Frequently we think of romance as candlelit dinners, flutes of champagne, long gazing into each other’s eyes, all followed by walks hand in hand and French kissing on the beach. But while romance sometimes looks like this, it’s actually something much more subtle.

Romance begins in the tenderness that a couple feel only for each other. The more the tenderness, the more the romance in the marriage even without the candlelit dinners.

Most of us know what tenderness feels like. There’s the tenderness between mother and her breast-feeding infant, the tenderness between an adult child and the elderly parent, the tenderness between us and our pets, and the tenderness that nurses can feel for their patients.

But the tenderness between lovers, while it has much in common with all other forms of tenderness, has one thing that the rest do not. The tenderness between lovers implies romance and its culmination in sexual intimacy. Think of marital tenderness like an oven’s pilot light, always on, always warm, always ready to ignite a much greater light and heat. Here the husband and wife talk in soft tones and in a slower pace than ordinary conversation. If you walked by one or the other on the phone you would know they are lovers just by that tone that exists in no other relationship.

Now think about the heat as it rises in the oven. It may not come to baking temperature, but certainly you could warm your cold hands by its glow. Here the husband and wife pat each other in passing, watch each other dress in admiration, groom to look and smell good to the other, and perhaps go out for that candlelit dinner.

Now think about sexual intimacy as the heat turned to its maximum where the baking can actually happen. Here the lovers melt into each other as they begin to worship each other through eyes, gesture, and touch as living embodiments of all that is beautiful, innermost, and exciting about life. They just must get closer and closer until they are completely intermingled body, mind, and spirit.

Now think of lovers lying naked next to each other afterward. They feel a relaxed and full connection and great safety. They hug. They caress. Their words are soft and even cooing. They may actually break out into baby-talk so intense is their tenderness for each other.

And in the morning when the demands of living begin anew, there will be a residual sense of special and joyful connection carried forward throughout the day.  This is romance.