Slow-Burn Romance

Slow-Burn Romance

Candlelight dinners. Hawaiian sunsets. Moonlight serenades. Hearts flutter, emotions surge. The love bomb burns intensely, and the hormone rush makes us giddy. We call this “romance,” and our novels, our songs, our poetry, our movies, and even our families and friends encourage us to chase it, to be satisfied with nothing less.

But after the fireworks flash and bang, we go home afterward to our homes. We cuddle up by the slower burn of a cozy fire, and we find contentment, and our hearts are truly filled by the simmering romance behind the scenes, the kind of love that sinks deep and stays there, bringing quiet strength to our relationship’s base rather than fizzing out in a puff of smoke with ashes raining down on our heads.

My grandparents grew up together in southern Georgia. They met in grade school, and while they had other romantic partners, they never left each others’ lives. On the cusp of Wold War II, my grandfather had joined the Navy and was stationed across the country in Bremerton, Washington, preparing to ship out.

He wrote my grandmother a letter inviting her to come see him before he left, and she scraped together her savings to pay for the flight. When she arrived in Seattle, my grandfather professed his life-long love and asked her to marry him, and she agreed. “This is great!” he said. “We can cash in your return ticket and pay for a wedding!” Her reply: “What return ticket?” Their marriage continued to their death beds, over sixty years later, and every day of their marriage, as long as he was at home, he left a piece of chocolate on her pillow before bedtime.

I’m sure their love had a couple of years in the storybook romantic phase, but the slow burn of their lifelong love — the slow simmer of daily chocolates — has always been an inspiration to me.

In 2011, I found myself in the market for an engagement ring. Both of us had been unlucky in the past, and she wanted something that would signal this was different. Definitely not a run-of-the-mill diamond. She settled on a very rare, very beautiful, naturally occurring orange sapphire called a padparadscha (later made famous in 2020 during the engagement of Princess of Eugenie of England). We scoured the Internet and found two that looked promising, and we had them shipped to us for evaluation, intending to select one and return the other. We did choose one and made a ring, but I secretly held onto the other. As our fifth anniversary approached, I worked with a jeweler in our neighborhood to design and craft a pendant featuring that second stone. It was far from perfect – I’m not jewelry designer and could have chosen a better one – but it marked a milestone in my enduring love for her, a reminder of the magical time surrounding our engagement and wedding, and an implicit re-commitment to loving and supporting her forever. I presented it to her on our fifth anniversary, the slowly-burning fire of love embodied in the fiery orange gem itself.

Slow-burning romance plays for me in how I treat the people I care about, in the gentle day-to-day consistency of my love. For Christmas one year, I gave her a fancy coffee maker. Seems like a purely practical, maybe even selfish, gift for a long-married couple who have settled into a humdrum complacency, right? Not to me. You see, she had taken to drinking almond milk cappuccinos, so I bought a machine that made both espresso (for her) and regular coffee (for me). I bought a milk frother and tested every brand of almond milk I could find to determine which produced the best results. And then I brought her almond milk cappuccinos every morning at home. This was the gift behind the gift: my daily signal that I loved her, cared for her, recognized and worked to meet her needs, and would always be there to support her in our partnership.

I was giving her my grandfather’s chocolates.

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