But, as most of us are now all too aware, lockdowns have largely had the opposite effect on romance. We were living on top of each other, not changing out of our pajamas and sometimes not showering — not sexy.
“Covid has incinerated sexual desire,” said Madelyn Esposito-Smith, a Wisconsin-based sex therapist. “Couples that live together lost any intrigue and mystery working remotely side by side, and alone time to recharge became a precious commodity.”
With summer around the corner, it’s time to bring back something we’ve been missing, maybe without even realizing it: date night.
As its name suggests, a date night is simply planned time that allows couples to focus on each other. “It can be code for scheduled sex, but it can also be playing cards, cooking a meal together, going out, seeing friends or taking a hike,” said New Jersey-based sexuality counselor Melanie Davis. “Maybe it should be renamed ‘date time,’ since it doesn’t matter when you do it — as long as you do it.”
Even if you’ve been together for decades, there is something to be said for spending intentional, quality time with your partner.
“Many folks who have been together for a long time forget that they still have to date,” said sex therapist Rosara Torrisi of the Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy in New York. “Relationships are like savings accounts, not checking accounts — you want to make sure you always have more in this account than any anticipated withdrawals.”
In fact, date nights may have benefits that last longer than just the morning after. “Date nights have been found to have a positive impact on relationships, including increased relationship satisfaction, care for your partner, mutual fun, better communication and increased commitment,” said Rachel Needle, a psychologist and codirector of Florida-based Modern Sex Therapy Institutes.
A fresh look at date night
Say the words “date night,” and the stereotypical romantic candlelight dinner probably comes to mind. But the truth is, you can go as fancy or low-key — and as pricey or affordable — as you like. Whether you’re still staying close to home or starting to venture back out in the world, are juggling child care or are just starting to date, you have plenty of options.
“Date night is a concept with one purpose: to foster feelings of connection with an important person in your life,” said Rebecca Sokoll, a Brooklyn, New York-based psychotherapist. “Some core ingredients to add into any good date night include: novelty, screen-free time together, eye contact and shared experience. The more ingredients you have, the more likely you are to surpass the goal of fostering connection and move into a greater feeling of potential for growth in the relationship.”
Here are some more suggestions from my colleagues:
Set the stage. Date nights can be challenging when you’re a parent, but they aren’t impossible. “Perhaps you can do a date night trade where you find another family with children, and you can switch off one day each week; you can have consistent time together,” Needle said. “Or plan something for when the children are going to bed or a date day or few hours and take off a day at work or leave a few hours early if that’s possible.”
Be nostalgic. “I encourage clients to describe their favorite past dates to learn more about what was exciting, fun, playful or intriguing about these times,” said sex therapist Sari Cooper, director of New York’s Center for Love and Sex. “Then we brainstorm how to bring those qualities of past special times into new types of dates that may have to be different due to Covid.”
Turn off your phones. “This can be as simple as intentionally having dinner and hanging out at home without distraction,” Oregon-based sex therapist Paula Leech said. “I encourage my clients to continue to date their partners, putting as much effort into the relationship now as they did in the beginning. For most of us, being on our phones for anything outside of something urgent on a date was considered rude. Undivided attention was a sign of respect, interest and care — and it still is.”
Get back out there. If you feel comfortable, try taking date night public. “When we leave the confines of our homes, we are able to see our partners in different lights,” said Hanna Basel, a psychotherapist who practices in Minnesota and Oregon. “When my husband and I went on our first date night months after Covid began, I was reminded of how charismatic he is as he interacted with our servers and chatted with people at a neighboring table. It was a part of him I hadn’t gotten to see in months, and I was reminded of who he is other than a husband and a father.”
Or stay in. “When staying home fits your budget, put the kids to bed a bit early, put on that outfit that’s been decaying in the closet, pop the cork and eat by candlelight,” said Deborah J. Fox, a couples therapist in Washington, DC. “Do you worry that you have nothing to say to each other after two years of house arrest? The Web is full of card games for couples, some that include conversation starters on topics that just don’t occur to you.”
Go on an adventure. This can be as simple as taking a hike, trying a new restaurant or driving to another town — anything outside your comfort zone. “New experiences are a fantastic opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our partner,” Leech said. “Particularly adventurous dates can bring up feelings of vulnerability, which can engender closeness.”
Rethink intimacy. “Have sex before going to dinner,” Torrisi advised. “People usually feel too bloated and tired to have fun sex after dinner.” Or find a deserted dead end in your neighborhood, turn on some tunes and make out. A shared bath or massage can also be sexy — and relaxing.
Gain a new skill. Take a cooking class, go wine tasting or even learn how to change your car’s oil together — as long as you’re trying something new together.
Make it a sleepover. Date overnights provide couples with an extended period of time to unwind and connect. “I think there is more benefit to sporadic date overnights than there is more frequent date nights,” said Emily Jamea, a sex therapist in Houston. “A lot of my clients complain that they are so tired by the time they finish the date, that they don’t have energy left over to make love. Women especially seem to need more time to relax before they can get in the mood for sex.”
Have a date day. “Many couples are experimenting with sobriety these days,” said Sokoll, the psychotherapist. “Consider how this may affect date night. What about date day or even date morning? A different time of day changes the type of activity we are able to engage in, changes the circumstances in which we engage with each other, and it changes the state of mind we inhabit together.”
Much of the same advice works for single folks, too. “Engaging in an activity together can be a nice way to get to know each while being goofy, creative, seeing how your date acts and responds during activities, and have both traditional and unrelated things to talk about,” Needle said.
And don’t rule out a virtual date. “If someone isn’t willing to meet you via FaceTime, Zoom or another visual platform, they may have misrepresented themselves online,” said Davis, the sexuality counselor. “I have had some lovely first dates that lasted an hour or two on Zoom. I got to meet people’s dogs and see them relaxed, in their home setting. It’s a zero-investment way to see if there’s any initial attraction without filters.”