My mother once said that in order for the family to be happy, parents have to make time for themselves as a couple. She was divorced a year later. Regardless, her statement still rings true.
There aren’t a lot of things my mom and I agree on, but I guess this is one of them. And yet this has been one of the most difficult things for my wife and I to do: make time for dates.
As first time parents, my wife and I refused to leave our infant son with a babysitter. We were both working, my wife Tuesday-Friday and me Monday-Thursday, each cramming 40 hours of work into 4 days. That meant our son was in daycare 3 days a week from a very early age. It was perhaps the most difficult thing we’ve had to do as parents. So, with him being ripped away from us 3 days a week, it was unthinkable that we’d go on a date. We did what we could, taking him to restaurants or the park, taking advantage of the down time together while he slept, but that was the extent of it.
As a toddler, the pattern simply continued. There were no good candidates for babysitters. Our closest relatives are 3 hours away, and all of our friends worked or had children of their own. We just couldn’t bite the bullet and use a website or a neighborhood teenager. For many years, dates consisted of putting our son to bed and watching TV. If that qualifies as dating, we have a hell of a dating record.
It really wasn’t until he was 3 years old that we started dating again. But even now, our dates are very infrequent. We have a lovely high-school aged babysitter from a good family whom our son loves (and likely has a crush on), but we almost never text her to set up a time. Some of it’s the cost, some of it’s laziness, but there’s also (dun dun dun!) the Curse of Date Night.
The Curse of Date Night is what I call the fear that surrounds infrequent dates. I was recently having coffee with a friend, and was relieved when he shared a similar taboo/anxiety about dating. I described to him that when my wife and I do set aside time for a date, two fears are prevalent: that we’ll get into some argument and/or we won’t have anything to say to one another.
The first fear has been realized a few times. Driving to the new restaurant we get lost, and there’s a spat about how to get to the place. Or, we can’t find a parking spot and get flustered with one another. The arguments aren’t about the directions or the parking space, but about the fact that we can’t “just have a nice time together”. There are so many anxieties around leaving our son for a date, that we as a couple put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to “have a good time”. At the first sign of any conflict or difficult, we slam ourselves for not being able to have fun. Inevitably, we’re able to come back to our senses and recognize the incredible strain we put on ourselves. Only then can we brush off the difficulty and have fun.
The second fear is something that arose more recently: the fear of not having anything to talk about. My wife was afraid that we’d make time for a date, sit down at a restaurant, and stare at each other blankly. I was surprised to hear her describe things this way, but it made sense. Sometimes when we sit down for dinner as a family, we’re lively and joking, but other times the energy is low, because we’re (I’m) worn out. My wife was concerned that on a date, I’d let my guard down and practically fall asleep at the table.
In spite of these fears, we set out on a date a few weeks back. We used a gift certificate from Christmas and headed to a fancy restaurant. And….it was a success. Not a single argument, and great conversation for two straight hours. We did it.
I believe that with these infrequent date nights, my wife and I put an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to make them a perfect success. Dates are so few and far in between that we wonder if we can even do it at all. But, we’re making some strides and getting out there, in spite of the curse.