One of the great misconceptions is that the physical side of marriage should come naturally.
When my wife, Nancy, and I got married, we were convinced our honeymoon would be 24-hour, nonstop passion. I told her, "Leave the honeymoon to me." I know how to make a woman happy, I thought. I knew just the place to take her; the right spot to put her in the mood. Wisconsin.
I grew up in northern Illinois, and if you wanted a romantic setting, you went to Wisconsin. I knew how to make a woman happy.
Nancy had several ideas of where paradise for a honeymoon might be. Much to my surprise, Wisconsin was not one of them. But she trusted me.
After the ceremony, we got on a shuttle bus to the Los Angeles airport. We flew four hours on a packed flight to Chicago next to a lady with a sick baby on her lap. Not a romantic setting, but I wasn't worried. I had Wisconsin. I knew how to make a woman happy.
We arrived at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Our luggage was an hour late. Finally, we got a rental car. I'd forgotten how big Wisconsin was. We were going to Door Countyfive hours by car.
So after an hour on a shuttle bus, four in a plane, three at various airports, and five in the car, we arrived at our honeymoon hideaway, the Bates Motel. It was 2 a.m. No one was at the desk. No lights were on. We had to find the key to our room ourselves.
Anybody with brains would have gotten some rest at that point. But I knew how to make a woman happy.
I said to Nancy, "Take a hot shower. Relax." I tried to make the room romantic. I brought out candles. I knew women like candles, so I got the biggest one I could find. It burned like a Duraflame log.
Finally, Nancy came out of a really hot shower. The combination of the steam pouring from the bathroom and the candle smoke set off the loudest smoke detectors east of the Mississippi River.
Everybody in the motel rushed into the hallway. Smoke and steam poured out of our room, bells were going off like it was the Fourth of July, my wife was wrapped in a towel, and I was saying, "It's okay. We're on our honeymoon. It's our first night. I'm a pastor. It's all right."
Suddenly, we were famous. People asked me for my autograph. They figured I knew how to make a woman happy.
It's been 25 years since that Wisconsin honeymoon. And what has surprised me most about marriage is that it's the unexpected moments and unplanned-on events that have taught me the most. Our honeymoon was only the beginning of learning how ill-equipped I wasnot just in navigating romance, but in learning to talk about conflict and what I don't like and how to handle my tendency to withdraw. I didn't know how much I'd learn about intimacy and love by marrying someone with a fierce sense of independence. I didn't know that learning to talk and laugh about sex would provide (almost) as much pleasure as actually engaging in it.
During those days in Wisconsin, I began to learnalthough I could not have told you so at the timethat what little competence I had as a husband mattered far less than my willingness to acknowledge and talk about my incompetence. That my being loved was far less a matter of common sense and far more a gift of grace than I could have then imagined. I didn't know how much I had to learn, or that the learning of it would be such sweetly painful joy.
I did learn a little about what not to do. So for our 25th anniversary, I am not taking my wife back to Wisconsin.
I'm taking her fly-fishing.
I'm not making this up.
I know how to make a woman happy.
John Ortberg, bestselling author of numerous books including When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Zondervan), is a pastor in northern California. He and his wife, Nancy, have been married 25 years.
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