In middle school, I thought romance was holding hands between class and agreeing to French kiss on the dance floor of an unfortunately smelly gym.
I thought it was making a phone call, despite knowing an overprotective dad would answer. I thought it was promising not to play Spin The Bottle if it meant kissing someone else.
In high school, I thought it meant lighting candles and losing your virginity in your boyfriend's parents' bedroom. I thought it meant elaborate ways of asking someone to prom or borrowing money for a limo instead of driving your dad's 1987 Chevy.
I thought it meant an expensive bouquet of roses and a five-course meal that included dishes no one could successfully pronounce.
In college, I thought it didn't exist at all.
But now, with a child and a partner and not enough hours in the day, I've finally realized what real romance looks like.
Real romance is making a cup of coffee at 6 am for your lover while he or she emerges from bed. It's pouring the right amount of creamer and sugar before handing it over and walking out the door.
It's wanting to help him or her start the morning any way you can, even if it means you end up drinking the caffeinated swill served in your office's break room.
Real romance is taking out the trash because he hates it or doing the dishes because she despises it. It’s staying up late to clean the living room or waking up extra early to make the bed. It’s doing the little things in your home that remind him or her there’s no place you’d rather be.
Real romance is sitting next to one another on the couch and saying nothing. It's being so comfortable with one another that there's no need to fill the space between you with desperate words and hollowed thoughts.
Just being around is enough. Just feeling his or her presence and sharing seemingly insignificant moments with you is enough.
Real romance is saying "I love you" every day and meaning it.
Real romance is attempting to cook a new meal together. It’s laughing at every mishap and mutually deciding which sections of the recipe you’ll follow and which parts you’ll blatantly ignore. It’s enjoying a glass of wine together while you stir and he chops.
Real romance is a lazy Sunday morning, sans pants or a necessary shower. You’re not afraid to wear the sweatshirt covered in spit up, and he doesn’t mind hanging out in his boxer briefs, his hand halfway down his pants.
The masks are off, so pretending that eating buffalo wings in your underwear while you watch your favorite football team with your favorite person isn’t heaven is no longer necessary.
Romance is an impromptu dance party in a horrifically small bathroom. Fighting over the mirror gives way to that notorious hip sway or that scandalous booty shake.
Real romance is picking that booger from his or her nose or popping that annoying pimple between his or her shoulder blades.
It’s asking if his constipation has let up or if her relentless gas has subsided. You aren’t repelled by the unpleasant functions of each other's bodies because of the love.
Real romance is bringing back his or her favorite guilty pleasure from the supermarket. You’ll deviate from the carefully constructed grocery list for a candy bar or a bottle of wine or those heavenly microwaveables because, hey, your lover likes them and deserves to indulge every once in a while.
Real romance is a casual note taped to the bathroom mirror, asking you to have a wonderful day even if he or she knows you're exhausted. A few simple sentences can make three hours of sleep feel like seven.
Real romance isn’t sold at a flower shop or ordered from an over-priced menu. It isn’t found at the end of a dinner bill or on the tag of an expensive suite. Romance is in the minuscule moments of the everyday, camouflaged as dull comfort.
Romance is what you find when time has done its dirty work.
And, romance definitely exists when there’s a child and a devoted partner and not enough hours in the day.