It’s official: I’ve lost all confidence in date nights.
Before I give you the latest blow to the ever-popular, eagerly anticipated weekly(ish) ritual, let’s backtrack a minute and explore the evolution of the date night.
BC (forget before kids, I’m going all the way back to before commitment), there was no such thing as date night. There were nights, and some of those evenings had dates, and as I recall, those things ran the gamut from awkward and painful to hot and amazing.
The one thing that dates have going over date night is the element of surprise. Moments of mystery. And the best of them have an unanticipated happy ending (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more).
Once you’re in a long-term relationship, date nights take on new meaning. Sure they’re a little forced, and of course the fact that you already know your date intimately saps some of the electric energy, but without the ritual, the chances of an awesome, albeit anticipated, happy ending decrease accordingly (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, etc.).
In other words, if you’re gonna get your groove on, you have to create that relaxed space so everyone’s mojo can rise without being flattened by the spinning gerbil wheel of duty, responsibility, and obligation.
This fact is written in blood in the forward to the parenting book classic, What You Don’t Expect But Probably Should When You’re Expecting: The Official End of “Dating” & The Beginning of “Date Night.”
For me, the first decade or so AB (after breeding), the whole concept of date night was a joke. Initially, the best we could muster was ordering in and watching a DVD. Very rarely did we hire a sitter, make reservations, and otherwise getting our shit together in advance to ensure that date night was sacred.
Eventually, as we had a bit more energy but still not enough time or money to orchestrate a grand evening exodus, “date night” devolved into a lengthy series of hanging with friends and neighbors at potluck dinners, where the only thing weekend nights signified was a change of scenery. The rest of the routine in the daily care and feeding of the kinder was pretty much the same.
Cut to a dozen years later, and slowly but surely, the tides have shifted and date nights have resumed. Tentatively at first, but lately things have picked up steam to a point where we can even do two things (i.e., dinner and a movie) in one night.
The operative word there is can. We’re still coming out of the pack-mentality that we GenX’ers love so much — we’ve always been shitty at drawing a line between what the parents do and what the kids do. That’s why when the children were little, we’d take them along to fancy restaurants — much to other diners’ chagrin — drag them to rock concerts that hurt their tiny eardrums, and kept them out way past their bedtimes on weekends at the aforementioned potlucks, just so we could remember what it was like to stay up past 9:00 p.m.
This explains why we still end up at the wrong movie (see Stunt Penises and Other Things I Wish I Hadn’t Shown My Kids), here and there.
Cut to last Saturday night when for the first time ever, both kids had their own plans that they made all by themselves. After they left, and my husband and I were alone for a few minutes, the realization that we could go anywhere and do anything (well, for about four hours, anyways) hit us.
And then there was that moment where we felt like teens ourselves again — like the chaperones were out for the evening, and we could let our hormones run wild.
Twenty minutes later (wink, nudge, ahhhh… never mind), and we were at a crossroads. So many options — we even had a Groupon to a hip Hollywood dining hot spot! (Groupons, by the way, are the wood-paneled station wagons of today’s suburbs: ubiquitous, tacky, space hogs. It’s always embarrassing being seen with a Groupon, but then again everyone has ’em.)
Overwhelmed by the wide-open possibilities of date night, it suddenly hit me that all I wanted to do was hang with my bae in a quiet, undisturbed setting. Somewhere that delicious food would be brought to us, and yet we could recline and be entertained at the same time. And if we decided to have a cuddle break, nobody would think or look twice.
And so, in the age-hold, time-honored tradition of “date night,” we picked the road we traveled many moons ago when the children were small — we ordered in and started streaming a movie I’ve been wanting to watch forever.
It turns out that of all the choices we had that evening, this was the clutch decision. Because two minutes after the food arrived, my cell phone rang. I half assumed that one of the kids would call to be picked up early, although this was certainly sooner than expected.
I answered the call only to hear a terrified, high-pitched child’s voice informing me that there had been an accident involving a broken window, and that my daughter needed help, NOW.
A half hour later, we were waiting in the Emergency Room for a doctor to stitch up a nasty, although thankfully superficial wound.
As we sat there, I couldn’t help but smile. By the grace of date night inertia and other middle age foibles, we were exactly where we needed to be when we were needed most.
We all got lucky that night — the wait to see a doc in the ER was just a few minutes, and within a couple of hours we were on our way home. As we left, we saw the waiting room was full and somehow, mercifully, we had beaten the brutal rush.
This was the happy ending nobody saw coming. The path of least resistance date night was our saving grace.
So if you see me shredding my Groupons and stocking up on takeout menus, don’t worry — it doesn’t mean I’ve totally given up on date nights. I can see that as the kids go out more, I should too… but I’ll just proceed by taking baby steps. Because that’s the thing about being parents — regardless of if we go out or stay in, we’re always standing by.