Let’s just say that when I married my bookish, academic, unaware-of-his-dashing-good-looks husband, I never in a million years imagined that any sort of beauty regimens would be in our future together.
Let me rewind: Not so long ago I turned 40 and suddenly realized that I should actually start thinking about caring for my skin. (Yes, I know I’m about two decades too late, but better late than never.) I went down myriad internet rabbit holes and the result was that I started making my own facial scrubs, bought fancy, old-lady skincare products, and started going to a Korean spa every few months for a soak in the hot/cold baths. One day, after seeing dozens of women walking around the spa sporting them, I came home with a handful of face masks.
“What are those?” my husband asked as I put them away in my bathroom drawer.
I held one up, like, you suddenly care about my skincare regimen? “A face mask I got at the Korean spa,” I said. “It was less than $2.” (I was paranoid he’d think my new obsession was expensive.)
“Did you get me one?”
Our marriage was rolling along pretty well, but like most parents of young kids, we often felt like passing ships, handing off childcare duties to one another, working after bedtime, and then collapsing on either side of the bed. Our only shared hobby — if she could be called that, and she couldn’t — was our kid.
We were struggling to, in our own vernacular, “increase the ‘we.’” Our interests did overlap — drop us in a bookstore and we could sit side-by-side all day; fly us to a foreign country and we could meander hand-in-hand endlessly — but in the day-to-day mess of building our careers and parenting, it seemed that there weren’t many activities that we consciously did together. (Watching The Americans half asleep doesn’t count.)
When he asked to do the masks together, I just assumed he was making fun of my bourgeois midlife crisis.
“Are you for real?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you actually care about your skin?”
“Are you kidding?” he said. “Who cares more about their skin than me?” I knew that tone of voice: he was trying, with all his might, to keep a straight face, while also sincerely expressing interest in the activity. (The truth is that he wears more sunscreen than any human on earth and thus has better skin than most.)
That night, when our kid was asleep, we went into the bathroom. I tore open the packaging and showed him how it worked, demonstrated the holes that left room for our eyes, nose and mouth. I helped him spread the gooey material across his wide face.
Our images staring back at us were terrifying.
“How does it feel?” I asked.
“So f%*cking good.”
What on earth does one do while face mask-ing?
“Should we watch The Americans?” I gandered.
The truth was — is — that it’s not easy talking with these things on your face, and we looked too absurd to have any deep, meaningful conversation. (Everytime I looked at him, I burst out laughing; I feared our daughter would wake up and think her parents had been abducted by ghosts.) But sitting next to each other on the couch in our bathrobes, something felt markedly different. Intimate. Together.
We were “increasing the we” in a way I’d never have dreamed up — all because of him. All because he had seized an opportunity, picked a low-hanging fruit. These opportunities are not always easy to find in a marriage — a “sure” instead of a “no way,” a move outside your comfort zone or area of interest — and I was touched to feel him beside me, even more so because I knew for a fact that a few hours earlier he hadn’t even known what a face mask was. He wasn’t mocking me. He was showing me love.
How many times had I done that for him? How many times had he asked, “Want to watch a film about World War II in German?” and I’d rolled my eyes. How many times had I brushed him off when he said (more often than you’d think), “I found an awesome exhibit on ancient Greece I thought we could go to this weekend!”?
Let’s just say I wasn’t in the habit of coming over to his side of the fence. But maybe I could. If face masks or scrubs, of all things, had become a semi-regular part of our repertoire (and they did, dear reader), what else could? Maybe this is what marriage was all about: finding a way in, doing it for the other person, simply being side-by-side and laughing at yourselves while your kid sleeps soundly in the other room, letting her parents find new ways to hold onto their love.