There is something about being pregnant that makes people you want to give you unsolicited advice. I had complete strangers make recommendations ranging from baby names to sleep training to what to do with my placenta after labor. However, the most frequent piece of advice I got was not about any of these things; it was about date night. Far and wide, people assured me that date night had the power to single-handedly keep my marriage thriving while my husband and I adjusted to the new norm of being sleep deprived parents with little time for ourselves, let alone each other. Little did I know that date night would be the cause of a marital crisis.
The first time we tried it my son was six weeks old and my husband had just returned from an extended business trip. I had begged him not leave me home alone with a newborn, so when he did, I spent the week resenting his absence and refusing to take his calls. Naturally, romance was in the air when he returned. We went to a restaurant down the street, and after we ordered I wondered whether it would be bad form to put my head on the table for a brief nap. An infant’s cry pierced my foggy thoughts and I sprang up to go get my son—and then I realized it was not my baby. Looking up, I saw that every table in the restaurant had filled with small children, chaperoned by a few exhausted looking adults. Unbeknownst to us, we had stumbled into “Kids Eat Free” night. If you’ve never watched a small child eat, it does not in any way foster a romantic dinner ambiance. They chew with their mouths open and drop chunks of food onto the table and the floor, which are then eaten by some other kid while he’s crawling around on the dirty floor. After watching this spectacle for a few minutes, my husband and I got our food wrapped to-go and headed for the exit.
The next date night we were better prepared. We made a reservation at a non-kid friendly restaurant. I put on mascara and a shirt that didn’t smell like spit up and tried to get excited about the prospect of uninterrupted time to reconnect with my husband. At dinner he asked about my day. I grasped for something interesting to say that didn’t involve diaper changes or nap schedules but my mind was blank. It turns out that while keeping a tiny human alive all day is miraculous, it is boring as hell to talk about. Then my husband began talking about work—the cool problems he was solving, the interesting people he talked to all day, and how for lunch he’d gotten a salad and sat in his office for a whole hour by himself and caught up on email. By the time our appetizers arrived I hated him. Conversation dwindled well before the check arrived, and we sat in awkward silence while people at the tables around us talked and laughed.
And so it went, one bad date after another. We’d sit across from each other, casting about for enough conversation topics to get us through the entrée, each desperately hoping the other one wouldn’t order dessert or another drink so we could just go home already. At best it felt like a boring business dinner. At worst it felt like I was married to a stranger. Independently we were each panicking and wondering what was happening to us—were we officially out of funny and interesting things to say to each other for the rest of our lives? How had we gone from being each other’s favorite person to a weekly obligation in such a short amount of time? Would we ever recover?
The only thing worse than date night was the lead up to it. Every time I got a babysitter and let my husband know we were going out for some quality time together he responded with a heavy sigh. I took this to mean he was not interested in the health and longevity of our marriage, or in spending time with me. I would rage and cry and lament that he just didn’t get it—that date night was important because everybody says so. Date night became the mountain I was willing to die on. Until it wasn’t.
My revelation came as most of them do—texting with my best friend while watching TV, responding to work emails, and Googling “How do I get my child to eat peas?”.
Me: How was your weekend?
BF: Fine. Had a sitter Fri night.
Me: Date night?
BF: Ug no, we gave that up. Too much pressure and we’re too tired. We went to Target and took a nap in the parking lot.
I nearly jumped off the couch. I was allowed to give up on date night? Even better, I could replace it with a nap? What blissful news was this?
That night I sat my husband down.
“I canceled our sitter for this Saturday night,” I said. “And for every Saturday night after that.”
He looked at me cautiously, the way husbands do when they’re not sure whether they’re walking into a trap.
“It’s still important to me to spend time with you,” I continued. “But I was thinking that we might not be go-out-on-Saturday-night kind of people. I think we might be stay-in-on-the-couch kind of people.”
He smiled, relieved. “I wholeheartedly agree.”
Our Saturday nights now involve takeout and Netflix. Sometimes we talk, laugh and drink wine, and other time we just lie on the couch, snuggled under a blanket savoring the quiet. In those moments of watching bad TV in our pajamas I feel more connected to my husband than I ever did in a fancy restaurant. If we do go out, it’s because we want to, not because we feel obligated. We’re craving the meatballs at our neighborhood Italian place, or our favorite band is in town. I guess you could say we didn’t completely give up on date night, but that we molded it to fit our life and our marriage.
Date night is dead, long live date night.
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