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On a gray February afternoon, I smiled while watching the flurries pelt the windshield of the car. I glanced to my left, where my date was driving me back from our first date.

“Did you have a nice time?” he asked me. When I answered yes, he said, “I did too. Would you want to do something like this again sometime?”

For me, there was no doubt about the response. After all, it had been the best date I’d ever had—and not just because I really liked the guy. Unlike many other dates I’d experienced, this one had structure. Like a storybook, there was an arc—a beginning, a middle, and an end—and he had planned out each part. He picked me up at a set time. We had brunch, followed by a visit to a nearby museum, where he knew to arrive in time for the next guided tour. Clearly, he had put a lot of thought into planning this date. Who wouldn’t be impressed by that?

What makes some dates better than others

Over the years, I had been on a handful of pleasant first dates: an invitation to a formal event, a conversation over coffee, an ice cream outing. But all too often, I had also experienced nebulous “hanging out” dates. These involved meeting up, maybe walking around and chatting, but ultimately wondering what to do. Usually, these “dates” ended up being some passive and largely silent activity, such as watching a movie.

At the time, it seemed the problem was with me. Shouldn’t I have more things to talk about? If we liked each other, shouldn’t our conversation just flow? It wasn’t until I started dating someone who consistently planned our dates that I realized the problem wasn’t with me but with those other dates.

As humans, we bond through shared experiences. Sometimes those experiences get thrown in our path unexpectedly, but in ordinary life, they usually require a plan. So while there might be people out there who recognize their soulmate simply by “hanging out” with them, I recognized mine because his actions—putting effort into creating quality time with me—showed me that he cared for me more than any other person I’d dated.

The value of a well-planned date

In my experience, the planned-out date keeps its charm no matter how long a relationship has been going. Why? A plan always demonstrates effort and affection.

Partaking in an activity you took time to organize sends the message, “I care about you. I wanted to think of treating you to something that you would like, that we could enjoy together.”

A plan also creates a natural framework for conversation. To this day, that first museum date (which turned out to be with my future husband) remains one of my favorites because of the conversation it spurred about history and culture. On another date, we went dancing, which fueled our discussion about the newly learned steps and our favorite musical films.

One common misconception about planning dates is that it requires spending money. Having a nice, structured date doesn’t require breaking the bank—just a little foresight. A home-packed picnic at a scenic overlook makes for a low-cost, lovely experience. Most cities have public parks, libraries, or cultural centers that you can visit for free, and you can scout all sorts of free or low-cost events online. Even planning to just sit on a bench and chat over coffee is still a plan!

Even today, my man and I still plan our dates. Sometimes I pick the activity; sometimes he does; and sometimes we both plan an experience together. It might be simple, or it might be elaborate for a special occasion. While the plans vary, we maintain the constants of a set time and place to give us something to look forward to. It’s quality time carved out for us, and it's given our relationship time and space to grow.

This is not to say that every minute of quality time in a relationship requires a plan. Sometimes unstructured time is good, especially once you know each other well enough to talk about anything anywhere. But by and large, I’ve found that a regular date structured around an activity we both enjoy makes it a more significant, enjoyable, and memorable event—and one worth repeating.