Date Night

Remember that old nursery rhyme: you and me, sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g; first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage!

Did you ever notice that at no point is dating mentioned? The kissing part goes right to love and then it’s straight to mating and breeding. (That is, unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reversed all those roles and juggled bits of the ritual of hooking up between everyone from his Kennedy bride to chicks he groped to his maid/baby mama to his she-bot co-star, and lived to tell the tale with seemingly no remorse in his new memoir, TOTAL DICKHEAD.)

In the same way that conjugal conjugation changes the passive noun “parent” into the very active verb “parenting,” it also changes the suggestive verb “dating” into the limp adjective/noun combo platter “date night.” Where a date is a big, juicy, promising question mark, date night is more a sad little period. The end stop to a week, so easy to miss, but without it, your life becomes one big, long run-on sentence of work, kids, chores, baggy t-shirts, and stained yoga pants. For all eternity.

If you sense my resentment of date night, you’d know the truth: my husband and I kind of suck at keeping that supposedly sacred ritual designed to keep the flames of romance burning bright. When our kids were babies, we had friends who swore by date night. They were champs at putting the tots to bed early, cooking in tandem, breaking out special dinnerware that they used only for their Saturday nights together, sipping fancy glasses of wine or artisanal beer, and presumably getting in some uninterrupted nookie at the end of another stellar date night. We tried our own version of that, but found order-in Chinese and a DVD of an old rom-com to be a pallid substitution for going out. But good babysitters were hard to find and expensive at that; when I told another friend that we just couldn’t afford a weekly babysitter, he replied that a marriage therapist once told him and his wife that they couldn’t afford not to get a sitter.

Touché, armchair psychologist. I always loved that line, but like so many other prescriptions for well-being, a spoonful of sugar would’ve helped that medicine go down. And everything from breastfeeding to co-sleeping to kids awake at all hours and endlessly long and arduous days kicking ass and taking prisoners did much to diminish our sugar-making abilities.

Plus we were in the same big boat with pretty much everyone else we knew: we remembered that Saturday nights were supposed to be fun, so together with friends we planned potluck dinners, poker nights, and other suburban get-togethers that the whole family could enjoy. In fact, I wrote a yet-to-be-published book called The Date Knight, about a married-with-children woman who enters and accidentally wins a contest with the grand prize of a date with a movie star. It was in part social commentary on how through settling down, we’d settled in, landing somewhere around early middle school — a big group of people hanging out together — without the benefit of spin the bottle AND with too many close-to-reality aspects, like cooking and cleaning, to feel like a true break. Real dating, on the other hand, takes you out of your own realm and into a romantic, fresh and new place — and perhaps only a fantasy knight (or maiden, to be fair) coming to your emotional rescue could pull off that party trick. Well that, and things like having the time to take a shower, change your clothes, fix your hair and makeup, and getting even just five minutes alone would do wonders on the bringing sexy back scale.

Fantasy aside, and like any other ages and phases, our kids and our friends’ kids are finally getting old enough to take care of themselves, and so these suburban house parties are fewer and farther between. Which finally makes room for going out for fun and fancy a reality! So exciting in theory, so foreign in practice…

And that sense of newness, it turns out, is exactly what Dr. Love ordered. Months ago I bought tickets to go see one of our favorite bands, Wilco, at the Hollywood Bowl. If you’ve never been there — and I hadn’t, despite living in LA for over seven years now — it is absolutely magical. Then again, it could’ve been the night: balmy air with a light breeze rustling through the surrounding palms and pines, a romantic harvest moon, cold beer, and my husband’s warm hand in mine, his lips on mine. For the first lingering time in a very long time.

Wilco rocks, but that night, the sweet ballads and soulful, folksy strains dominated, as the bowl beat with a colorful light show, lush and hypnotic. As we listened to the lyrics of my favorite Wilco ditty, Impossible Germany, I realized that there was no better love song, no better salute to the essence of a perfect date (night).

But this is what love is for
To be out of place
Gorgeous and alone
Face to face

With no larger problems
That need to be erased
Nothing more important than to know
Someone’s listening
Now I know
You’ll be listening.