It was a Saturday and Mel and I were planning to go out to dinner. We had a babysitter for the kids. Yet, we hadn’t decided where to eat.
Mel was standing in the kitchen wearing blue jean Capri pants and a pink shirt. We hadn’t been out on a date in over a month, so I know she was excited. The kids were watching a movie in the living room. The sitter would arrive in about 20 minutes.
“Where are we going to go?” Mel asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Where do you want to go?”
Mel let out an irritated breath.
“I wish you’d be more decisive,” she said.
I slumped a bit.
“Why do I always have to be decisive?” I asked.
“Because you are the man,” she said. “I just wish you’d plan something. That would be the sweet thing to do.”
We’d been married for over 10 years, and I’d been hearing this from her since we got engaged. As a man, I’m supposed to be the decisive one. The one to make decisions. But I don’t really like the role because I often fail. If I pick the wrong place to eat, then suddenly I am the one to blame. I feel like I screwed up somehow. I hate it, honestly. This goes for big decisions and small decisions. I’m more of a let’s discuss this and figure out something we both like’ kind of guy. Which, I assume, is not sexy. However, I think in a lot of ways it has been really beneficial in our marriage. I don’t throw my weight around. I don’t try to make Mel do what I want, all the time. But in situations like this, it seems to backfire.
“I just don’t get it,” I said. “Why do you always expect me to be the one to make the decision when it comes to dates. I’d rather make sure that we go somewhere that we both agree on. That we will both enjoy. If I just pick a place, most likely it will be wrong, and then I will be to blame. And then I will get to hear all about it.”
Mel thought about what I said, and as her eyes scanned my face, I couldn’t decide if she was frustrated because I still hadn’t yet figured out some simple thing about her and our marriage, or if it was because she was searching for a way to explain some simple truth.
“I just…” she paused for a moment, searching for the words. “I want you to plan something because it means that you were thinking about me. It means that you put effort into us. Into me. I need that sometimes.”
When Mel said this to me, I got irritated. I felt picked on and unappreciated and unnoticed.
“I put effort into us…” I said. I went on, telling her how I was a good husband. I listed how often I said that I loved her. I reminded her about all the times I brought her flowers. I was in the middle of talking myself up when the sitter arrived.
We silently got in the van, and I just drove to a local Mexican place, the same one we always go to.
When we parked I said, “There. I picked a place.”
At dinner, we sat in silence, both of us looking at our phones, trying to look like a normal couple, but looking more like strangers sharing a table. I thought about what Mel said about me picking a place, and how it shows that I think about her. Never in my whole life had I thought about it that way, and honestly, I didn’t want to think of it that way. How could she not know that I think about her? Everything I did was for her and the family. I wanted to stay angry. I wanted to continue to feel unappreciated. But as the meal went on, I thought about it more. I calmed down.
I have always been more worried about making sure that she got what she liked, and the only way I could figure out how to do that was by asking her. I suppose I’d felt burned in the past. When we first got married, I’d suggest that we go here, or there. Or I’d just go out and buy her something, and she says things like, “That sweet, but it isn’t really what I wanted.” I’d get frustrated, and eventually, I just stopped trying to surprise her, and started asking her for the right answer. Ultimately, this has made our marriage very democratic. We discuss everything, from bills, to kids, to where to eat, but when it comes to wooing her, I think she wanted to know that I tried. I suppose that’s where we are in our marriage. We are not in our early 20s anymore, when getting exactly what you want is of prime importance. Now, in our 30s, its about making sure that the person you are with after all this time really understands that you still love them, despite how tired they might look after a long day with kids, or a long day at work. It’s not only about telling or showing, but doing both so that the one you love knows, without a doubt, that after all these years, you still really care.
I was halfway though my burrito before I said, “I’m sorry for getting mad.”
Mel looked up at me and said, “You don’t have to be sorry. I was just being silly, I guess.”
We talked about who was being silly and who wasn’t for a bit. We started to laugh. And then I said, “I will work on this whole planning thing. I just get so wrapped up with work and the kids, I just feel like I can’t seem to focus on much else. But I can, I’m sure. I just want you to know that I love you, and if planning something shows that, then it’s worth it.”
Mel smiled and said, “You’re a sweet guy. And you have cheese on your chin.”
I wiped my face with a napkin, and we both laughed.