My Husband and I Challenged Each Other to Come Up with Non-Boring At-Home Date Nights—We Failed

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With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, love is ever-so-obviously in the air, which is exactly why I challenged myself (and, whoops, my husband) to infuse some creativity into the best way to spend quality time together, sans sitter: Date night in.

To be clear, I took this assignment rather seriously. I combed the internet—and mined my friends—for the best ideas for date night in. The suggestions ranged from the outlandish (like building a pillow fort and stringing up lights, then sitting inside to sip wine and chat) to the outstanding (like a friend’s idea to mine the Criterion Collection for a classic film neither of us had watched). Next, I dreamed up a list that felt equal parts interesting and attainable for my husband and I to infuse into our routine. I got my husband’s sign-off. We were both on board.

But here’s the thing—and something I need to get out of the way up front. We failed. Pretty spectacularly, to be honest. Still, there’s a reason…and a lot of romantic lessons learned along the way.

The ‘Date Night In’ Itinerary

Like I said, I made a list and cross-checked it twice with my husband just to be sure we both liked all the ideas. We were both excited about the prospect of prioritizing our marriage, which TBQH is the first thing to experience neglect when you’re juggling a zillion other priorities (kids, work, friends, extended family, bills, ugh).

Some of our ideas: Cards and cocktails. We only recently discovered this super cool game called Phase 10 and thought it would be fun to mix up our own drinks as a project to go along with it. (My plan was to recreate the garden martini at Rosemary’s NYC; his was to dream up a whiskey-based concoction.)

Another one: To dig into Esther Perel’s now-infamous card deck, “Where Should We Begin? A Game of Stories,” in an effort to unlock those date night discoveries from the early days of our courtship, when we chatted open-endedly about ourselves in an effort to learn more about each other.

Finally, an idea that was lower-lift, but still creative: A movie night with a subtitled film—Petite Maman—which meant we couldn’t drift toward our phones out of fear we’d miss out on some dialog. (I would up the ante by whipping up French onion soup for dinner, which was a bit more effort but created a theme.)

Bottom line: We worked hard to think of things that would feel inventive and fun—and contrast our typical post-kid bedtime pattern of dinner, dishes, Abbott Elementary. (All good things, but lacking in spice!)

The Result

Over the course of three weeks, we accomplished one—I repeat—one of our date-night-in ideas. (Petite Maman, plus French onion soup…although it was a bit of a mad dash when I realized we didn’t own oven-safe bowls to make the recipe, oops.) Our intentions were good, but the fatigue was real. First my son was sick, then I was sick. We had work to-do’s that trickled into the evening, a dishwasher that broke and family in town.

I had ordered the card game and, one night, even placed the cocktail shaker and laid out all the boozy ingredients on the table—like I said, the effort was there. But bedtime for my son ran extra-long and visions of the glassware I would have to handwash without a dishwasher to speed things along ran through my head as the clock creeped toward 9 p.m. We both bailed on the plan.

But it also got me thinking. Maybe my plan for date night in didn’t need to be so “extra” for lack of a better word. Those internet lists (ahem, the pillow fort) had messed with my head and led me to lose sight of what actually mattered when it came to at-home romance: Time together.

It’s true that the last few weeks blocked us from large amounts of quality time one-on-one, but what I failed to notice in amongst these large-scale efforts was the little things—like when we cued up an episode of the podcast Smartless while sharing dish duty (damn you, broken dishwasher) and laughed along with the hosts and guest. (If you haven’t heard the Emily Blunt episode, it’s gold.)

Same goes for when we went to bed early one night and read our books side-by-side; or, FWIW, when we watched Abbott Elementary and paused throughout to share moments from our day. Heck, there was one night where we lit the candles for dinner (homemade burritos, cooked by my husband) at the table. It lasted about 23 minutes, but let’s be real for a second: It totally counts.

The Romantic Lessons Learned

Then, there was the moment that I got a surprise text out of the blue. In the midst of this experiment, a message from an unknown number appeared on my phone. The sender? A babysitter (and college student) we’d hired just once for a random date night out over the summer. She was writing to let us know she was home for winter break and had some availability if we wanted a night out. We jumped at the chance.

But that’s the thing about romance. Spontaneity kind of rules. It also makes for the best experiences, whether you’re in a new relationship or married sitting side by side on the couch for a number of years.

My goal moving forward is to prioritize it, but also to not beat myself up too much over a lack of inventive date nights in. Yes, we all deserve bonus points for trying but, ultimately, time spent in tandem—even in short bursts—is what counts.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...