You’d think by the time you’re a couple, and possibly have a child or three under your belt, you’d be able to handle the intricacies of going out for the night with your man. After all, that was part of the allure of going from “me” to “we”: You were finally able to leave the whole dating game and its so-called rules behind.
But dating for long-term couples comes with its own new his and her matching set of pressures, especially when kids are in the picture. You no longer have the time to make sure you have five minutes together without interruption, let alone set aside an entire evening to dote on each other. So when the stars are finally aligned — you’ve cleared your calendars, you’ve found someone not featured on America’s Most Wanted to look after the kids — you want the evening to be perfect, which practically begs for a Murphy’s law moment.
Don’t sweat it. You can lay the foundation for lots of fun nights out (or in) by following these simple save the date guidelines. First, make sure that at least every other date gets you out of the house and away from your daily life. Second, be clear about who is doing what planning wise, or you may end up doing nothing. Finally, take turns organizing your dates. So what if he has no clue which restaurant got the best review? This isn’t about planning the perfect evening; it’s about having time with the person you love so you can rediscover, talk, laugh, and enjoy each other.
Here, 43 ways to do just that:
Dinner and a Movie, Done Better
Upgrade the Saturday night standard with these tips:
Turn your night into a mini-vacation by matching the menu to the movie: Kung fu action flick? Order some spicy noodles at your local Chinese restaurant. French film noir? Hit the nearest bistro. Italian family drama? Share a big bowl of spaghetti.
Choose a restaurant that has small tables, or ask to sit side by side, so you can’t help but rub knees.
Try brunch and a matinee: Your neighborhood’s fancier restaurants are way more affordable (and just as delicious) in the daytime hours.
Find a restaurant with a dance floor. Even if you’ve got less coordination than a Dancing With the Stars early round reject, you can still hold each other close and sway to the beat.
Laugh like a kid again at the latest G or PG-rated movie. “It makes me laugh to watch him giggling like some 7-year-old,” says one woman who regularly goes to children’s movies with her husband. “It reminds me of why I fell in love with him: his silly, fun side.” Get enough animated fare in your daily life? Skip Shrek the Third and chuckle over the infectious goofy humor of whatever Farrelly brothers or Ben Stiller flick is on offer.
Create your own “drive-in” experience. If you have a laptop with a DVD drive, take it out with you. Rent or download a movie you never got around to seeing, order something simple at a dimly lit bistro, find a love seat to cuddle up in, and watch. Netflix’s most popular DVD rental plan now lets users access movies (up to 18 hours’ worth a month) from its “Instant Watching” library of 1,000 films, which can be zapped straight to a PC in seconds. Another option: For around $20 a month you can get software that will let you download a wide assortment of movies (check out cinemanow.com and movielink.com).
Give yourselves the VIP treatment, without the price tag:
Go for an all day hike. Check out trails.com for a listing of nearby treks and get lost in the woods together.
Sip some fine wine. Find out if your local wine or liquor store hosts tasting nights. It’s only expensive if you buy! Other specialty stores hold tastings, too. Check out chocolate stores, cheese shops, or ethnic food markets.
Get sweaty together. It’ll feel less like a chore and more like a we’re in this together moment when you help each other to get your hearts pumping and cheer each other along. Or try couples yoga: Twisting your body into pretzel poses will bring you closer together in every way.
Visit the museum. Museumstuff.com has links to thousands of art institutions in America and abroad; the Art Museum Network at amn.org lists links to the Websites and exhibition calendars of the world’s leading art museums; and galleryguide.org will help you easily locate an art venue near you. If art really isn’t your (or his) thing, don’t overlook other kinds of exhibits, such as the history of hockey, or even surgical equipment! One good source for the weird and wild: museumspot.com.
Go camping overnight. There’s no TV to interrupt your conversation, and the night is long, so you can retire early to your sleeping bags (zipped together, of course).
