For married couples, dating belongs firmly in the past


Real Life


I immediately stopped dating June 22, 1985, my wedding day. I felt -- well, we both felt -- that we should probably stop seeing other people because of the inherent mixed signals (not to mention awkwardness) dating can impose on a new marriage.

Finally, the pressure and hoopla of dating were over. No more late-night doorstep moments when your date turns and says, most tenderly, "I'd invite you in, but I just had my rugs cleaned." No more worrying about garlic breath. No more feigning interest in her undergraduate studies. No more pretending to love green slithery vegetables.

No more wondering if she is the one or if I am the one or if we are now two or one or an irrational number. We were married. Done. Now, let's get on with it.

Then, a curious thing happened. Popular magazines and popular talk show hosts and popular culture told us that, as married people, we should always remember to keep dating -- but each other!

That's right. A lifelong commitment wasn't enough. The sanctity alone of marriage would not be enough to keep the beast fed. Now, we were supposed to date each other, whether we wanted to or not. They (and they know who they are) even created a concept for married people, a helpful phrase for planning purposes:

Date night.

Newly married people use the old phrase. "We had a date night," I hear them say in their best game face. They are smiling but in that pinched way, as if a recent root canal has mutinied in their mouth. I nod and say something dopey like, "That's cool! You two still go out on dates." I feign envy as sympathy boils under the surface.

As professional married parents know, date night is an enormous amount of work: Babysitters must be lined up typically six months in advance of the blessed event; movie times and dinner reservations must be synchronized to the second (a last-minute ATM run has wrecked the timing of many a date night); and the sheer act of having to be showered and dressed by 6:15 p.m. on any given Saturday often proves to be an insurmountable timetable. Married women still insist on drying their hair. This only holds things up, of course.

Then, the married couple finally gets to the restaurant, a very nice restaurant. It could even be French. You get one shot at date night a year, so aim high. The couple will spend a lot of money at the restaurant and will regret spending a lot of money because they didn't exactly achieve what is commonly called a "good time."

It seems someone wasn't in a very good mood on date night. It seems someone spent the night pouting for reasons that will only be revealed in some drunken stupor three years from now. In fact, other couples at the nice restaurant looked over and whispered, "I hope we never end up like those two. Look at them. They haven't said a word all night."

They are wrong. They are just dating, so they don't know anything.

They don't know that this married couple is just fine, thank you. They are just having an off night. When you are married, you can afford to have off nights; off nights are sometimes called weekends. When you are dating, off nights are deal breakers.

This married couple made the mistake of putting all this pressure on themselves to have a date night. When it blew up in their faces, they simply shut down. They just sat there, wishing they could be somewhere else, just hanging out with each other like they have been doing without fanfare for 20 years.

So, they have their overpriced dessert and overpriced regular coffee. They go home to their home, pay and discharge the sitter, let the dogs out, change out of their dress-up clothes, and relax, finally.

That's a real date night.

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