I don’t know about you, but since having children, I get about as excited about date night as my daughters do on the eve of their birthday. And no wonder . . . between work, kids’ activities, college football, and other planned social events, date night happens about as frequently as a birthday. And when it DOES happen, it typically falls into one of the following three categories.
Typical Date Nights
- Dinner and a movie. More accurately, it’s Dinnermovie. Late arrival of babysitter + kids who do NOT want to be left with a sitter + your inability to stay awake past 10 pm = exactly 3 hours of prime date time. How did couples fit both in prior to the invention of the Movie Tavern?! And who are we kidding? Once you’ve had dinner and cocktails served to your plush and roomy seat during a movie, you can’t really go back to popcorn and fountain drinks. But although you’re getting out of the house and experiencing something new alongside each other, you’re not really doing it “together.” Your one-on-one interaction is limited to the car ride there (“We’re going to be late, [expletive]!”) and the car ride home (“That was a great movie. Boy, am I tired.”)
- Friend’s wedding. Who doesn’t love a good wedding? You have a reason to get dressed up, celebrate the marriage of dear friends while reminiscing about your own, and let loose on the dance floor with your main squeeze. But as the night progresses, you and your hot date spend less and less time with each other and more time with everyone else. You take the opportunity to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while, the conversation often separated into guys and girls. Once the drinks start flowing and the band turns it up to 11, you abandon any legit couples dancing in favor of that “hooking a fish” routine. Every. Single. Time. So while you’ve had a blast together, you’ve also had a blast with dozens of other people, which makes it hard to classify weddings, birthday parties, and other social events that take up precious spots on your packed calender as a real “date.”
- Nice dinner (and maybe dessert, if there’s time). Ah, the quintessential default. You can take a little more time than usual to get ready (or not), try out that new restaurant everyone’s been talking about, spend some one-on-one time together, and do it all on relatively short notice. But best of all, it gives you a rare opportunity to sit down and have an adult conversation for once. You know, grownup things like current events, the book your’re reading, that post your crazy friend made on Facebook, football, your kid’s soccer game, your kid’s soccer schedule, the entire family’s schedule, the to-do list, how nothing on the to-do list has gotten done, how nice it would be to outsource everything, how nice it would be to outsource everything given an unlimited supply of cash, the family finances. Wait, what the @#&! just happened?! Are we really talking about money on date night?! And just as you both try to redirect the conversation back to something less contentious and banal, you realize it’s time to head home to relieve the babysitter.
The Accidental Perfect Date
I didn’t set out to make it to be the perfect date, but it happened anyway. It was my husband’s birthday, and we wanted to do something special but not too over-the-top. After ruling out a few other options (concert, dinner with friends), we agreed to have the sitter come early, start the evening in the late afternoon, and just spend time together.
We started with the Samurai exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum, which he apparently had been dying to see for months. We walked through the exhibit hand-in-hand, making astute social observations about the elite class of the time, pointing out details the other had overlooked, and learning something new together. We even took some extra time to peruse the permanent collection, where I managed to get in trouble for getting too close to a statue, providing my husband with hours of commentary and laughter at my expense. It couldn’t have been any more perfect.
- It was then time to head to our couple’s massage at Perfect Touch Day Spa, just a stone’s throw away. Aside from how obviously amazing a massage sounds right about now, it was a really great experience to have together. Oftentimes, as parents, one person’s comfort a relaxation can only happen at the expense of the other’s. You pick the kids up from school so I can get my nails done. You have a night off with the guys while I get the kids down. And while it works most of the time, it really is nice to know that you can both get pampered at the same time without having to put a strain on each other. You both deserve it.
- After building in enough buffer time to de-oil ourselves and get ready, our last stop was dinner at St. Emilion. Though pricey and best reserved for special occasions, you truly feel like you’re on vacation the second you step inside. And unlike other dinner dates, we were unrushed, completely relaxed, and had already had hours of one-on-one time . . . during which we didn’t broach the subject of schedules or the to-do list once. I don’t remember what we talked about, or even if we did, but I do remember the food we ate and how happy we were just to be together.
