The one relationship ritual we should let go

PAUL CHAI
Last updated 05:00 28/06/2014
date night
ROMANCE: Is a fancy, formal outing the best way to have fun with your partner?

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You know when you start off being crazily into each other, but after a while the relationship starts to circle the drain? Your times together feel as stilted as an 80s sitcom, it's hard to have fun together anymore and it's probably time for you both to think about going your separate ways.

That's how I feel about "date night".

It's not a popular position this week, given that Glamour magazine in the US is about to launch a nationwide Date Night initiative. They say dating is dying, but I say once you have dated and got together, it should be allowed to bite the dust.

We were in love once, date night and me. In the early days of having had kids when I bought into the whole "couple time" thing, how you had to get away from the home and rediscover the romance. But of late I feel like my wife and I have been in a episode of When Date Nights Attack.

The biggest problem with this marriage ritual is also its main selling point. It is planned well ahead of time, so both parties can fit the night of prescribed hilarity into their busy schedules. This is supposed to take you back to a more carefree time in your relationship where you didn't have to worry about kids, or mortgages or renovations or whatever feeble excuse you use these days to avoid each other.

But guess what? In those carefree times my wife and I did not make far-in-advance dinner dates where there was an undue amount of pressure to have fun. We just went out, on a whim; to a band one of us liked, to a mate's place, to the local pub because it was there. Date night regresses your relationship right back to the courtship phase, a time where dates were just as likely to be filled with nauseating nervousness and pressure as they were with lust and passion.

On a recent date night for us, this pressure was all too palpable, we'd had quite the couple-time drought and both of us went on this date warily. Me obsessing about whether we "still had it" as a couple, my wife concerned because she knows only too well the things I obsess about.

Dinner was tense, conversation stilted - particularly as banned topics like "kids" and "us" left slim pickings and verbal traps - before finally morphing into an argument about the fact we were clearly not having enough fun. We skipped the planned after-dinner drink, paid off our "waste of babysitting" and went to bed - separately and grumpily.

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I then continued to worry. If we could not have fun on date night then what had become of us, it was clearly all over; we were no longer capable of dinner and drinks, it was relationship Armageddon (did I mention I obsess?).

While I made up weekly schedules detailing our post-divorce child-sharing arrangements we had another event come up out of the blue. An outdoor gig seeing the National, I was despondent as we had not been to a gig together in ages and the last one was not a success. But without the pressure (and with a few Jager bombs) a funny thing happened: we got out groove back. We ended up pogoing around together in the front row making new best friends with strangers, shaking hands with Matt Berninger and having fun together.

A few weeks after that a charity quiz night with friends was a similar revelation. We had stopped having date nights and started hanging out, and we were having a great time. It wasn't as spontaneous as just shutting the door on our two young boys and seeing where the night took us, because child services has very clear rules against that.

It may seem like splitting hairs but when you go down the "date night" route you often fall back on romantic stereotypes, expensive dinners, excluding other friends. Making sure it is this period of intense couple time, but you don't always need that. We get a lot of intense couple time as parents of two small kids, we needed to just muck around together with and without friends, in front of bands, marvelling in each other's ability to get beers through a surging crowd or the geography questions we can answer.

So, for now, date nights are off. I wouldn't go so far as to say we are never ever getting back together, but it's an amicable split.

- Daily Life

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