The way my husband works, we don’t eat actual meals together very often. We have coffee together in the mornings — and by “together” I mean that Robbie gulps his while overseeing teeth brushing in the kid’s bathroom and I gulp mine while slapping together lunches. Then we meet at the kitchen sink, plunk our mugs down, kiss, and he goes to work.
After he leaves, I get to work cleaning the kitchen, making beds, and preparing our preschooler for school.
Okay, that is a lie.
What I actually do is pour myself a second cup of coffee and space out on social media for a span of unaccounted-for minutes.
By the time Robbie gets home in the evening, I’ve already had dinner with the kids, so I sometimes sit with him while he eats a bowl of cold cereal because we’re very sophisticated. On the rare occasion that we enjoy dinner at the same time, it’s a pretty big event that I really look forward to. I enjoy my husband’s company, and I enjoy eating, so simple maths tells me that I should enjoy dinner with my husband — especially if we’re going out and I don’t have to do anything but sit down and stuff my face.
The problem lies in deciding where to go, because by the time we’re done with that sh*t, I usually don’t want to speak to him anymore, let alone sit across the table from him for an hour. It almost always goes something like this:
“What do you want to do for dinner?”
“I don’t know, what do YOU want to do for dinner?”
“Whatever you want is fine.”
“I don’t care what we eat.”
“Okay, then. What about Mexican?”
“I had Mexican for lunch.”
“How about sushi?”
“I got sick the last time we had that.“
“THEN WHAT DO YOU WANT, DAMMIT?!”
This is generally the point in the conversation when I get huffy and announce that I’m going to get dressed. Sometimes, he follows me into the bedroom where we will either continue to bicker, or more rarely, channel our annoyances into sexual energy. Our unspoken rule is that we have to resolve whatever we’re fighting about before arriving at our destination, so he might toss me a compliment: “You look hot.” Or, I’ll toss him an apology: “I’m sorry I’m being irrational.”
As we drive to dinner, Robbie will reach for my hand. His hand is warm and much bigger than mine. He fiddles with the diamond rings on my finger as he badly hums along with the radio. It’s simple and romantic and I no longer care about the bickering — we’re going to dinner, by ourselves. Even though I know better, I begin to fantasise about the magic that will begin to unfold the moment we arrive at the restaurant.
I always have this idea in my head of how dinner as a couple is going to go: there will be laughter, the kind that comes from bellies unadulterated by childbirth. There will be flirtation, there will be butterflies, and we will fall in love all over again. The truth is, I want so badly to transport us back in time, just for an evening, so we can re-experience life as a couple before marriage and children sucked the life out of us. That’s what I always think dinner will be: a romantic time machine.
In reality, it almost always ends up being exactly like this: I get drunk, he eats two desserts, I knock over a wine glass, and one of us cries — usually me — then we go home, where at least two of our three children are waiting up for us, all jacked up on sugar and cartoons. By the time we get them to sleep we don’t have it in us to engage each other further, and … end scene.
The pressure cooker of marriage and parenthood means that we love each other more fiercely and more deeply with every passing year, but we don’t have the time or emotional energy to show it. I mean, we try. Robbie slaps me on the butt when he walks by. I wash his dirty socks and put them away. Sometimes we fall asleep together watching TV, so clearly our flame is still burning strong. In all seriousness, even though we both know that’s normal and expected for this season of life to suck sometimes, it can still be hard to muddle through.
But, the butterflies are still there – they’re just tired a lot.