I was raised, like many of my generation, on a steady diet of romantic comedies and an MTV that actually showed music videos for all those love songs I belted out in the shower. Weeknights were reserved for the angst and drama of Dawson’s Creek and Buffy, my CD collection was filled was self-burned “love song” mixes, and I took (and re-took) every YM, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and Teen People quiz that gave me the slightest hope my crush loved me back. 

Noah and Allie set the bar pretty high, but Nicholas Sparks taught usover and overthat we could have that kind of love. Even though we knew these were movies, shows, books, and Backstreet Boys songs, there was a part of us that connected with the excitement, swelled with the romance. We left the theaters and turned off our TVs, then went back to real life and waited for our crush to climb a Ferris wheel or buy us a wall.

We knew in our heads these love stories weren’t real, but deep in our hearts, we wanted so badly for them to happen for us.

I think we all had more than a few outfits inspired by Josie Geller, Cher Horowitz, or Elle Woods. And who hasn’t asked their love, “What do you wanna marry me for, anyhow?” And since we’re being honest, my engagement ring is a replica of the one McDreamy gave Melanie Smooter in Sweet Home Alabama, and I had a dress I called my “Rachel Green” dress. OK, I had two “Rachel Green” dresses. And a Delta Nu bracelet. And my wedding cake topper was Cinderella dancing with her prince.

I grew up gobbling up fairytale romance, walked down an aisle covered in ivory flower petals, wed my prince charming, and drove off into the happily ever after. 

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Sixteen years later, we were sitting in a parking lot sharing an Arby’s lunch while going over the preparation instructions for my upcoming colonoscopy. Seriously. Arby’s. While talking about my butt procedure. My BUTT. Talk about a shift, right? 

I wasn’t professionally made up like on our wedding day, and whatever car we’d rode off into the sunset in had been traded for a minivan that will forever smell like French fries.

In place of my lacy gown and his smart tux, we were sitting comfortably in sweats. My hair was still half up, half down, but only because my messy bun was giving in to gravity. We’d gone from slow-dancing to carefully selected love songs in low candlelight to nonchalantly discussing the volcanic diarrhea I’d be expecting.

What happened? Had we let ourselves go? Had we not made each other enough of a priority? Had the romance died? 

On the contrary. There had never been more romance between us before. 

I’ve learned in our years together that the romance I’d seen on screen, the romance Nicholas Sparks and John Legend wrote about, that romance is real, to be sure. But that’s the appetizer romance, the stuff before the feast, the bites before what sustains you. 

Hearty romance, the romance that holds you over, nourishes, and grows you, that’s found as often at the bedside as it is in the bedroom. 

At the bedside when one of you is sick or exhausted.

At the bedside when your children are welcomed into the world. 

At the bedside when the doctor says there’s no heartbeat. 

At the bedside kissing your forehead before leaving for the day.

At the bedside as you slip the jewelry from your mom’s cold, lifeless hands. 

Those vows we took, promising to be faithful in sickness and in health, to love each other when rich or poor, at the time we thought it meant that we’d stick around when things got tough. It turns out that we stuck closer to each other, grew together, mourned together, celebrated together. 

The bedside, the bedroom, the grief, the sickness, the health, the mundane days, the extraordinary days, and the days before colonoscopiesthey’re all their own kind of romance.

Familiarity and safety last a lot longer than roses. The soft glow of candles casts a flattering radiance, and the harsh light of day makes it impossible for us to keep anything hidden from each other. Chocolates are delicious, but memories don’t melt. 

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My husband has met me at the door with ice cream and lilies and looked just as handsome as when he met me at the proctologist’s to schedule that colonoscopy. His arms were as strong at the altar as they were at my mother’s funeral. Romance isn’t something that fizzles out or that we let go . . . it’s something that matures with us. It’s something that’s more about appreciation and connection than Ferris wheels and boats surrounded by swans and kissing in a rainstorm (though those things are totally awesome and welcome, too). 

Remember the next time you find yourself having a drive-thru date instead of being whisked off to Paris there is romance in that, as well. There is romance in what you have built together, what you are working on, what you are headed toward. There is romance in the inside jokes, in the concern, in the care.

Just as you’ve grown, so has your relationship, so don’t fall into the temptation to think the romance has died. It’s only found its way into the places you least expected to find it.

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.