‘The key to romance isn’t cocktails in the Marais, it’s Excel’
Jennifer O’Connell: So we gave it a go, an actual weekend away that wasn’t a wedding
Who will mind the children while you’re in the pursuit of romance and joint hobbies?
Keep the romance alive, they say. Make time for yourselves. Take a weekend away. Go to dinner, see a film, get a joint hobby, be kind to each other. Have a mini-break.
It’s excellent advice. I’ve noticed, though, that the people most inclined to give it tend to be short on the logistics.
Who will mind the children while you’re in the pursuit of romance and joint hobbies? What are the economics of paying a babysitter €8 an hour to heat up pizza and play Mario Kart, while you leg it as far as the next town to spend a few hours in an overheated, poorly soundproofed hotel paid for with Supervalu vouchers, so that you can have the whole thing wrapped up inside of 12 hours and be back in time for scouts or soccer or swimming the next morning?
We gave it a go recently. An actual, bona fide weekend away that was not someone else’s wedding. He arranged it in secret: booked the flights, lined up heroically obliging family members to babysit. When my birthday came around, he handed me a parcel. I opened it, not expecting much. A gold bracelet, maybe, or a voucher for a posh spa. Something simple.
It was simple alright. It was a thermal swimming hat. Just as I was explaining why the word “thermal” and “romance” are not and never will be well acquainted, I spotted the gift tag, and three magic words. Lunch in Paris.
In our excitement at getting away, we decided not to worry about the fact that I was supposed to be in Cork the day we flew back, he was due to fly to the US, and the heroically obliging family members were also leaving the country. I typed out the day-by-day schedules. He packed. I arranged the lifts, the back up lifts, and the back up lifts to the back up lifts.
And then, miraculously, we were in Paris, where we did all the Paris-y things. We strolled in the Luxembourg gardens, ate salads with melons and strawberries and boiled eggs, took pictures of a distant Eiffel Tower, had drinks at a bar made from a shipping container on the banks of the Seine, surrounded by people who looked like Vanessa Paradis and Justin Trudeau.
On the metro to Montmartre for the obligatory rip-off lunch, I found myself sitting beside an older man, who seemed to be having trouble composing a text message on his phone.
“Il faut avoir,” he wrote, and then he deleted it. I didn’t exactly mean to look, but he was typing in very large font and holding it out from his face in a way that made it unavoidable. “Il faut essayer…”
It is necessary to have. It is necessary to try. After an agonisingly long time, he settled on a different verb. Organiser.
“Il faut organiser un mariage …,” he wrote.
He thought for ages, and then he added a word. “Il faut organiser un mariage fort.” It is necessary to organise a strong marriage.
He pressed send and got off at the next station, so I’ll never know whether she replied, and if she did, what she said, or what was wrong with their marriage in the first place. He might not have been talking to his lover, of course. He might just have been advising someone on their wedding plans. But I have been worrying about him since, and the tragic contrast between the effort he put into composing the perfect text, and the awkward syntax and stilted formality of the final result.
The wing mirror
Several cocktails later, it dawned on me. The important word wasn’t the “fort”, the word “strong”. It was the “organiser”, to organise. A strong marriage must be organised, was what the message meant. It must be paid for in detailed hour-by-hour schedules, car pool arrangements, and agreements over whose turn it is to do the pick up or the packing. The key to romance isn’t cocktails in the Marais, it is an Excel spreadsheet.
The romance of our romantic mini-break lasted until we arrived back. The next day, I drove home early from Cork to collect the children I hadn’t seen for days. In my eagerness, I misjudged the distance between my car, and the one parked outside the village shop. Our wing mirrors collided, and not in a romantic way.
A man from the county council was leaning on a shovel. There’s always a man from the county council on hand when you could do without one. “That’ll cost you,” he said gravely, after I had apologised to the other driver and given her my number. “A Peugeot, is it? Electronic, was it?”
He shook his head, like a doctor who has spotted something alarming on a scan. “You’ll be lucky to get away with €500 for the pair of them. Could be more.”
Sure enough, her new mirror cost me €200. When I got home, before he left for the US, the husband went out in the rain with a tool kit, and fixed mine in five minutes.
Forget shared hobbies and mini-breaks. The key to romance is an Excel spreadsheet, and a man who knows how to replace a wing mirror on your car.