They say everything changes after children, and it’s true. But much of those changes aren’t always talked about candidly, and something that isn’t often discussed is the way dates change after children. They stop being about romance and become more about getting shit done without children around, or about just the simple pleasure of spending time together without children begging for the iPad or arguing over who got to sit in the recliner last.
This is what parents really do on date night:
1. Spend two hours at dinner discussing strategic ways to get your child to use the toilet.
2. One person gets drunk while the other watches in bitter boredom.
3. You talk about having sex in the van like teenagers. but soon realize it would be too big of a hassle to remove the car seats. And you’re certain that what’s under the car seats is nasty, so you go grocery shopping instead.
4. You shop for your children’s school clothes. Both of you know how sucky of a date this is, but also understand the hell that is shopping with children and realize that this really is the lesser of two evils.
5. Netflix and chill — as in, watching Netflix and falling asleep on the sofa, and then waking up to the sitter calling to see when you plan to pick up your kids.
6. You play “Would You Rather” at the Olive Garden because it’s the only way to stop talking about the kids.
7. You go overboard on sweets and pizza because the kids aren’t around to judge you — and then end up with diarrhea.
8. You plan a vacation you will never take, and then go home and make love while listening to Hawaiian music. (No? Just us?)
9. You will drive around trying to agree on somewhere to eat, run out of time, and end up eating drive-thru in a parking lot while discussing your child’s school project.
10. Go to Target and make out on the beanbag chairs. This always begins playful, but soon becomes awkward because no one wants to see 30-somethings making out on a beanbag chair at Target. OK, never mind. Go to Target and stock up on toilet paper and baby wipes and peanut butter and all the other boring shit you are currently out of at home.
11. Check out houses for sale that you could never afford, and then talk trash about the people who will one day live there. Damn those hipsters.
12. You finally get the chance to see an R-rated movie, only to realize how hours of Peppa Pig and My Little Pony have re-sensitized you.
13. Leave a play at intermission because the sitter won’t answer the phone and you are 90% sure your children were kidnapped or they found a way to light the house on fire.
14. Attend parent-teacher conferences (the saddest of all dates). Grab Starbucks on the way home, at least.
15. Go out with a group of other parents and bitch about your kids over fajitas.
16. Go out for dinner and a movie, laugh like a couple in love, come home to the kids in bed, and feel warm and fuzzy about the person you are with. (Every once in a while, it still happens.) This is the perfect date.
When I think about the dates I’ve gone on during my decade as a father, I feel pretty damn uncool. But ultimately, there’s no shame in any of this list, and I want you all to know that.
As a parent, if you’ve been on one of these dates, or something similar, don’t feel bad. The spark isn’t gone. Your spouse doesn’t love you any less. This is parenting. This is growing up. Just enjoy your time together. Laugh. Love. And someday, once the kids are all grown up, you can have sex in the van again (or your hot new ride) without worrying about the car seats.