Spend an afternoon test driving cars, viewing model homes, or window shopping. Even if you have no interest in making a purchase now, these activities can kick start discussions about your goals. New lovers are always dreaming together about the things they want to achieve: exotic trips, houses, children. As love matures, you become more focused on the here and now — attending school meetings, folding socks — and forget to write the next chapter of your love story, or think you don’t have to because you’ve already discussed it all before. But continually setting shared goals gives love something to work toward and shape itself around.
Give in to the undeniably romantic allure of watching the sun go down. Head to the highest point in town, and when the light is romance perfect for enhancing your sensuous mood, turn the scenic view into a background for a make out session.
Romance Each Other
Reconnect with these so sweet ideas:
Relive your first date. Follow the same itinerary and include as many of the original details as possible. Even though you know how the night will end this time around, recalling how you talked, explored, and began your lifelong journey of getting to know each other can remind you that there is still much to learn — about yourselves and your relationship.
Have a gourmet picnic. Cruise the aisles of your supermarket and load your cart with whatever epicurean delights you can find: lobster salad, good quality chocolate, wine or fizzy grape juice, gourmet crackers, gooey cheeses, and so on. Now head for the most romantic spot in town. If it’s too cold or wet to eat alfresco, why not try the atrium at the local zoo, botanical gardens, museum, or mall?
Get decked out — even if you’re just going to the local diner. Slip into your most glamorous duds — and have him do the same. No matter where you go, looking like your best version of yourself will make the evening feel special and inspire connection (and passion).
Take a dance lesson. Even if you end up stepping on each other’s toes, you’ll be forced to pay attention to how your bodies move together. Avoid dances that don’t involve touching (like line dancing). Instead, try learning how to tango, waltz, or even square dance. At the end of the lesson, be prepared for your dancing fool to sweep you off your feet and straight into bed.
Rent a rowboat for a DIY sunset cruise and dinner. Keep your drinks cold by tying a rope around the bottle neck, or using a net to carry it, and trailing it behind you in the water as you head for the middle of the lake. Pack a blanket, lie back, and wait for the stars to appear. Don’t forget to make a wish together on the first one you see.
Go see a fortuneteller. It doesn’t matter if she gets it right. (Do you really need a crystal ball to tell you that you two are meant to be?) But it can be a giggle (if she’s wrong) or inspiring (if she’s in the ballpark) to hear how a stranger reads your romance.
Have a picture perfect night. Take a camera with you and at different points on your night out, ask people to take your photo (make it a point to lock lips for some of the snaps). On your next date, flip through the photos together — or make a collage or slide show. You can also create great memories by making a date with a photographer for a fancy shot of the two of you in a tight clinch. Or simply head into a photo booth. “We always take goofy photo booth pictures when we go out,” says one woman. “It’s fun, and sometimes illuminating, to look back over them. For instance, the snap we took a few months after our son was born — I remember feeling like we weren’t communicating well, but then I’ll look at that date photo and it shows how much joy and love we were also feeling.”
Head to your local department store and challenge each other to come up with the most romantic, intimate gift possible. Two things: It can’t cost more than $20, and it must be used that night. You’ll find that you really need to think about the essence of each other to come up with an offering that hits the right note. “Frank knows that I love bath products, but I never buy them because they seem like too much of a luxury,” says Pamela, 38. “So every once in a while, when we’re out for the night, he’ll pull me into a store and pick out some bath salts or oils. Then, when we get home, he’ll run the bath for me, wash me from head to toe, and dry me off.”
Take a trip to nowhere. No packing, no planning, no idea. Just get in the car and start driving off into the sunset together. Stop when you’re hungry or thirsty. If there’s an interesting sight or town, pause and explore. So much of life seems to be about following the agenda. By following your heart instead, you’ll recapture that exciting sense of the unknown you felt when you two first met.
“Let’s Stay In!”
