“Go out on a DATE together?”, my clients say in almost perfect unison and in similar tones of poorly masked skepticism. “A DATE?? Together?? Just the two of us?? How?? Why??”
Pay attention to what you, the reader, are thinking right now as you read the word ‘date’. What’s getting poked for you? Are you attaching old memories of first dates?….the excitement of spending some time alone together and getting to know someone, the fear of not being what they were hoping for or them not living up to your expectations, the dread around doing or saying the right thing, the anxiety around the end of the date and what that could or should look like? It’s often a visceral reaction, jam-packed with emotional baggage you’d long ago put in your own personal little crawl space among all the other “glad those days are over” stuff. You’re in a relationship now, you’ve been together for awhile, you live together, you’re completely comfortable with each other. You’ve worked all week and the last thing you even remotely feel like doing is getting all dressed up and going out on a date. Or there’s a kid or two or three who are taking up all your time and every ounce of your energy…what’s kept you going all day is visions of one scenario and it involves sweats, a couch, and Netflix – or a bed (purely for sleeping purposes, thank you very much). And then there’s always the issue of finances…who’s going to pay for this date? Restaurants, movie theaters, concerts, all the things that we’re supposed to do on dates…way too expensive. And here’s the kicker…one of the biggest fears for many of my clients is going out together, alone, and not having one word to say to each other. There are just too many barriers. So what happens is it becomes one of those ‘we’ll do it another time, when our lives calm down’ pots at the end of the ‘life’s too busy right now’ rainbow. I get it. I really do. Easy for me or anyone else to tell my clients to somehow find a way to overcome the obstacles that are preventing them from relationship bliss. So let me quell some of the mis-perceptions around the myth of THE DATE (note: relationship bliss is a myth too, for the record).
The myth is that a date means dinner and a movie. Not true. A date is two people doing something they both enjoy that involves interacting and communicating. Does the idea of going to a restaurant appeal to you, will it give you the opportunity to catch up with each other and maybe even get in a laugh or two? If so, great. If not, don’t do it. Have you ever seen that couple who sits at the table looking miserable, like they’re wanting to be anywhere else with anyone else? It’s hard to witness but much, much harder to experience. It can put unrealistic expectations on any couple. So go ahead and go out for dinner if you want. But if it’s not comfortable don’t call it a date. And the movie? Go ahead and go to 10 movies a week. But don’t call it a date. Remember the definition? Two people doing something they both enjoy that involves interacting and communicating. And it doesn’t have to be date ‘night’! It can be date afternoon or date morning or date middle of the night. (see below for some other ideas of what a date could look like).
There is no set ideal for the frequency of having your date. It’s something that needs to be negotiated and mutually agreed upon by the two partners. The key though is to create and put effort into maintaining some sort of schedule, ie) weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. Without the schedule it gets a lot easier to slide into procrastination which is often the beginning of sliding back into old, familiar and unhelpful patterns. It can also result in one partner feeling rejected and dejected, either accurately or inaccurately assuming their partner just isn’t interested in spending time with them.
Let’s go back to the definition of a date…time spent together that involves interaction and communication. It can be relatively cheap or it doesn’t have to cost a dime. Here’s a list of some possibilities:
- walk/picnic on the beach or at a park
- check out a local museum or art gallery
- ceramic class
- dance class
- comedy club (at least you’re laughing together)
- sport activity – skiing/running/mountain climbing, etc
- go to a pub and play pool or shuffleboard
- if the kids are in bed and childcare is out of the question have a picnic on the living room floor, only device used is for music purposes
It’s really important to plan a dating schedule, put it in your planner and treat it like it’s just as, if not more, important than any other meeting you have. Because life can get in the way of the best laid plans it’s probably a good idea to plan a 5 minute check-in a few days prior to the date to make sure it’s all still a go. It’s also very helpful to alternate responsibility for planning the date. Let’s say the couple has decided to have their date once every two weeks. They toss a coin or one person volunteers to take on the planning responsibilities for the first date. And then it’s just a given that in two weeks the other person will take on the planning. And so on and so on. It can add an element of fun and anticipation if the planner doesn’t disclose the exact nature or location of the date other than to indicate the time to be ready and the dress-code (really important…sucks to show up for a beach picnic in heels). Remember, it isn’t a competition to see who can plan the grandest date. It’s about knowing your partner cares enough about you to take your likes/dislikes into consideration and to plan something with just YOU and your relationship in mind. If it turns out you didn’t enjoy that particular activity be kind and appreciative in letting them know how you feel.
Going out on a scheduled date or staying home on a scheduled date doesn’t have to mean you’re going to connect on a deep emotional level and talk about deep emotional things. It means you’re going to spend some time together and connect with each other. Talk and laugh and hold hands, go outside and PLAY. Or stay in and PLAY with no expectations other than connection. Organic connection is so much more powerful than connection that feels forced.
So start dating each other again. Yes, it takes effort. There will be times when the sweats and binging on Netflix feel a lot more inviting than hanging out with your partner. And that’s okay every once in awhile but it has to be negotiated, it can’t just be a last minute decision on one person’s part.
Start dating each other again. Give it a try. Let me know how you like it.