by Hayley Doyle
Ooh, capture the moment!
And why not share it? You’ve completed a long list of life admin in order to make tonight happen. Your hair is washed, or at least sprayed with dry shampoo. You’ve applied that shade of lipstick that’s too daring for daytime, but quite possibly last season.
You remembered to shave your legs.
Still, you’re looking good. It’s nice to be in clothes you don’t wear that often anymore. It’s even nicer to be doing something different. So poof! You spray yourself with something fresh and floral. And off you go to meet your date…
Except it’s likely you shared the same bathroom to get ready.
If you’d had your heart set on those original butterflies fluttering around your head like a Disney princess at the sight of your scrubbed-up partner, you’ve set yourself up for disaster.
Sure, you might get a moment when you think, YES - HOT. Or, YES - MINE. But if you’re in a committed long-term relationship, you’re likely to remind one another to empty the bins on the way out or double check they paid this term’s nursery fees while you’re waiting for the Uber.
The spell is suddenly broken.
And the only getting home before the stroke of midnight is to ensure the following morning isn’t some version of hell.
So we should stop confusing dating with Date Night.
The two are wildly different.
Even a slight comparison adds even more pressure and disappointment to #datenight; cue Instagram boomerang of clinking glasses.
Couples are forever being advised and encouraged to keep that spark alive by going on dates with one another. But let’s face it; these dates commonly end in a fizzle rather than a flame.
Simple. Date Night is the opposite of the dating phase.
One is forced, and the other comes naturally. So naturally, it’s effortless. Even when the effort is put in, it’s the kind of effort that one so thoroughly enjoys - so effortlessly - that it makes the word effort redundant. You spend unlimited time together. You drag the day into night. You stay up late no matter what the consequence and find ways to soak up every waking second. You discover new things about each other. You show the very best version of yourself…
Date Night. It’s been firmly in the diary (and you’ve considered canceling for various reasons) for weeks. Months. It’s an effort. An effort you believe will be worth all the effort, of course. You spend a strictly limited amount of time together; two hours and you’re ready to hit the sack. Or release the babysitter. You either do lunch or dinner. There’s too much life admin to get done in between so the idea of merging the two into one is like working out an advanced maths equation.
You do NOT stay up late.
There WILL be consequences.
You make an effort to stay alert, whilst secretly wanting to slip into your PJs. You know everything about each other. You cannot hide the very worst version of yourself.
Sounds pretty dismal, huh?
The thing is, being in a long-term relationship is not dismal. Or, it shouldn’t be. The problem is putting pressure on each other to do what’s expected and - at times - ill-advised in the hope it will bring you back to one another. But everything you loved about the dating phase is gone, and what it's been replaced with is actually something much better. Deeper. Stronger. When once upon a time you were watching the stars switch into sunrise, you were hoping for this experience to be worth it, to be meaningful. And now, it is. The fact that you are still together is proof.
A friend of mine recently had Date Night planned with her partner, something they’d been highly anticipating because their work schedules had been clashing for months. She dressed up, put in all the effort, and looked adorable. She was thrilled to see her other half looking pretty dreamy too. Off they went hand in hand, and slipped into an Uber. An hour later, they were still in the Uber, stuck in traffic. And arguing.
“Why did we bother coming out?”
“Because we never go out!”
“But we could be comfy on our sofa, relaxing!”
“But we never go anywhere!”
“Because of this traffic!”
All frustration was unleashed because too much importance was placed upon Date Night. It was all or nothing. The pressure was on. A night to remember! Instead it became one they’d rather forget. Once home - and in PJs - the storm slowly passed. They found a way back to one another.
Back when I was getting to know my husband, our official “dates” were lovely. We lived in Dubai so we were spoilt rotten with fine eateries and spectacular views to create a romantic ambience. But that wasn’t what made us click. What made us fall in love? It was the little stuff. A cinema trip and realising we both laughed out loud at the exact same part. Going out for noodles and deciding to do a bit of Christmas shopping, seeing what he decided to buy for his dad and finding it cute how he helped me to pick out something for my mum. Discovering a shared excitement for Breaking Bad and watching it on a laptop with a duvet. The way he placed his hand on the small of my back when we were somewhere busy.
Now, a Date Night is rare. We have two small children, freelance jobs, and no family just around the corner. When the chance pops up for us to get our glad rags on and hit a joint that doesn’t have a kids menu and crayons, we take full advantage, of course. But I’m conscious of not just living for those moments because - as lovely as they still can be - they can also create some difficulties. We might not feel completely on the same page; one of us being more tired than the other. Unlike during the early stages of our relationship, we no longer fight against exhaustion, and it can result in disappointment or an argument. And while it can be relaxing to enjoy all-adult company, we both still have one eye on the time (which goes remarkably fast) and the other eye on how much we exert our energy because of the amount of responsibility we have early the next morning. A sense of missing our old selves can pop up. We reminisce, which although has its positives, can lead to some resentment of how a night out just ain’t what it used to be.
And in truth, we’re happy about that!
We don’t want what we used to have. That chapter was brilliant while it lasted, but we’ve evolved. We’ve moved on. We prefer our life now in so many ways and feel rewarded for so much that we strived for. It’s just that while Date Night is so often recommended as a time to connect, it can produce a plethora of results, many being a little off-piste. Because we’re humans and we’re complex. There’s no set fix, such as Date Night, to keep a relationship alive and kicking.
Am I suggesting you never go out anymore? Heck, no! I believe we need to relieve the pressure of building up such a small window of romance, though. We need to find ways of letting the romance weave into our daily lives. You’re together for so much more than a cocktail and atmospheric lighting. Think back to your single life and the dates you endured that didn’t work out. Was it because the food was bad? Or the ambience sucked? No. It was because a connection didn’t develop beyond the bruschetta. So to avoid the Date Night disaster syndrome, let’s bare this in mind…
Talk and Touch…
Because these two simple things matter so much more than a fancy restaurant and a well-angled selfie. Without communication, your relationship is a guessing game where presumption ends in tears. And without touch, you become two adults functioning in a shared space, rather than a couple sharing a life. Putting your phones down and having a conversation face-to-face is sadly becoming more rare as time goes by. So make this the norm. And hold hands. Give a peck on the cheek before boiling the kettle for a cuppa. Hug before leaving and when you arrive. The more you do this will lead to it becoming effortless. But the less you do this, the more effort it will require in the long run.
Reminisce but Remember…
That now is also a time you will want to look back on and talk about in years to come. You’re not living for yesterday. Your present is precious. So while it can make you feel warm and fuzzy to recall that era of lounging in bed all day or choosing your first sofa together, remember that all you kept your fingers and toes crossed for back then, is what you have now.
Spontaneous doesn’t mean Splurging…
On an expensive spa retreat or Michelin-starred menu. Yes, that’s a bonus, but you can be spontaneous in the little things you do each day and how you treat one another. Just complimenting your partner goes a long way, especially if you’ve been together for many years and fallen out of the habit of doing so. Kiss. Tickle. Pause the box set binge and watch your favourite movie together. Crank up the radio in the car when a cheesy song comes on and both sing. Tell the one you love that they’re doing a great job.
And definitely go on Date Night.
Just be mindful that it’s not the glue that holds you both together.