Get cozy with these no reservations required dates:
Create your own private blackout. There’s something cinematically sexy and romantic about a blackout, but you don’t have to wait for the electric company to put you in the dark. Just forbid all use of electricity (yes, that includes the cell phone and computer) and close all the curtains. Light a few candles and then play shadow games on each other’s bodies.
Meet for a midnight snack. Nibble on whatever sweet thing is on hand or have a s’mores tent party (after the kids are in bed). Hook up a makeshift tent with a rope and a blanket, then roast a couple of marshmallows in the toaster oven and sandwich them with chocolate graham crackers. Don’t worry about making a sticky mess — you can lick the crumbs off of each other later.
Make tube time more special. If you’re both addicted to The Office, make a date of it: Munch on a bowl of cubicle-worthy microwave popcorn. Sopranos fans? Pour each other a glass of Italian wine. Another way to direct connect with him: Watch a show that you wouldn’t normally view; taking a break from your usual TiVo list can launch lively discussions.
Feed each other. Cut up an assortment of sexy juicy fruits: mangoes, papayas, raspberries, and strawberries. Don’t refrigerate, as fruit at room temperature has the most pungent aroma and releases the most flavor when placed on the tongue.
Ready, Set, Speed Date!
Even you have time for these quickie rendezvous:
Ready, Set, Speed Date! continued…
Plan on having breakfast or, if time is too tight for even a bagelicious moment, a wakeup coffee together once a week at the same local diner. Whether it’s a charming bistro or a truck stop, the fact that you make it your own date place will make it feel special.
Make a phone date to talk for 15 minutes. This is different from hitting the speed dial to remind him that you’ll be late tonight or to pick up milk on the way home. Ink it into your calendar and make sure you are in a space where there are no other distractions (screaming kids, nosy coworkers, cheery checkout workers, and so on) so you can give each other your full attention. You can keep your conversation innocent — or not!
Enjoy a mini date. Think: a half hour for a pizza lunch for two or one quick cocktail or coffee together after work. “The important thing is getting time together,” says Courtney, 28. “There have been times when we squeezed in a quick meal before my husband had to return to work. But spending that hour together was better than not having any time alone with each other that week.”
Pull Out the Stops
Definitely not your everyday dates:
Plan a hush-hush romantic “mystery night.” One of you makes all the arrangements and just tells the other where and when you’ll meet (perhaps via a note in a lunch bag or a briefcase, in the car on the driver’s seat, propped against the milk in the refrigerator, or scribbled on the kids’ Magna Doodle). The destination can be anything from dinner at a nice restaurant to a scavenger hunt with you as the prize. It’s not the venue that makes the evening special, but the anticipatory thrill that comes with not knowing what’s coming next.
Spend the day at a weird and wild festival: mashed potato wrestling, a chicken plucking competition, a cardboard boat race, or a watermelon seed spitting contest. For an overview of bizarre goings on nationwide, check out eccentricamerica.com.
Pull an all nighter and check into a high end hotel. Even if it’s less than a mile from your own bed, you’ll still feel transported to luxury land, where the only thing you need to concentrate on is each other. For one thing, there’s a great big bed. For another, there is a “Do Not Disturb” sign that actually works. Lounge in the fluffy white robes, order room service and feed each other in bed, get hot in the steam room, have a randy romp in the hot tub (preferably in your room!), and sleep until checkout.
And Dates He’ll Totally Love You For…
You won’t have to ask him twice to:
Rock on, baby. Catch your favorite classic rock band on its reunion tour. Or check out a local cover band that plays music from the days when you were dating. “Every August I score tickets to an outdoor concert,” says one woman. “I don a concert Tshirt from our dating days and dance wildly, just like I did on our first date.”
