“It’s date night, Baby! What are we gonna do?”
My husband, Imran, calls me every Thursday on his way home from work to ask this question.
“Let’s order sushi and play Uno,” is my response.
What else can we do on a school night with two kids during a pandemic? Truthfully, most of our “date nights” look exactly like every other night. We put the boys to bed, eat dinner, watch TV, and have a cocktail in our pjs. But something about calling it date night gives us something to look forward to. It’s a simple way to be intentional about focusing on each other, even though it’s just another night on the couch. Imran comes home with a little swagger in his step. He’ll pinch my butt when the boys aren’t looking. Maybe we’ll start an impromptu dance-off in the kitchen.
Is this what keeping the passion alive in a pandemic looks like? I guess for us, yes.
It’s a far cry from the whirlwind romance that began 12 years ago. Our courtship was fast-moving and hot and heavy. I was a traveling consultant at the time and my reward miles often gifted us weekend getaways, hotel upgrades, business class flights, and adventures all over the US and Europe. It was the times of our lives, and I assure you that face masks, yoga pants, and remote learning were the farthest things from our minds.
Now we’re living against the backdrop of our small business, a pandemic, co-sleeping kids, aging bodies, and boogers, burps, and toots. But somewhere under all the dad jokes is the sexy, confident, caring guy I married. The guy who stuck by me when – after only a few months of dating – I had a very humbling case of food poisoning. Damn, that is what unconditional love is all about.
At times, I barely recognize myself, but I hope Imran sees that I am trying to keep in touch with the up-for-anything, vibrant vixen (ok, I’m taking some liberties here) he fell in love with… Sometimes I have to dig real deep to find her.
But it’s worth my time to try because I refuse to allow the stressors of this pandemic and everyday adulting rob me of a healthy, gratifying marriage. Imran and I have already endured hard times together, so we have some lessons in our back pocket we’ve tapped during COVID. I also gathered tips from some trusted experts and friends who are managing to keep the fire alive in their own relationships.
Take micro-steps. New habits are formed with incremental changes, not behavioral overhauls. Do one thing for your relationship every day. Leave a post-it note on the bathroom mirror. Say I love you at an unexpected time. Hold hands. Compliment each other in front of others. Make your partner’s favorite meal. A friend of mine says dinner in the crockpot has replaced heels and a sexy outfit in terms of things that get her man going. I make a point to kiss Imran in a way that would make me jealous (or angry) if he kissed someone else the same way.
Schedule romance. People may cringe at the idea of scheduled sex or date nights, but I liken it to getting a minivan. No one wants to buy a minivan, but once you do, you wonder how you survived without it. These things just wouldn’t happen if we were always winging it and planning ahead allows you to be more creative. Push the couches together to watch a movie. Get busy in the guest room for a change of scenery. My friend and her husband fill the tub with bubbles, light candles, pour some wine, put away their phones, and lock the door. Doesn’t that sound heavenly?
Reminisce. Experts will tell you not to talk about the kids when you have alone time with your partner. In our case, the business and household operations are also off limits. Instead, we sometimes look through old photos or tell stories from the early love drunk days. It’s a refreshing reminder of how far we’ve come. We connect by remembering a different phase of our journey, while also appreciating that the life we’ve created is pretty darn amazing.
Plan the future. If you’re like me, this may elicit an eye roll. Talking finances is not my favorite activity but living 12+ months in a pandemic has completely reshaped our goals and timelines. COVID forced a massive reset for many areas of our life, and now the storyline of our post-pandemic existence has so much potential! When are we comfortable dining out again? Steakhouse or seafood? Where will we vacation first? Should we bring the kids? What are the new milestones for our business? What leap can we take that we’d been apprehensive about pre-pandemic?
Approach your relationship as a marathon, not a sprint. We have every intention of getting back to luxurious vacations, sexy dinners, and overall spontaneity that characterized the honeymoon phase of our relationship. But I don’t want to revisit those things with a stranger. If we don’t nurture our marriage along the way, we may not remember how to connect by the time we’re able to do these things again. We’ve discovered different dimensions of our love – working in the trenches during the tough times will do that.
Please understand that I’m not claiming to be a relationship expert, and while Imran and I may be perfect for each other, we are not perfect. But we are happy despite a multitude of circumstances that often cause people to spiral and relationships to collapse. I’m proud of us for that.
As I’ve said before: good or bad, all seasons change and this pandemic shall pass. Until then, staycations in the guest room and date nights on the couch it is.