Date Night Reinvented
As nice as it would be, it’s not practical (or even feasible) to take an afternoon off from work and get a couples massage every time we want to go on a date. But it is possible to take some of the experience-altering elements taken from the accidental perfect date and apply them to “date night.”
- Leave other people out of it. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to be completely isolated from the rest of the world, but do make yourselves a priority for the evening. Adding in another couple or group of friends not only makes things logistically more stressful, but it also distracts you from spending needed one-on-one time with each other. Even if you think you might meet up with friends later, the back-and-forth texting leading up to it can really cut into your date time and be an unnecessary distraction. Go to birthday parties, join a supper club, have double dates . . . just don’t do it on your date night.
- Add in a first stop that doesn’t have a set start time. When you’re rushing to 6:00 dinner reservations or a 7:30 movie time, you’re setting the tone of stress and anxiety from the get-go, and you’ll spend the rest of the evening trying to unwind from that. Plan to do something before the time-sensitive event, and schedule the sitter around that first activity. That way, if she’s late, or the kids won’t let you leave so easily, or if you can’t choose an outfit (which all happened, btw), you’re not putting yourself at risk of missing your reservation. And build in as much time for this activity as possible. Trust me, you’ll be able to fill the time. Ideas? Peruse through a museum exhibit, people watch over a glass of wine in Sundance Square, window shop (or actually shop) near your destination restaurant. Use this time to just be with each other and unwind from life.
- Experience something new together. Unless you’re clones of each other, you probably have slightly different tastes in music, food, sports, art, TV, and what you generally prefer to do with your time. So you may find yourselves limiting your date night activities to those things that you do have in common: seeing a band you both like, going to a movie you both want to see, eating at a restaurant where you’ve both pre-approved the menu. But this approach can be very limiting. There are only so many ways you can say, “This is great! I love them! Yummm!” But when you experience something new together, you automatically erase those limits of conversation. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter how much you enjoy the particular subject matter; it’s how much you’re able to enjoy and interact with each other. So take a cooking class, walk through a new art gallery, garner a better understanding of the world at a science exhibit, try a new restaurant that’s a little farther out of town, attend a wine tasting . . . just experience something new together in an environment where you can actually interact with each other.
- Spoil each other. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an event; it’s more of a state of mind. It’s time for each of you to feel appreciated and pampered without having to do it at the expense of your partner. Stop keeping score and focusing on what you feel you deserve; instead, focus on what you can do to show your appreciation for the other. Little things include wearing his favorite outfit, letting him pick the dessert for once, or not nitpicking every little thing he does “wrong.” Bigger gestures can be buying flowers ahead of time, adding in a surprise stop, buying an impromptu gift while window shopping, or scheduling a couples massage. Life’s too short not to fully appreciate who you have while you have them . . . and date night’s even shorter.
Bonus Points: Going All Out (I highly recommend reading this section to your significant other.)
Before writing this post, I reached out to a few friends to ask them to describe their best date since having children, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM described a date involving an overnight stay at a local hotel. Some went to Dallas and spent a full day shopping, going to a concert, and dining well. Others stayed in Fort Worth and took advantage of the spa facilities at the Omni. Others just got a nice hotel room and did nothing more than what a couple has the liberty of doing in a hotel room when there is no risk of children barging in <wink, wink>.
The point is that you can feel like you’re on vacation without having to actually go on vacation. Very little planning. No travel involved. A single night of hotel costs. And whatever you want to do (or not do) with your free time from there. As a result, the couple was happy, glowing, recharged, and completely free of stress. Sounds pretty perfect, right? My husband and I have done this only once in the almost five years since our first was born, and I’m vowing to make an effort to do this at least annually from now on. Who’s with me?
How would you describe YOUR best date night since having children?