Hit a local dive bar, preferably one with a pool table or dartboard, and enjoy a little healthy competition. A few tips: You don’t need a lot of force to make the break in pool; just hit that first ball where it counts. “The biggest mistake people make is aiming for the center of the ball,” says Larry (a.k.a. “Fast Larry”) Guninger, holder of the record for sinking the most balls in one break (eight, for you sportstrivia wonks). Instead, he advises, aim for the dot of light on the first ball (caused by the overhead light). As for throwing a dart, it’s like throwing a ball: You aim, pull your arm backward, push your arm forward, let go, and follow through.
Take a really cool class. Discovering something new together adds a layer of emotional connection to your relationship that will last long after the last lesson. Try scuba lessons, and dream about running off for a getaway at a remote tropical island; or learn a new foreign language and start planning a romantic vacation to the country where it’s spoken!
No Babysitter? No Problem!
All the local sitters are booked straight through Labor Day? Here’s help.
Choose an activity that’s geared to kids, such as bowling, miniature golf, skating, mall cruising, or hitting balls in a batting range. If it’s something your kids really enjoy doing, you’re going to hear fewer “ewww” and “gross” comments as you two kiss and cuddle. Plus, their attention will be elsewhere, which means they’re less likely to interrupt your conversation.
Go to an amusement park. A rollercoaster ride can jolt you into a “save me!” love clinch; a trip through the haunted house affords ample opportunity to sneak in some grabs or even a little necking; a challenge to a game of Shoot the Duck gets your competitive juices flowing (whoever nabs the teddy bear wins); and a communal stick of cotton candy lets you slip in a few sugary kisses as you nibble. Some parks offer concerts during the high season, so you can dance the night — or at least the early evening — away. To get the scoop on a park near you, check out themeparkinsider.com/reviews.
Check out your local music megastore. Pick up the latest hot dance CD (if your kids are hip to music trends, ask them to help you choose) and plan to make your own after hours house party later that evening.
See if there’s a drive-in movie theater near your home (driveinmovie.com lists theaters nationwide). Have everyone wear their pj’s and bring sleeping bags or blankets. The kids can watch the show from the front seat — while you two cuddle in the back.
Drama or comedy? Popcorn or candy? Here’s how real couples do movie night in, according to a Netflix poll of more than 1,200 members. See how your habits measure up!
Go for laughs. Most respondents — 63 percent — said the best movie for date night is a comedy. Twenty three percent prefer dramas, 10 percent cuddle up to a classic, and only 5 percent go for horror.
Women on top. Sixtysix percent of women said they’re the one who picks the flick.
Funniest date night flick: When Harry Met Sally. (Close second: The 40YearOld Virgin. )
Most romantic date night flick: The Notebook.
After popcorn, wine is the next “must” for date night, beating out candy and chips.
Turn Up the Heat
Make any date sexy and surprising with these melt him moves:
Meet at 2 in the afternoon — or 9 in the morning. You’ll feel less like a card carrying long term couple trying to plan some quality together time and more like a pair of illicit lovers squeezing in a rendezvous behind everyone’s back.
Add something unexpected. For Lisa, 40, the twist was going on her usual mountain biking date with her husband, but ending it with a skinny dip in a nearby pond. “Now we make it a point to map out rides near water,” she says.
“Accidentally” brush against him as you walk together.
Tell him how hot he looks, and exactly how you plan to ravish him later.
Date Night Sex Secret
70 percent of you are ending your evening in a bedtime romp, according to our exclusive REDBOOK poll. But here’s another, even hotter idea: Get intimate before your date.
Gene, 32, picked up this tip ages ago, and he says it helps him and his wife ease into date mode: “We don’t do it every time, but making love prior to going out lets us completely focus on the pleasure of being with each other, because it gets rid of the pressure and tension that builds up over whether the evening will or won’t end with sex.” The bonus: When you’ve already made the sex connection, you’re more physically receptive to each other during your date. Take advantage of this heightened awareness with little touches — caressing each other’s fingers, stealing unexpected kisses, and rubbing shoulders or linking arms as you walk together — to keep you bonded.