You and your partner have decided to spend some quality alone time with each other and have a date night. But then your evening ends up looking a lot like the past few nights you’ve spend together, just watching something on TV, scrolling through your phones, and eating at the same time…again. Sound familiar?
Look, there’s nothing wrong with chilling together on the couch, but “date nights are intentional by design,” says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. They're all about carving out time for your partner and making your relationship a priority, she says. That means, once you've set aside date time with your partner, work emails and your Instagram feed aren’t invited.
If you’ve been with your partner for a while, you drag your feet when it comes to setting up a special evening. After all, you’ve been on puh-lenty of dates together. But experts stress that it’s important to make dates a priority. “It keeps a relationship fresh,” says clinical psychologist Suzana E. Flores, PsyD, author of Facehooked. “People often forget that, just like any other relationship, couples have to work on their bond on a regular basis. Just because you’re with someone doesn’t mean that you’re putting in this effort.”
The whole goal of going on a date is to enjoy each other’s company, Durvasula says, even if you’re just staying home. No need to do anything especially swanky, promise. As long as you’re able to unwind together, have some fun along the way, or learn something new, you’re on the right track.
Of course, knowing you should make time for date night and actually knowing how to spend said date night while you’re homebound are two different things. Allow these date night ideas to get you started.
1. Draw a bath and let the wine flow.
A bubble bath can be sooo relaxing after a hard day, and taking one together adds a little sexy sweetness to the mix. Kick things up a notch by sharing a bottle of wine while you’re in there. “Many people hear ‘date’ and think it has to be a thing—getting dressed up, having reservations, and spending money,” Durvasula says. “Not at all. A date is simply time together.”
2. Take a virtual stroll through the Louvre.
Always wanted to go to the Louvre? What about the Musee d’Orsay? While hopping on a plane together to go to Paris sounds pretty sweet, it’s not ~exactly~ budget-friendly. Luckily, both museums (and plenty of other sites) offer up virtual tours, where you can explore different exhibits from home. "Doing something new together can help spark the release of the love hormone oxytocin, and bring you even closer," Flores says. Cuddle up on the couch and take turns picking which one you’ll check out next.
3. Order a bunch of desserts and taste test them all.
It can be hard to pick just one from a menu anyway, so order several desserts to split—either from one restaurant or several spots—and take turns sampling each. You can add a dessert wine to the mix if you really want to get fancy. "Date night can become a cliché if you do not think about it mindfully and intentionally," Durvasula says. But mixing things up can make a huge difference.
For your next date night, try making the desserts yourself. Salted caramel and chocolate clusters, anyone?
4. Host poker night for two.
Yup, it’s possible to play poker with just two people. Show off your skills and your game face in a few rounds of Texas Hold ‘Em. "You can get a hit of the pleasure hormone dopamine when you're doing something exciting, and the feeling gets amplified when you do it with someone else," Flores says. Plus, the competition aspect will get you both worked up for a tension release later.
5. Match your dinner to a travel show.
Pick out an episode of Netflix’s Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in advance (the Chrissy Teigen/Marrakesh one is pretty epic, BTW) and cook food together that’s inspired by that region. Then, check out the show together while enjoying your meal. Being "mindfully present together," that is, making a choice to spend time together and actually focus on the moment, is huge for relationships, says Durvasula.
6. Do a campout under the stars.
Really good dates last all night, so make that the focus of your date. Grab a tent or sleeping bags if you have it (your duvet will work just fine, if not) and plan to sleep outside on a warm day. If you have a yard, awesome. If not, any outdoor space works just fine. You can even curl up together under an open window for a similar effect. S’mores and hot dogs will really set the tone. Keeping it simple is clutch. "When it gets too much into the bells and whistles of the date, you can get more caught up in the logistics and expectations than each other," Durvasula says.
7. Brush up on your cooking skills.
"Learning new things together can help you engage more together," Flores says, and it's even more engaging when your teacher is the hilariously blunt Gordon Ramsay. His MasterClass (during which he throws out phrases like “that's f***ing delicious” on the regular) features eight cooking lessons all twelve minutes long of your choosing. You and your partner can learn to cook restaurant-style food by tuning into one of Gordon’s virtual classes together—and then actually share the dish you created.
8. Be bike explorers together.
Even if you’ve lived in you area for ages, it’s unlikely that you’ve scoped out every inch of it. So, plan to take a bike ride together on a path that’s different from your usual. Maybe have your your partner plan your route or vice versa. The goal is that you do something new—a clutch component of a great date, Durvasula says.
9. Dress up for the drive-thru.
"Good dates don't have to be extravagant," Flores says, food doesn't have to be gourmet to taste delicious, and dressing up isn't only reserved for swanky nights out. So, slip into some formal attire together and hit up your favorite fast food joint. Order a bunch of stuff off the menu and take turns sharing to try to figure out which is actually the best. You can open up the back of your car and eat out of the trunk, or take it all home and enjoy by candlelight, if you want to stick with the fancy motif.
10. Get your karaoke on.
Doing something a little out of your comfort zone can actually bring you closer together. And by mixing it up, you can break up your everyday routine a bit, says Flores. How about giving karaoke a try.? There are plenty of apps out there, including Smule, which lets you sing solos so you can serenade your partner and take on your favorite duets.
11. Eat like kids again.
Everyone has favorite treats from when they were little, and there's usually a story or two behind them. Stock up on cereals, snacks, and foods you both loved as kids, and enjoy them together. Don't forget to swap old stories while you're at it—you'll probably learn something new about your partner's childhood in the process. Sharing a snack that brings up fond memories is a prime way to release oxytocin, the cuddle chemical and make you and your partner feel even closer to eachother, Durvasula explains.
12. Do hot yoga.
Technically, hot yoga means you get your asana on a steamy room but, you know, you can take a few liberties with that. Set up mats or towels for you and your partner and use a yoga app like Glo to take a class together. If you want something a little more upbeat, the Peloton app has fun yoga classes set to music. Whichever you choose, just doing something physical together can get your heart rates up—and get you both excited to spend more time together, Flores says.
13. Make art for each other.
This takes a little pre-planning, but not a ton. Order some canvases, brushes, and paint online. Then, pour some drinks and paint together. You can create abstract art to hang on your wall, paint a favorite memory from your time together, or, if you're feeling really confident in your skills, try to paint each other. If you give it a try you'll find "date nights can benefit from different approaches," Durvasula says.
14. Take a course in happiness.
"Learning something together is something wonderful to foster the growth and connection in a relationship," Durvasula says. And what better lesson for a couple to sit in on than one on happiness? Yes, it actually exists thanks to Yale professor Laurie Santos. The class, made for Coursera called The Science of Well-Being, has gotten a ridiculous number of great reviews. The online course dives into the science of happiness with the goal of increasing yours, and helping you to create more productive habits, too. More than 2.1 million people have already taken it, and you and your S.O. can, too.
15. Go for an unplugged sunset walk.
Sounds simple enough, right? But "dates don't have to be complicated," Flores says. Plus, odds are, you and your partner haven’t done this in…oh, ever. Turn off your phones, hold hands, and just wander together while taking in the sunset. Just "focusing on each other and actively listening can make you both feel heard and understood," she adds. You can also pack drinks in to-go containers if you want to kick things up a notch.
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