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'My husband and I had a fight on date night. So we declared we aren't doing them anymore.'

Sorry to break it to you, but ‘date night’ is always a bad idea.

Date night is supposed to be the saviour of the long-term relationship. It’s the night when a couple can have a night out alone, without the pressures of real life. It’s meant to be a deluxe version of ‘me time’ – it’s ‘us time’, filled with indulgence, laughter and romance.

But somehow, my husband Jeff and I always manage to stuff it up. Our last-ever date night was officially the worst, and we actually declared that we would never go on another date night again.

You may be wondering what happened. Was it cheating, lying, odd personal habits or anything else MAFS-worthy? Was it utterly boring domestic stuff – had I forgotten to open another envelope with an overdue bill in it, or had Jeff left a wet towel on the floor?

Uh, no. It was much less glamorous or relevant than any of that. It was, instead, the battle of the nerds.

Jeff had asked me about the romance novel I’m writing. I didn’t want to talk my book, I did it anyway just to make some conversation. Jeff gave me some suggestions about the plot and characters. I didn’t like his ideas. He got offended. As I said, our fight was definitely the coolest and most outrageous thing ever… if you find the footnotes of a first year university essay to be a thrilling place to hang out.

As I am a mature and private person, I decided that the best way to deal with this failed date night was to write a passive-aggressive Instagram post about it. I put up a photo of me that Jeff had taken that night, and wrote about how date nights don’t always go the way we want them to, and neither do relationships. I convinced myself that this was actually a very cool and millennial thing to do, and congratulated myself on being ‘real’ and ‘authentic’.

Actually, this was not a cool thing to do, and Jeff’s grumpy reaction proved it. I decided to be nice and edit the caption. It was too late. Friends had already started to comment on the post and also DM me. I braced myself to read the comments.

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I was surprised to find that my friends could relate to me, and that they agreed that date nights are much more complex beasts than we are willing to admit.

The overall message was that date night puts too much pressure on couples, so that the evening is doomed before it’s begun. That was true for us. Jeff and I hadn’t been on a date night for several months, which meant that we were already expecting this night to be The Best Night Ever.

High expectations can make the slightest disappointment even more painful. And before the evening had even rolled around, we’d both put in lots of effort to make sure the night went well… for our kids. We’d organised a babysitter, dinner for everyone at home and we had left work early. Jeff and I knew that we HAD to have a good time, as so many people had to work together to make our date night even possible.

My friends also explained that having dinner is a recipe for disaster (pun intended, because puns are awesome). When you’re just sitting at a table facing your spouse for hours, with nothing to do except eat, fights are bound to happen – if you’re the fighting type, which we definitely are.

 

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Instead, our pals recommended doing activities before and after the dinner, like a movie, museum visit, drinks, a walk in nature. You get the idea – do something, so that you can enjoy each other’s company without accidentally enraging your life partner with innocent questions about their romance novel. And whether or not you have a good time during these activities, at least you’ll have a common experience you can talk about at dinner.

Equipped with the advice of women who had gone before me into the mysterious, deep waters of date night, I planned what to do on our next date. Jeff and I had decided that we would NEVER go on a date night again, as it was a waste of time and money if we were just going to argue. But what about a DAY date?

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Remember day dates? They’re the best. Back when I was a young singleton, one of my friends said that the day date is perfect for first dates, because if you really like the person, then you can spend the rest of the day with them. After that, I only went on day dates. Okay, I think I’ve only been on four official dates, but still! They were during the day.

A few months after our failed date night, Jeff and I went out to celebrate our 11 year wedding anniversary. His parents were in town, so they looked after our kids.

This time, we actually enjoyed our date, and we came back feeling like our relationship had been refreshed. It was even romantic. This was all because we had put our friends’ advice into practice.

 

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Instead of having dinner, we went out to lunch instead. It was a sunny day, which was an instant mood-booster. We went to a more casual eatery, and sat at the bar.

Afterwards, we walked to get gelato, and then we headed to the art gallery. As we walked around the exhibition – which was about love, coincidentally – we remembered why we had fallen in love in the first place. I won’t gross you out with the details of that. We had so much to talk about on the drive home, and felt really great about our time together.

The trick to a successful date, I’ve learnt, is to do the opposite of what a vampire would do. Go out during the day. Eat something fun and non-dramatic. Have a laugh. And at the end of the day, remember that you’ve got a comfy marital bed to sleep in, and not an upright coffin.

What is date night like for you if you have kids? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Carla Gee is a writer and illustrator living in Canberra. You can find her on Instagram as @bycarlagee and @littlecloudcarla.

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