originally published in Tribe Magazine
I remember going on dates. I used to quite enjoy a night out with an attractive member of the opposite sex, back in the days when I was footloose and fancy free (so long ago, indeed, that “footloose and fancy free” was actually a contemporary saying).
Still, being married with kids doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy a good date. I can and I do. It’s just that, these days, the dates I usually enjoy are the plump, sweet, fruit variety as opposed to romantic evenings out.
However, the news is not all bad. I do still occasionally have dates of the romantic kind (and yes, for those who are wondering, they are generally with my husband). It’s very important to have special time regularly with your partner, in order to keep the magic alive. After all, you don’t want to spend your entire lives together shouting to each other over the heads and voices of your children, across plates of fish fingers, bowls of jelly, and assorted cups of milk.
And it is possible to incorporate a regular date night into your marital routine. If you’re in any doubt, just look at Brad and Angelina. They’re forever being photographed out and about, having glamorous child free time, despite their 157 children. Okay, so they have an entourage of nannies, assistants, makeup artists and so on to plan and execute the event, but that doesn’t mean that we mere mortals can’t do it too, right?
Well… yes and no.
The hardest part for most of us when it comes to going on a date is organising child care. Of course, some people are lucky enough to have parents or in-laws who live nearby and are happy to babysit. However, for those of us with no family nearby, or whose parents, like mine, selfishly choose to go on dates with each other instead of babysitting the grandchildren, we need to find paid help.
Yes, we need a babysitter.
Now, the babysitter is not easy to find. She needs to be responsible, reliable, mature, able to manage your children, and unlikely to have sex with her own romantic partner on your bed. She needs to be old enough to confidently deal with a crisis, young enough to need the income, and friendly enough to engage your kids, yet not friendly enough to actually have friends who want to party with her on a Saturday night.
Still, securing a babysitter (an achievement, one might argue, on a par with creating life in your womb) only gets you halfway there. There is still the question of getting ready for your date.
Now, getting dressed and made-up is fun when you’re alone in front of a mirror with perfume and cosmetics. Getting dressed and made-up with one child attached to your leg, as another refuses to finish his sausage and a third begs you tearfully not to leave – well, this is not quite as fun.
Even once you are dressed and ready, the battle is not yet over. You see, the real challenge of Date Night isn’t leaving the house looking fabulous. The real challenge of Date Night is to leave the house full stop – at least in time to make the movie, party or dinner reservation. There are the kids to peel off your leg, instructions to impart to the babysitter, bits of sausage to sponge off your top, and the car key to find (a challenge in itself in a home with more than one person).
Most significantly, there is energy to summon to make the whole thing seem worthwhile. After all, after a long day (week / month / year) with the kids, the most appealing option on a free Saturday night is generally not a movie, or dinner, or even a party. It’s sleep.
Yes, often on a Date Night - when the babysitter has been booked, the reservations made, the children notified and the emergency numbers taped to the fridge – the primary sensation one feels is not excitement, nor pleasure, nor even a mild sense of anticipation. No, the primary sensation one frequently feels is exhaustion.
Many is the time I have contemplated a night out with my husband – say, a movie followed by dinner followed by ice cream on the way home – not with the thrill I would have felt pre-parenthood, but with dismay verging on panic at the prospect of staying up beyond my bedtime (which these days is approximately three minutes after the children fall asleep).
Thing is, no matter how enjoyable the evening – how interesting the movie, how delicious the meal, how deeply my husband and I connected over a couple of bottles of West Coast Cooler - I know I’m going to suffer for it the next day. My kids will wake me as usual at the crack of dawn, having no respect for my need to stay up late to eat, drink, be merry, and bond with their father.
And then there’s the problem of pressure. You see, the less the opportunity one has to venture out alone with one’s spouse, the more pressure there is to make each precious date a good one. Furthermore, by the time you add babysitting costs into the equation, dates with your spouse can be incredibly expensive.
This can lead to the evening having one of a number of consequences. It can be a) a roaring success, as you are both determined to get the maximum enjoyment from each second (and the maximum value from each dollar); b) a bit of a letdown, as the night can’t possibly meet your tremendous expectations; or c) an utter disaster, as you both get so tense from the burden of having to have a sensational night that you end up arguing bitterly before you even get out of the car (not that this has ever happened to me… I’m just… you know… speculating...).
Still, no matter what the challenges are, it’s important to keep Date Night alive. For one thing, every parent needs the opportunity to have some time away from their kids, to remember who they are, aside from just a mother or father. And every spouse needs the chance to remember what they love about their partner, apart from their amazing ability to coerce toddlers into eating veggies, or their astonishing proficiency with a lice comb.
Most importantly, every human being has the right to right to occasionally eat a meal they haven’t cooked themselves, in the presence of other adults, without the need to clean up afterwards.
Just make sure you get all the little bits of sausage off your top before you leave the house.
And for God’s sake don’t waste all your time talking about the kids.