We are supposed to find love by dating around. All across the globe, different pairs of strangers meet every night at restaurants hoping that the person sitting across from them is “The One.”
Many dates will be awkward enough to signal the server over immediately for the check. Other dates will last for hours. Some couples get lost in the world of sharing their hearts, and when they go on a second and a third date, they put on their best behavior
The new love birds shop for attractive clothes, exercise more, eat well, and groom themselves. One of them will plan the date by picking the restaurant, the dance class, or making a reservation at a hip speakeasy neither has been to. A lot of work goes into seeing each other again.
And this is something we often forget. Dating is work. It takes an intentional effort. And this effort is created by the desire to impress and please your mate. It is the essence of romance. It is our gestures; the care we put into the way we dress, the places we take our lover, and even the surprises that produce excitement, novelty, and emotional connection.
Date nights are like gasoline to the flames of romance. Yet, 44% of long-lasting couples in America go on one date a year. 1 These couples forget to add wood to the fire to keep the heat burning. And as their relationship goes through time, the fiery passion turns into lonely embers in the night.
“Couples who stop spending romantic time together lose sexual interest in each other.” – The Normal Bar
Globally speaking, women generally wanted to enhance the romance more often than men. But more than one-third of the men said it bothered them a lot that their lover wasn’t more romantic.
When you’re done falling in love, you must learn to stand in love. To wilfully create it. The authors of the Normal Bar propose that Romance is a simple loop that reminds us of this.
And romance is created by the desire to be loved by your partner, to impress them and your desire to love and want them more. This happens in small ways, such as showing admiration for each other, and making each other a priority by continuing to court each other.
Dating is so important to long-lasting love that it is two hours out of Dr. Gottman’s Magic Six Hours to Lasting Love. Yes, it’s that big of a deal.
The Ideal Date Night
The vast majority of the Normal Bar couples who are extremely happy intentionally spend alone time together. No kids. No work. Even after partners share a mailbox together, they still “date.”
The research is in: Date night boosts happiness, emotional connection, and intimacy.
Fortunately for you and me, men and women have similar expectations when it comes to the ideal romantic date.
Women want to feel sexy, have a delicious meal at a nice restaurant, drink some wine, and end the evening with some quality love-making at home (or a high-end hotel if there are kids at home). 2
Men enjoy pleasing their partners by taking them out to dinner at a favorite spot, followed by going somewhere private where they can give and receive full-body sensual massages. Or maybe take a bath that finishes with having sex… “all night long.”
Throw in some heartfelt surprises such as a love note, more affection, and a serious makeout session, and you have yourself the international recipe for an ideal romantic date.
The 3 Excuses for Why You’re Not Dating Your Spouse
Couples who don’t do date night don’t prioritize their time together. The kids, work, and everything else take precedence, and their relationship slowly erodes.
If you do nothing to improve your relationship your relationship will get worse over time.
When asked why they’re not dating, couples come up with three excuses:
We don’t have enough time!
No, you just value spending your time on other things than the passion of your relationship. All of us have to make sacrifices by choosing one thing over another.
As Mark Mason puts it, “No, You Can’t Have it All.”
A 75-year study on what makes a good life proves that the way to live a meaningful life is not fame or wealth, but by having meaningful relationships. And meaningful long-lasting relationships are cultivated by two people committing to each other.
Commitment to your partner enables you more freedom because you’re not distracted by looking where the grass is greener. Instead, you are focused on making your current lawn lusciously green. It is this investment in your relationship that allows you to go to the depth that the gold of love is discovered.
We don’t have the money for a fancy restaurant or a sitter.
One of my favorite date nights with my partner is getting froyo. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It only has to be with your partner.
If you’re struggling with having the money for a babysitter, get creative! In The Normal Bar, the authors suggest doing “Block Dating,” which means connecting with other families in your neighborhood and rotating who takes care of the little ones. Every other week, you’ll watch their kids so they can spend the evening on a date. It’s a win-win for the whole block because you get your turn too!
We want to do different things.
Of course you do. You’re different people. Take this opportunity to push each other to do things you normally wouldn’t do. This may require some negotiating.
In Stan Tatkin’s book Wired for Dating, he talks about how his wife Tracey wanted to go to her favorite spot for a drink, while Stan wanted to see a new movie. While Stan is not a fan of just going out for drinks, Tracey prefers to emotionally connect and feels that having a drink together is a perfect way to do that.
So they went to the movie and then talked about it over drinks. While this is a simple example, it shows that your partner’s desire can be an opportunity to learn something new about both of you. It’s your responsibility to find something interesting in the thing you are doing with them, not theirs. Ask questions, explore why they enjoy it, and find delight in their joy.
The Skills of Great Dating
Try something new + learn something new about your partner + intentional together time = Great date
Couples often settle into the relationship and take each other for granted. When fun and novelty fall to the waste side, it can be toxic to a bond. By discovering fun activities that are interesting to both partners, you bring in new and different experiences that spark new levels of intimacy.
Additionally, a great date is built on expressing a real curiosity about your partner’s life. Here’s how to do it:
- “Be Interested, not interesting:” 3 Everyone wants to feel valued and admired. Your ability to pay attention to the details of your partner’s life does this.
- Ask questions: Remember when you could talk for hours and never got tired of learning new things about each other? This doesn’t have to end. There are always new things to learn. Your partner’s inner world is always changing. You can do this by asking open-ended questions that lead to the heart, such as:
- What is a secret dream of yours?
- What and who are the most important things in your life right now?
- What is your biggest struggle?
- If you want more ideas, I highly recommend picking up Dr. Gottman’s card deck: Open-Ended Questions. (Hint: you can even bring them on a date! I do.)
- Focus with all your attention: Once your partner is talking, truly listen. That means no cell phones or other distractions. Don’t plan on the next thing you’re going to say. I like to imagine a conversation with my partner as getting a tour of her heart. I’m not sure where it’s going to go, and if I see something I’m curious about, I stop and ask my partner about it.
- Show responsiveness: It’s helpful to nod or mm-hmm to indicate to your partner that you’re truly listening.
Date Night Ideas
Struggling to come up with date ideas? Here’s a few ways to brainstorm:
- Date Night in a Jar: Pull up Yelp and Google and search for date ideas in your town. Select ten, write them on a piece of paper and put them in a jar. Have your partner pull out one – there’s your date!
- Create a bucket list. My partner and I did this recently, and every weekend of our summer is packed with dates and fun things with friends.
Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. proposes a very simple approach to rekindling the flames of dating. If your partner feels emotionally unavailable, you may have a habit of diagnosing your partner and the relationship.
You might accuse your partner of having intimacy issues and blame them of being afraid of getting close to you.
This makes things worse.
Instead of complaining about how you don’t date – plan a date.
Such as, “there’s a new steakhouse in town, want to check it out on Friday?”
Before diagnosing your partner’s intimacy issues, try taking steps to create closeness with them to see how they respond.
The frequency of dates in a relationship is also important. If you only go out a few times a year, The Normal Bar shows that it’s simply not enough for long-lasting relationships. Dating has to happen often enough to become the norm of the relationship. Once a week, or even twice a month will do wonders, not only for the emotional connection but for the sexual connection as well.
Just because you sleep in the same bed every night doesn’t mean dating should end. Make dating a priority. Plan it. Prepare for it. Get excited about it. Think of new places to go, new things to experience, and make romancing your partner a new normal in your relationship. Court and seduce your lover with the same energy you had at the beginning of the relationship, and the fire of passion will continue to burn.
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