Tips from an Old Married Guy
[From a speech given in 2012 at Carlsbad Toastmasters]
It was a Saturday in February, and my bride of 30 years, Francie, was navigating to an address on my iphone while I drove the rental car through the confusing streets of downtown San Francisco. As we made the last turn, and the iPhone told her the destination was ahead on the right, she looked up and saw the sign for Britex Fabrics, and squealed in delight and wonder. Britex is four floors of fabric, run by the same family for decades. Francie loves fabric like a bee loves honey, although a more apt analogy would probably be like an addict loves heroin. She was very excited that I had planned an entire weekend trip around getting her to Britex Fabrics, which she had heard of but never been to.
I don’t claim to have special romantic powers, I mean, come on, I’m a 54-year old bald engineer but I have been married for over 30 years to the same woman. As an engineer, I’m used to analyzing, and I think I have distilled a few tips that may be helpful to you guys. For the ladies, these may work the other way around also, I can’t say. But if you like them, I can always email the tips for you to share with the man in your life.
Guys, your woman loves to know that you’re thinking of her. An important way to do this is to remember special dates. The San Francisco trip to Britex actually started on Thursday, February 14. We flew to a timeshare in wine country, and I had reservations that night at the Farmhouse Restaurant, which I recommend if you happen to be in that neighborhood. It was an amazing meal, incredible food, which wine pairings explained by the sommelier, impeccable service. At the end, the bill came to $371, and we looked at each other and said “that was totally worth it”. I had lined up wine tasting, antique browsing, and of course the Britex trip to round out a memorable Valentines Day weekend. But don’t be satisfied with the regulars; birthday, Christmas, Valentines Day and anniversary. Look for other special dates, which will be different for each couple. It may be the date you met, your first date, or something else. We were married on June 26, so I established ‘anniversary date night’ on the 26th of every month. On that day, we usually go out to a nice dinner to celebrate. Sometimes I bring flowers, and often surprise her with a card.
A carefully written card is a much-overlooked opportunity. Nothing shows your woman that you care about her like receiving a thoughtful, hand-written card that you picked out. I’m always looking for efficiency, so when I’m in a card store without Francie, I will browse and pick up a few cards that are appropriate. Right now at home I probably have a selection of 30 or so. That way, when the occasion arises, I can quickly pick a card, write something thoughtful, and deliver it. I get credit for putting a lot of time and thought into it, beyond the time actually expended. You don’t have to always spend money on cards. This picture is of the inside of Francie’s medicine cabinet. Many years ago, on the spur of the moment, I jotted out a note on a postit, and stuck it on her bathroom mirror so she would see it in the morning. She liked it so much that she kept it, and now every time she opens her medicine cabinet, she is reminded of how much I love her.
That postit is one example of what I call leveraging through compound interest. From an initial, in this case quite modest, effort, I get continuing payoff. When you do good, your wife will tell her friends. Every time she tells the story, you get additional credit, because she remembers how thoughtful you are and how much you love her. One way to encourage this is to create witnesses. When you surprise your wife by taking her flowers at work, it is witnessed by all her coworkers. They will all talk about what a great guy you are, so you are compounding the effect of the flowers, much more credit that if you just brought them home. Sometimes you can even make her coworkers into co-conspirators in some surprise.
Surprise is another powerful leveraging tool. The unexpected adds emphasis to any gesture. Our Valentines Day trip actually started a couple of months beforehand, when I told Francie she would need to get February 14th and 15th off work. I didn’t tell her what I had planned, just that she needed to be free those days. It wasn’t until the night before that I told her we were going out of town on a plane, still didn’t tell her where. Then, when she saw the flight at the airport, she knew where, but still had no idea of why. When we boarded, I had her valentines day card (purchased many months ahead of time) handy, and as she was getting her carryon up in the overhead bin, I dropped the card on her seat. So when she went to her seat, she said “how did this get here?” When we got to the time share, there were two dozen roses sitting on the table, which I had ordered, and warned the check-in staff not to mention. During the weekend, we were in an art gallery. Now, we often bring back hearts from places we go, as a momento. So we are in this art gallery, and Francie has to use the bathroom. While she is gone, I buy a heart, and pocket it. That night, when she gets into bed, she feels something between the sheets.
When she pulls it out, it’s a new heart. Now every time she sees that heart, she remembers that special trip (both compounding and surprise). Surprise doesn’t have to be fancy. The key is the unexpected. It can be as simple as dropping in announced to work, or some other place you know she is going to be, and delivering her favorite Starbucks drink. Or, going by work, finding her car, and tying a big heart balloon on it, and leaving a card under her windshield wiper. Or slipping a note into her bible or a book you know she’s reading.
Like much of life, what you get OUT of your relationships is largely determined by what you put INTO your relationships. You can do this. These tips are only intended to get your creative juices going, I’m sure many of you have much more inspiring examples. So be attentive, be a romance ninja, look for ways to perform thoughtful gestures, and always look for leverage of compound interest and surprise. One day, maybe you will be the old married guy with a happy wife, giving tips to a younger man.