Date Night: Often a Joy, Sometimes a Challenge, Always a Necessity
Updated: Jul 22
My husband and I were sitting on opposite sides of the couch when notifications started coming into my phone.
Calendar invite: Drinks with the guys at that rooftop bar.
Calendar invite: Dinner with a colleague at a restaurant I've never heard of but that sounds amazing.
My husband was busy scheduling nights out with everyone except the person sitting across from him on the couch.
“I have a question,” I said. “How come you never schedule dates with me?”
I know – my delivery here reeked of “nitpicking wife,” but the words were out there so yeah, we were doing this.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“I mean, you never think to pick a restaurant you want to take me to and ask me if I want to go. You know, a date.”
My husband and I have been married for 23 years. In that time, we’ve had many nights out. On Friday mornings, we go to our local diner for quick breakfast together. Occasionally we meet up after work for drinks when the kids are otherwise occupied. On our anniversary, we sometimes get a night out alone together, but often not because it’s usually on Labor Day weekend or very close to the first day of school, so timing is tough. And then there was COVID, where no dates were happening, anywhere. So while we go out, I haven’t been taken on a “date” in a long time.
“You’re right,” he said. “What do you want to do?”
What I want, I thought, is for you to plan everything and make me feel whisked away. Surprise me! Bring me flowers. Hold my hand. Kiss me spontaneously and deeply while we walk along some amazing vista. Make me forget we have kids. A dog. A dirty house.
As of late, my thinking on dating has been influenced by a couple I know who are in the early stages of falling in love. They smile shyly at each other. They are always touching somehow – holding hands, brushing hair off a cheek, nuzzling. When they spend the day together, they go all-in, starting early in the morning and not parting until after midnight. And even then, it’s with regret. And – they go on dates. Curated events that involve experiences and, yes, walking hand-in-hand along amazing vistas.
“Remember those kinds of dates?” I ask my husband. “That's what I want. I want you to think about an experience I would enjoy, and plan it.”
“You’re right. Let’s do it,” he said.
As this exchange makes clear, my husband is a good guy whose heart belongs to me. Even after all these years, making me happy is very high on his priority list. But the reality is that our lives are a lot more complicated than that young couple’s. They are both single, and when they part they live their own lives. Neither has kids. Their responsibilities are few, and their time nearly limitless. We, on the other hand, barely have time to have an uninterrupted conversation. There’s always a meal that has to be made, a dog that needs to be walked, laundry to fold, a child to shuttle from one place to another. The life of young lovers was ours for a time, but that time has passed. And now, I watch that young couple snuggle and find myself reminded of the romance we’ve lost, and missing it.
But how do you get it back when life makes the pursuit of happiness an actual pursuit? A chore, and task, another thing to do in a life filled with obligations and exhaustion?
So I scaled back my ask. Spontaneous yet curated romantic getaways are not possible right now. Expensive white tablecloth, 7-course tasting menu dinners are not quite in the budget. But maybe that’s not really what we need anyway. What we actually need, I realized, is the calendar invite. We need time reserved just for us.
“How about every Thursday night this summer, we block our calendars and plan a night out?” I ask.
He’s all in. And now, Thursday night has become sacred. My heart filled when he moved an 8 pm Thursday work call because “it’s date night.” We told the kids they’re on their own for dinner on Thursdays because, “it’s date night.”
We’re almost halfway through the summer, and I’ve quickly adapted to living my whole week in anticipation of Thursday night. We’ve done nice dinners and more low-brow events like taking beach chairs, a bottle of wine, and sandwiches to watch the sun set near the ocean. The beauty in these moments isn’t so much the venue as the time we have together—uninterrupted time to talk, to laugh, to flirt. To remember why we’ve been doing this for 23 years, and why we should do it for another 23 more.
When the kids were small, we’d plan the occasional date night. It wasn’t easy, because babysitters are expensive. And often, I didn’t have the greatest time because after going weeks or months without making time to talk, the conversations often meandered into the morass of regrets and resentments. I felt overwhelmed by childcare. He felt overwhelmed by being the main earner. The house was a disaster and I felt I was doing most of the housework. He felt he was doing as much as he could with the limited time he had. It can be hard to remember why you fell in love when you’re wondering how long you have to wait before one of you scrubs the toilet. And then there was the exhaustion – a night out often meant being out late, and add a few drinks to that and by then end, we were both cranky and tired and ready to stop all this togetherness.
For our 20th wedding anniversary, we took a trip to France. I honestly worried that we’d have enough to talk about for 10 days. Would we get tired of each other? Did we still have enough in common? But when we removed the must-dos of everyday life we rediscovered what we liked about one another. He grabbed my hand while walking through cobblestone streets, and I felt chills that reminded me of when everything felt like the first time. We did spontaneous things like joining dance parties in the park, finding a hard-to-find jazz club, enjoying wine and bread and cheese at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. We watched the sun set over the mountains and said nothing as we absorbed each other’s presence and peacefulness. He held my hand and rubbed my fingers, and I was reminded that his touch could still be so gentle, and so thrilling.
Recreating the tranquility and electricity of the French countryside is hard at home, where we can’t just linger over 3-hour wine-soaked lunches. But it is so important to try. There have been times I’ve felt myself give up the effort to seek connection, or to even want romance. But the further I let my soul travel from his, the more lost and alone I felt. And so I have always ventured back, forcing myself to find a way to reconnect. I cannot overstate how hard this is, even with someone you have committed your life to and built a family with. Connecting is a continuous act, one you have to recommit yourself to more often than seems reasonable. But without the constant connection, there’s the risk of losing what brought you to join your lives in the first place.
I watch that young couple and am so happy for them and the moments they are living in, because while they don’t realize it, they are planting the seeds for how this relationship, or any ones they have in the future, will progress. When two people value each other in the beginning, find complete wonder in one another, it plants experiences that you can return to someday. When the resentments build, and the frustrations foment, it helps to have those memories of a time when everything was simpler, purer, and straightforward: I love you, you love me. The sun is setting. Your hand is in mine. That look in your eye feels like a laser to my soul. It is these small moments in each couple's romantic journey that all add up to be absolutely, completely enough, so long as you remember to recreate them.