If you are in any sort of romantic relationship, chances are that you've heard about the importance of date night. Time spent alone with your significant other is a wonderful way to reconnect, have uninterrupted conversations and serves as a great reminder why you fell in love in the first place. 

When my husband and I were first dating, this advice seemed like a no-brainer. It was easy to head out the door and canoodle over shared plates of spicy curries and garlicky naan at our favorite Indian restaurant. We took turns planning surprise dates for one another that ranged from simple evening strolls around the neighborhood, to hilarious nights spent at a local roller-skating rink, shooting-the-duck to the greatest hits of the 80s. No matter what we did or where we went, we came back from our date feeling refreshed and recommitted to one another. With very little effort, we put our relationship first and made weekly date night a priority. 

Fast-forward 15 years, add three children and a global pandemic into the mix, and planning a date night has proved to be much more challenging than it once was. In fact, with many of our favorite spots temporarily closed, planning a night out sometimes feels downright impossible. Plus, if I'm being completely honest, my husband and I have spent nearly every second together since March, which often left me wondering. "Do I really need a night out alone with him?" The answer is simple: Yes, I do. 

While it's no surprise that dating in the time of COVID may take a little more ingenuity than it used to, the extra effort and creativity that are put into the planning will make these occasions all the more rewarding, meaningful and memorable to you and your partner. So, let's discuss ways that we can keep the flame burning bright, even when it feels so much easier to slip on a pair of sweatpants and binge shows on Netflix. 

There's no doubt that going out on a date right now can be a challenge, but if you feel comfortable venturing out into the real world, many local restaurants are exercising excellent safety protocols that give patrons a sense of well-being to help them relax. My husband and I are partial to any place that has spacious outdoor seating and great spinach artichoke dip, but we're not quite ready to dine indoors just yet. However, many of our friends have eaten inside of their favorite establishments and assure us that they feel safe, too. 

If dining out (or in) seems too predictable for you, another great date idea is to spend a crisp Saturday morning wandering arm-in-arm through the downtown farmer's market. It's the perfect time of year to load up on gorgeous fall produce and late summer blooms, which are sure to inspire you to spend the evening cooking a delicious meal for one another. 

If you aren't quite ready to venture out in public just yet, don't despair. Nights spent at home can be just as intimate and romantic. Some of my favorite dates with my husband have taken place at our home after we've put our three children to bed. Some evenings, we head out onto the back patio where I enjoy a glass of wine and he puffs on a cigar while we both are serenaded by the endless buzzing of cicadas. Other times, we love to play cards or Scrabble and listen to Motown. We've even had a few virtual double-dates with our best friends that have allowed me to see my husband through other people's eyes, reminding me how smart he is and how lucky I am. These stay-at-home dates are simple, don't cost a dime and the payoff is huge. 

In the end, date night is looking a little different for all of us these days. However, if we're willing to switch things up and redefine what a date actually is, it won't be long until we're all reaping the benefits of a romance that will outlast the longest of quarantines. 

Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield with her husband and three children.

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