely self-conscious under someone’s scrutiny. No one — certainly no man — had ever made me feel that way. And I loved it!
Fast forward to 2016. We’d been married nine years, bought a home together and both had careers we loved. We traveled every year, had savings in the bank, and were certainly happy. Yet …
Somewhere along the way our marriage “steak” had lost its sizzle. As couples do, we fell into a rut: running errands on Saturday; Sam’s Club on Sunday; occasional dinners with married friends that finished by 10 p.m. The routine that I’d welcomed as a newlywed who thought she’d never be one began to bore me.
I felt like I’d already heard Paul’s entire repertoire of jokes (and they weren’t really that funny). After years of deep conversations, there didn’t seem to be much left to discover about him. And Paul’s sensitivity and sweetness — something that really attracted me when we first met — just didn’t seem that great anymore. Not when I compared it with the full-on alpha-male machismo of the silver-tongued 6-foot-4 teacher who’d started that semester at the community college where I work. (No, I didn’t go there. But Lord knows I was tempted. Very tempted.) Our marriage felt like a book I loved but had read too many times. The novelty of him and the thrill of being “us” were waning.
As my boredom blossomed, I started to spend more time away from the house — and him. I joined the women’s ministry at my church and started volunteering in the community. I hung out more with my church sisters and never turned down a prayer meeting or a weekend activity, eagerly pouncing on the breaks from my regular life.
But a light bulb went on when I saw that couple at Starbucks. I knew in my heart that their lasting kind of love was what I wanted for Paul and me. But I also knew if I didn’t do something — and soon, that probably wasn’t going to be our future. I fell back on my research training and pulled from the library as many self-help relationship books as I could borrow at one time. On the treadmill at the gym, instead of fantasizing about Alpha Teacher and his big stick of chalk, I read them all cover to cover. A few weeks, some T.D. Jakes, Steve Harvey and a lot of soul-searching later, I knew what I had to do.
I sat down with Paul and gently told him how I felt. First, and most important, I admitted my own complacency. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I gave him my undivided attention in the evenings (those papers don’t mark themselves, but I didn’t really have to work until bedtime each night). And our “Sexy Saturday” romps, complete with candles and lacy lingerie, were distant memories. Then I admitted that I’d been avoiding the issue by filling my time with other things.
My honesty set the table for Paul to reveal his own feelings. I was surprised to hear that he’d actually noticed the downshift in our relationship. He’d felt hurt and neglected, even suspecting that there might be someone else. Just hearing him say that made me feel nauseous and ashamed. Sharing our feelings that evening was difficult but cathartic, and for the first time in forever we felt connected to and understood by each other again.
And so “Operation Relationship” began. Drawing from what I learned in my research, we set some ground rules. We promised to prioritize each other; to put down our phones when we talked; and to really look at each other when we did. We made an effort to bust out of our rut and do new things together. (Take it from me, paddleboarding is a powerful aphrodisiac!) We started asking each other meaningful questions (I had no idea that Paul’s germophobia stemmed from a traumatic childhood encounter with a hoarder), and realized that we really didn’t know everything about each other after all.
It took months for us to incorporate these habits into our daily lives. And there were times when we both got frustrated and discouraged. But one night, finally home after an accident on Interstate 4 turned what should have been a 20-minute drive into a 90-minute nightmare, Paul turned to me and told me how much he admired my patience and composure and that I never lost my sense of humor.
“It made me proud to be your husband,” he said, looking me in the eyes.
I looked back into his, felt that familiar flip in my stomach, and self-consciously looked away.
And that’s when I realized: The thrill was back.
* Names and other identifying details have been changed.