People have lived through radical changes in the past couple of years. The onset of COVID-19 shook our foundation to its core, and we're still feeling the aftershocks.
It may not be the most important consequence of the pandemic, but for some people, dating and relationships presented new hurdles to overcome. Many activities were off-limits during quarantine—including actually seeing other people—and schedules had to be rearranged to accommodate our new "normal."
Date nights had to be reinvented, becoming more like "let's sit on the couch and binge Netflix" than planning a night out to restaurants, bars or theaters. But now, whether it's 100 percent warranted or not—there are still more than 80,000 new COVID cases every day in the United States—the pandemic frenzy has died down. It may be time to join in the resurgence of date night and help make it as important as it used to be.
Oh, what a night
Though we've always been liable to fall into mundane routines, when combined with pandemic fatigue, such routines can put romance further in the back seat.
According to Australian-based husband-and-wife relationship coaches Amanda Bennallack and John Broadbent, whose program Retune helps couples reconnect, date nights usually happen when a couple has been together for a while, rather than when people are in the limerence period. (The limerence period of a relationship was defined in 1979 by American psychologist Dorothy Tennov as the first stage of love when there is palpable excitement, obsession, fantasy, sexual fulfillment and fear of rejection.)
Their recommendation was to arrange date nights when couples feel their quality time is lacking.
"It's easy for life to take over, and with the busy lives most of us tend to lead, often the romantic and intentional niceties of being a romantic couple can get pushed to the background," said Erik Bigalk, a dating, relationship, emotional intelligence and quantum coach in Australia. "This can be a strong notion for couples, especially when children eat up all available one-on-one time—it's like an insurance policy for relationship health, actually."
Bigalk recommended setting a specific date night, rather than relying on your partner's initiative, because both of you can look forward to it.
"It's not only good for the relationship but can help them feel OK about focusing most [of their] time on work, home and children because both know there is time for them as a couple scheduled in," he added.
Though date nights—even quarantine-friendly ones—can include all kinds of activities, the bottom line should always be the same.
"A date night is an agreed time together, without the distraction of work, kids, social media—put that phone away!—and other family commitments. Just the two people in the relationship, showing up and being present to and for each other," Broadbent explained. "Curiosity about what's happening for your partner and an opportunity to explore their thoughts and 'inner world' is an ideal approach."
Bigalk explained that though date nights also represent opportunities for intimacy, more often than not it is the quality of time together as a couple that strengthens relationships. Relationship coaches agreed that when the relationship feels disconnected, sex can be rare, of poor quality or nonexistent.
"It's important for couples who feel they need date nights to rekindle their relationship to be open and honest about their expectations, especially around sex," Bennallack and Broadbent noted. "Otherwise, one partner can assume a date night means a night out without the kids while another might assume it means a romp in bed. It's through this honesty that couples can circumvent emotional disconnection."
Each expert emphasized the positive impact date nights have on a relationship's communication, strength and nurturance. Relationships require maintenance for longevity, and date nights set time aside for couples to do so. This aspect is crucial because 70 percent of couples never discuss their relationship quality at all, according to Bennallack and Broadbent. Date nights may be awkward at first, so they recommended starting with insightful questions, followed by listening to understand rather than to reply.
Whether you have kids or not, couples struggle to keep up with each other. Add a global pandemic and you've got a whole other level of difficulty.
"Sadly, we're seeing the pressure of COVID-19 still taking its toll on relationships, especially with the previous lockdowns, homeschooling and working from home," Bennallack and Broadbent said. "For some, it can feel like [the 1993 movie] 'Groundhog Day,' so it's vitally important for couples to have quality time together, as well as alone or with friends."
As husband and wife, Bennallack and Broadbent occasionally planned a romantic meal—cooked or delivered—at home during the lockdown and dressed as if they were going out. As financial pressures influenced going to restaurants, people with kids had a harder time organizing date nights at home. However, an arranged sleepover with grandparents or close friends cleared the space. According to them, creativity was the key element to making everything work.
"Obviously, COVID has brought a lot of changes to dating as a whole and how we date. For couples, it may have meant less out time and doing date night at home," Bigalk said. "Whether that is just a dinner date, a night away or some elaborate undertaking, like a hot-air balloon ride with champagne breakfast to follow or just a walk on the beach with a coffee in hand, it is total presence with each other that really counts."
Bring back the (date) night
As COVID-19 restrictions mostly ease up, it's good to see date nights haven't lost their importance in today's relationships.
"We see date nights still have a place for couples who become aware that the quality of their connection is lacking and agree that something needs to change," Bennallack and Broadbent said. "It can be a game changer when one partner simply takes the initiative and surprises their partner with a mystery date night and makes them the focus of attention."
Bigalk seconded their view, saying the surprise can honor the other partner and bring the fundamental reason for the relationship back to the forefront.
"Everyone wants to feel loved, and planning for dedicated time with each other to make the other partner feel loved is the best recipe for the longevity of the relationship," he said.
Planned date nights provide opportunities for important conversations, life decisions and sexual intimacy.
With in-person events returning, you can get creative for your date night plans.
"For most people, the choice is pretty wide, limited only by their own imagination," Bigalk said. "The key really is to plan a date night in the first place, be it weekly or frequently enough to keep the relationship strong and nurtured."
He also emphasized the quality of time spent together rather than the need for luxury or elaborate dates. He advised seeking considerate, thoughtful time together that you think will hold the most appeal for your partner.
"Date nights are here to stay and present an opportunity for reconnection," Bennallack and Broadbent said. "Be curious and see where it leads. You might learn things about your partner that you never knew, which will deepen your connection. Most importantly, have fun."