A few months ago, I visited my daughter’s high school during a regular Thursday morning chapel. As we settled on the gym bleachers, a sappy love song started blaring through the speakers, and the big screen in front of us lit up with photos of a teenage couple—the epitome of puppy love. The crowd reacted with oohs and ahhs, and I felt like the forty-one year old mother that I am, with no idea what I was watching.
Once the screen went blank and the accompanying song ended, two students revealed a banner that said “Prom?” as the boy from the slide show appeared at the back of the gym with a gigantic bouquet of flowers. The crowd cheered as a girl stood up, met the boy in the middle of the gym where they hugged, and apparently the super creative teenage Romeo scored himself a prom date.
I write romance. This should be right up my alley. After all, as a romance author, my love life is, as I’m sure you can imagine, constantly filled with flowers and chocolates and grand gestures.
The truth is, all I could think of was my own high school experience when a boy called you on the phone and said, “Hey, do you wanna go to prom with me?” and you spent the next few weeks giddy and excited, and it was absolutely more than enough.
Somewhere along the way, society has changed our expectations. Our high school girls now expect boys to come up with “promposals” (that’s what they’re actually called) like the one we witnessed.
That not only creates an incredible amount of pressure for our poor teenage boys, but it also sets our young lovers up for unrealistic expectations they cannot possibly maintain. Because, as anyone who has been married more than a year knows, a relationship is about more than gigantic bouquets and sappy love songs.
If we carry unspoken expectations of romantic marital bliss in our back pockets, disappointment is inevitable when our relationships take a turn toward “real” and our lives converge with “busy.” That disappointment can quickly become resentment. And that can lead to all kinds of issues in a marriage.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan or welcome grand gestures, but when you’ve got a busy schedule that perhaps includes diapers, nap times, carpool, soccer games, recitals, concerts, school musicals, athletic events, etc., it can be tricky to find time to date your spouse. But it’s crucial that you do because a relationship without communication and connection is headed nowhere fast.
The trick? Take the pressure out of dating to keep that romantic spark alive in the midst of a busy schedule. Here are five easy ways:
1. Embrace the “Couch Date.” With a growing family, a writing career, and a business to run, my husband and I are both much more inclined to crave time in our own home than to get dressed up and go out. A few years ago, we started naming this much-needed time together, after the kids had gone to bed, our “Couch Date,” and suddenly watching a movie in our pajamas took on a whole new meaning. I live for these nights when we can catch up, relax, and just enjoy each other’s company.
2. Day Dates. Admittedly, my husband and I have an odd schedule. We own our own business, so technically we set our own hours; but he works a lot of evenings, which leaves little time for traditional “dates.” Enter the day date. It’s funny how something like playing hooky in the middle of the day to go to breakfast and a movie can make you feel just a little bit giddy. Go play mini golf. Browse your favorite local bookstore. Blow off your responsibilities for a morning and focus only on each other. It does wonders for a relationship when you’re willing to set everything else aside and give genuine time to the person you love.
3. Make the Plans. As women, we want to be wooed. Sometimes we have our own versions of “promposal” expectations, in which we want our husbands to read our minds. “He should know I need a night out. And he should choose the restaurant, hire the babysitter, and keep it all a surprise.” (I’m speaking from experience here . . . ) But the older I get, the more I realize nothing is lost if I’m the one making the plans. In fact, often, the whole evening runs more smoothly because expectations are clear at the onset.
4. Disconnect to Reconnect. It’s quite possible I was the last person in America to get a cell phone. I was determined not to become one of those people, sitting in a restaurant with a table full of family and my eyes glued to my phone. But how many times is that exactly who I am? I’m about to suggest something ridiculously crazy. The next time you go out with your spouse, leave your phone at home. Or, if you’ve got kids, set your phone to only take phone calls and not texts. If you’re really together it doesn’t matter what you’re doing—and you’re never really together if you’re constantly on that phone!
5. The Grand-Gesture Date. OK, I know what I said about “promposals.” And I stand by that because, let’s face it, many, many arguments begin with unmet expectations (that usually the other person didn’t know existed). However, there is a time and a place for the grand gesture. When my husband turned forty, it dawned on me that we’d never gone away together, just the two of us. But forty is a significant birthday, so I used it as a chance to make a grand gesture. I planned a trip to New York, and it is the best date we’ve ever had!
Bonus ideas for dating your spouse:
- Initiate a hot cocoa date.
- Invite your spouse to a candlelight dinner at home after the kids are asleep. (Order pizza!)
- Prepare a candlelit dinner at home in a sectioned-off area the kids aren’t allowed to cross. (Let them see you taking time for your relationship!)
- Go for an early morning walk or hike.
- Take a bike ride after work.
- Enroll in a class together.
- Join a small group at church.
- Volunteer as a couple.
- Chaperone a high school dance together.
- Go see a show, a pro sports event, or a concert—treat yourself every once in a while!
(Remember, anything can become a date night if you shift your expectations a little bit!)
By Courtney Walsh, author of Just Look Up
Courtney Walsh is the author of Just Look Up, Paper Hearts, Change of Heart, and the Sweethaven series. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, was a New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller and a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. In addition, she has written two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives with her husband and three children in Illinois, where she is also an artist, theater director, and playwright.