Our very first date was at the Waffle House 19 years ago. Smothered, covered and chunked is our favorite. For you non-Waffle House goers, that’s slang for a way of ordering hash browns at the diner.
I was a young 20-year-old sophomore at North Carolina A&T State University. Deonte was a Lance Cpl. in the Marine Corps stationed four hours away at Camp Lejeune. We were apart from the moment we started dating. Long-distance love was all we knew. Two months after graduation we eloped and married at the justice of the peace with plans for a bigger wedding in the future, and moved into our first apartment in Jacksonville, N.C.
After only two weeks of being newlyweds, Deonte left for another six-month deployment which later turned into 11 months due to the initial push into Iraq in 2002. We jokingly say the reason we survived the first year of marriage is because we skipped it.
When life happens
Early in our marriage, we promised always to make time for each other regardless of the endless stress of work and day-to-day life. Then we had children; Kailey (13), Kirby (4) and Keegan (3). We became painfully aware that our life now revolves around these beautiful little humans who need us—and who despite having a pretty lucid existence (eat, sleep and poop) need around-the-clock care and attention from the both of us. Our world and relationship was rocked by postpartum depression. We both have strong personalities and stoic characteristics. Our bounce-back game was always strong but life-changing moments can sometimes wreak havoc on even the strongest relationship. With the proper help, we were able to accept our lifestyle change and put in the work to keep our relationship — and kids — happy, healthy and strong.
Early last year Deonte decided to submit for retirement after 20 years of service in the Marine Corps. The constant “hurry up and wait” rush of adrenaline that comes with deployment and frequent relocations was about to end. We’d discussed retirement as a family and was most excited about getting back our time with each other. Then it hit me. For the past 16 years, between running our business and high-tempo work demands, we’ve spent more time apart and on the phone than face-to-face. Sure, we talked about finances and retirement benefits, relocation and family stuff. But we hadn’t talked about how our day-to-day living was going to change once he retired.
I came across a Facebook post from a friend about their weekly date night. They had invited another couple over for dinner, and each couple had to cook a dish with a mystery ingredient. The next week they dined at a fancy restaurant in DC. I suggested to Deonte that we should make a similar commitment. I facetiously said this would be a great way to make sure we still liked each other since we were transitioning into a new chapter with an abundance of free time on our hands. He laughed and added that maybe date night could also be the perfect opportunity for us to not only have fun but also our designated one day a week where he could update me on the retirement process. We could also chat about next chapter things.
We were a little hesitant because let’s be honest – life with three kids (one with special needs) is very unpredictable. We both worked full-time and often felt drained by the demands of parenting. But we were committed to strengthening our unbreakable bond in small moments by going on a weekly date for an entire year.
The date nights
We lived in a small military town with a lackluster nightlife and minimal adult entertainment options. We had three date night rules: 1) No kids, 2) Rotate weeks on planning, and 3) No activity is too small.
Our first date was to hear my high school friend’s live Go-Go band play at the never-classy Econo Lodge. We had many sushi and ramen dates where we would reminisce about being back in Okinawa. Biscuits and apps at Red Lobster became our thing. We even had our favorite table and waitress, Keena.
Nothing pulls at the heartstrings quite like a little nostalgia. We got all dressed up and dined at the Waffle House for Valentine’s Day. This was the exact booth we sat in on our very first date back in 2000. We also wanted to avoid the long wait time on the global day of romance. We had the entire place to ourselves with just enough time to make a kid-free Target run before heading home.
We’re both artsy people. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t sticking to the traditional dinner and a movie. We were inspired to think outside the box when a friend invited us to a reception at a local art gallery. The environment encouraged great conversation and allowed us to network, explore and learn more about the town we lived in. We also enjoyed county festivals, pottery painting, local plays and sip-and-paint.
Roller skating is one of those activities that’s amazingly childlike but always incredibly fun. Nothing says ‘I love you’ more like your bae catching you as you fall. We were so sore the next day and went on another date for a couples massage.
Saturday brunch and a trip to the farmers market was the perfect cure for a busy work week. It was everything we needed for an ideal summer day date. Sampling food, chatting with local growers and producers, shopping local vendors, mingling and people watching. It was the perfect Saturday morning stroll to grab ingredients for dinner for the upcoming week.
One of our favorite dates was zip lining thru some of North Carolina’s most peaceful scenery while navigating the dozens of challenging crossings, climbing webs and log swings. Ziplining is such an enthralling experience that it is impossible to think or worry about any of your problems when you’re hiking and traveling full speed down the line. Also another date that required a follow-up date to the spa.
The other was ax throwing. Who knew hurdling a 16-inch steel ax thru the air to hit a bulls eye would be extremely satisfying even if you don’t exactly hit the target. It’s as hard as it looks but fun in its purest form. We returned the following week on a double date with friends.
Relationships are work. That’s a fact. While so many of us are happy to work on our career goals, financial or fitness goals, when it comes to our relationships, we tend to neglect them. We tend to think of dating as something that happens in order to meet someone new and not about dating that same person whom you’ve vowed spending your life with. Whether you’ve been married six months or 16 years, date night is a ritual we all should adopt. Everyone is busy. I get it. Between work, family and friends, there’s hardly enough time to squeeze in for yourself. But making each other a priority is vital to the health of your marriage.
Date night doesn’t have to be a lavish three-course meal with flowers and gifts. Most of our dates nights cost less than $50 a week. If we only had $5 to our name, surely we could share a large fry and a Coke and enjoy each other’s company the same. Right? Even the smallest gesture can convey a huge amount of love.
Date nights doesn’t always require a babysitter either. It can be something you can do at home, such as a screen-free night once a week. Grocery shopping together with no kids is always a win. Cancel TV one night per week after the kids go to bed and enjoy a drink or a late dessert that you baked together the night before. Try meeting for lunch twice a month. Join a gym with babysitting and work out together. Basically, carve out the time to just focus on each other.
We ended last year just nine dates short (43) of our goal of 52.
How often do you do date night? What do you do?Read comments