Date night was born out of necessity in our marriage, when in the middle of my husband’s Ph.D. coursework, I finally had a wake-up call.
We were long-distance for a time while dating, and I thought that marriage would mean spending every evening and weekend talking about anything and everything to make up for the geographical distance that we suffered. But, if you have ever been in a grad program, you know that this is wishful thinking. So we began setting aside Friday nights as sacred and started watching Mad Men like it was our job. We would cook dinner together, sit by the window overlooking the city, watch two episodes, and then analyze them for hours until we were too tired to form sentences.
But date night changed when we found out we were expecting a baby.
We lived in fear of colic, so we assembled an armory of books to keep the beast at bay. Several of our date nights turned into baby-screaming drills in order to condition ourselves as much as possible before D-Day.
Once our first son was born, by necessity we made room for him in our busy schedules. This meant I kept working and my husband heroically took care of the baby as he prepared for his comprehensive exams. Date nights grew ever more elusive, and we realized that the two of us never spent time together because we were always tag-teaming the baby. To make matters worse, my husband and I were raised with very different parenting methods. This meant our sacred Friday nights were more often spent fighting than reveling in our newfound baby bliss.
So we took some proactive steps to improve our marriage and family life. We set aside one night per week when we would read an article or listen to a talk about child development and parenting. We call this night “Montessori Monday” since we’re big fans of Dr. Maria’s amazing work.
What happened to date night? Was it permanently usurped by parenting articles and discussions about our son’s sensitive periods? No way.
You see, my husband and I have both witnessed, or at least heard about, the phenomenon of couples splitting up after the kids fly the nest. These couples suddenly and painfully realize they have nothing left in common after years of solely kid-focused bonding. My husband and I don’t want any part of that business. We are parents together, but we are spouses first and foremost.
It is for this reason we have instituted a “no kid-talk” date night, dedicated to stirring up nostalgia for our courtship years.
While we do love talking about our kids, we have made a point to set aside work and kids to enjoy something diverting together for one night. My husband and I are nerds so we mostly talk about culture and art and Epic Rap Battles of History. But we like to mix it up, too. If we’re in the middle of a show like Breaking Bad, we’ll watch a few and talk for hours like we always have. There was the night when my husband finally taught me to play chess by candlelight, and the night he listened to an entire Arcade Fire album with me. We would occasionally turn it into a double-date with another fun couple or sometimes just sit on the couch together reading or writing, happy to be in one another’s silent and peaceful company.
In addition to our wedding anniversary, we annually celebrate the first day we met, our first real date, the day we fell in love, and the day we became “official.” I always try to play music or serve food or drinks that reconnect us to those memories. We reminisce about what we were thinking and feeling on each of those days. They’re excellent checkpoints of reconnection, and they help us to better appreciate the family that has grown from those initial seeds of love. These personal holidays remind us who we married and reassure us that that person is still here, only better. The wisdom of experience and the joy of a life shared year after year can only make a marriage stronger as long as both spouses are serious about self-improvement and keep in touch along the way.
Yes, the kids might come up in the midst of date night, but it is usually toward the end of it when we’re basking in the glow of our rekindled flame and we sneak into our kids’ room to silently kiss them while they sleep and make quiet pledges to be more patient tomorrow. It’s amazing how the frustrations of the day can melt away once the prioritization of the marriage that made these kids puts it all back into perspective: We love each other, and it is through that love that we can best love them.