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First of all, let me make one thing clear: My wife and I have an amazing relationship. We have this really sweet, Hugh Grant rom-com quality hook-up story (I thought she was mean; she thought I was on cocaine). We talk in these adorably annoying voices when no one is around. And we are plenty active (and I ain’t talking about hiking fourteeners, if you catch my drift).
Anyway, that’s my way of saying we don’t need counseling—or, at least that’s what I thought. Especially not some gimmicky therapy in a box, which, to be perfectly honest, is exactly how I pegged the Modern Love Box when I heard about it. Created by Alysha Jeney, a psychotherapist and the owner of Modern Love Counseling in the Highland neighborhood, MLB is a monthly subscription service, like Birchbox—but instead of blush you receive vanilla chai massage oil. When I told Jeney, via email, that the idea sounded a bit reductive, she responded: “We definitely are not trying to simplify counseling and put it in a box. Instead, we want to be an innovative resource for couples to bump up their quality time and enhance their date nights.”
Most of Jeney’s clients are millennials, who like to stay busy with their CrossFit, kickball, concerts, breweries, and goat yoga. “In a nutshell,” Jeney says, “they struggle with prioritizing their relationship.” So Jeney and her husband, Aron, devised MLB as a way for couples to spend time together—a turnkey date night that inspires partners to be present and engaged.
My wife and I, who have been married for nearly two years, are definitely busy. Mostly, it’s work—eight-plus hours a day of writing, editing, brainstorming, talking, thinking leaves both of us drained. I typically depart the house around 6 a.m. for the gym; she usually doesn’t get home from work until 6:30 p.m. Then it’s dinner and Netflix. I don’t blame us. After hectic days, it’s nice just to zone out with Don Draper or Michael Scott. But it’s not always the best environment for fostering connection—or romance.
So I asked Jeney if we could sample a box. It arrived in June, and we promptly ignored it. We were too busy, we told each other. We traveled to Dallas for my brother’s wedding, then to Austin for her best friend’s 30th birthday. When we got back, I did some TV spots to promote 5280’s Top of the Town issue. (It’s great, by the way!) Before long, the poor MLB was buried under a stack of bills, work papers, and other life debris—what a metaphor, right?
Anyway, we eventually embarked on a semi-date night to the Mayan Theater, where we saw Band Aid, a movie about a millennial couple that starts a band to fix their acrimonious marriage. Perhaps because we were inspired, or maybe just scared straight (after all, neither of us plays a musical instrument), we cracked open the box as soon as we got home. Inside, we found a kissable massage candle, vanilla chai massage oil, and “You Make Everything Better” compliment cards. We were instantly embarrassed for ourselves. But, emboldened by the Old-Fashioned cocktails we had snuck into the Mayan, we ventured onward.
Before diving into any of the, um, love paraphernalia, the instructions recommended we find a quiet place to talk. Once on the bed (fully clothed!), we were supposed to discuss 10 questions listed on a card also included in the box; she asked me a question, then I asked her the same one. The cards change every month, and this one focused on the theme of comfort: How do you perceive I comfort you? Tell me about a time you felt really close to me. Tell me how you’d ideally like me to initiate connection. I’m not going to go into the details of our responses, because you, dear reader, are a stranger. But the answers were alternatively sweet and revelatory—a kind of compliment sandwich. The flattery allowed us to feel comfortable enough to say some things—deep, previously unexplored things.
It was weird. Honestly, I believe we both thought the box would be some kind of joke. An absurdity we could laugh at. Then suddenly there we were, without a trace of pretense, rolling through issues we had never, ever discussed before. I suppose we just needed an opening.
Of course, emotional intimacy often breeds the other, more enjoyable kind of intimacy. I won’t get into all that, because a million MLB boxes wouldn’t save my marriage if I went all Danielle Steele with the details here on 5280.com. But to quote John Cusack from the movie High Fidelity, “I can say we had a good time. I can say that.”
(One small detail I’ll surrender involves the kissable massage candle, which claims to be chocolate mousse flavored. Before we went to bed, my wife accidentally stuck her hand in the wax when reaching for her book. “What’s it taste like?” I asked her. “Like a candle,” she replied. So there you go.)
I won’t lie and say that the MLB has turned our every night into a Before Sunrise-type dialogue. Who would have the emotional stamina for that, anyway? And we often find ourselves in the same ole Netflix rut—which is OK, I think. After all, one of the best parts of spending your life with someone is just doing innocuous stuff, like cleaning the bathroom or shopping for groceries, with the person you love most in the world. (That doesn’t sound as romantic as I imagined, but trust me, it’s romantic.)
The problem occurs when you’re so deep in the rut you can’t connect with your partner anymore. So I understand the logic behind a $54 a month subscription relationship box. It’s a device to pop you out of that rut at least once every 30 days—a way to shovel off the debris of life before all that junk buries the most important thing in your life. Just don’t taste the candle.