Chill Factor


     In the dead of winter, today’s couple must deal with a host of challenges in their romantic lives. Let’s say, for example, that your wintertime body temperature is like my wife’s and hovers around 10 degrees below that of a normal human being. Getting that body temperature up where it belongs requires keeping clothes on, which is a natural impediment to romance. It’s true that I’m not helping much by keeping the heat set at 64 degrees when we’re awake, but global warming isn’t yet helping to defray our heating costs. My wife employs several layers of fleece and a blanket around the shoulders just to make the evening tolerable, so it’s not hard to understand why she wishes to disrobe as few times as possible in the winter.

     Nevertheless, there is a peculiar romantic allure to the cold weather, with its crackling wood fires and rounds of hot toddies. Winter clothing has its advantages too, as loose sweaters and long coats soften the unfortunate lines of my physique. I am one of those people who looks his best in low light, which New England winters provide in great abundance. In a pinch, I am able to withstand the dim flicker of a candle or the glow of moonlight reflecting off the crusty snow, but, otherwise, give me darkness.

     Still, try as I might to put on a brave face, the fact is that winter’s negatives far outweigh its positives. It’s not long after the shelves are stocked with heavy winter ales that my son, a walking Petri dish, arrives home from the daycare center with his first helping of the year’s new crop of viruses. A few unrestrained sneezes later, and the bug is uniformly dispersed about the house. My wife and I do our best to keep the germs from spreading further, chasing the little boy around and trying to get a grip on his nose, which leaks vast amounts of contaminated goo. We suck on zinc lozenges, take huge doses of vitamin C, and wash our hands 100 times a day, but it’s clear we are fighting a losing battle. A two year old needs hugs and kisses and books read to him in “the big bed,” where he sneezes and coughs on our blankets and pillows.

     So my wife and I get sick too. Often. Both of us know that even if just the sniffles are involved, the chances of our exchanging furtive looks from across the living room shrink to about nil. If it’s a stomach bug, there may be weeks of psychological repair work to be done. Odd sounds echoing from inside the bathroom do not, on the whole, elicit amorous feelings on either side of the door. Plus, in order to keep the bug from attacking our mate, one of us – typically the one not in desperate need of the bathroom – is relegated (or, more accurately, granted leave) to the attic bedroom, where that lucky person is pleasantly insulated from the racket down below.

     Winter is also when my wife spends hours a week slathering moisturizer all over herself. You might think this would create an opportunity for us, but all it does is highlight the difference in our wintertime skin quality – hers amazingly supple for all the scrubbing she’s done, mine falling apart like a leper’s. Sometimes, if I make an attempt at seduction, she’ll inspect my hands and say, “You need socks, mister!” This means that romance is on an indefinite hiatus while my hands – covered in in in Vaseline and stuck into tube socks during sleep – repair themselves. I hate the sock treatment because I wake up with sweaty hands and can’t pick up my water glass. But this is winter, and sometimes you have to be willing to go the extra mile.

     But let’s give winter romance its due. There are peaks and valleys in every season, and the early months on the calendar are no exception. Soon we’ll wake to discover that no one is coughing, and the toilet is not in a constant state of flush. The sun will be a tiny bit higher in the sky, peeking out over our neighbor’s roof and sending shards of light into our bedroom. I will take this to be the sign of a warming trend. The resulting romance, I’m sure, will be better than at any other time of the year. After all, what increases something’s value more than the sheer rarity of it?