When my husband grabs our sons amidst shrieks of delight and tackles them with love and outlandish wrestling maneuvers en route to bed my heart wants to jump out of my body and do the happy dance.

He is their hero. I love that they get that. But he was mine first, even if it took me a while to figure that out.

My husband is not tall. He is, however, dark and handsome. But that’s where his resemblance to the Prince Charming of my favorite books and movies ends. It’s not that I expected him to swashbuckle, ride a horse or sport a suit of armor.  My newly-married Prince Charming expectations were more subtle than that.

It’s taken me years to unravel and escape them.

I expected that a husband would intuitively know what I was thinking without needing to be told. I sulked when he couldn’t figure out what I wanted him to do and then sulked some more when he didn’t understand why I was sulking. I resented his inability to understand my whims. And no matter what his own day was like, I expected he would arrive home when the mood occurred to me just in time to sweep me off my feet with flowers and candlelight.

I did not expect all the extra dirty socks and dishes.

Because I had unwittingly bought what the movies were selling – silver screen romantic perfection wrapped up in the ability to please every unspoken desire in a neat 120 minute package – I was disappointedI was also blind to the fact that I had reduced my husband to a means for accomplishing my own ends; whether those were candlelight dinners or simply involved a thorough cleaning of the bathroom. Either way, my happily ever after was not going as smoothly as expected.

My wake up call came in the midst of a loud and familiar argument about his failure to understand me when he yelled, “Well if that’s what you wanted me to do, why didn’t you just SAY SO in the first place.”

“Because that’s NOT ROMANTIC!” I yelled back.

And there it was staring me in the face. The choice. To be real or to be movie grade mysterious. The choice to be direct or to manipulate. The choice to come down from my tower, stop feigning distress, and meet him as an equal participant in our story. Or to make us both unhappy.

Slowly, grudgingly, I chose to share. I opened up my stash of secret wishes and spelled them out for him. And under his scrutiny, they did not melt.

No, in his hands they became real. Suddenly, he didn’t have to imagine what I was thinking or feeling, what I hoped about our future or wanted him to say to me when I was sad. He had a roadmap. And so he could come to my rescue so much quicker and more efficiently than before.

It embarrassed me at first to be so open and direct. It made me feel vulnerable. But all I lost in the process was some of the weight of my pride – and let’s face it, who can’t stand to lose a few of those pounds. Don’t let the books put one over on you, happily ever after is a heck of a lot of work. And marriage is the equivalent of The Shred for getting your faith in shape.

But when you do the work you wake up one day and find despite (or perhaps because of) the aches and pains that the man you married has grown into the man who makes your heart want to do the happy dance.

He understands you because you worked hard to let him.

He cherishes you because you’ve shared how much that matters. He unpacks the dishwasher because he knows it’s your least favorite chore. And right there, that’s what I now recognize as romance. And I discovered that it’s only when you’re not demanding it, that you find it staring you right in the face.

This was previously written last year as a guest post for my friend Sarah Mae. But I wanted to share it here.

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