Even before the morning sunlight — and my eyelids — have lifted, I'm reminded that I'm somebody's father. It's usually around 5:40am when my 8-year old son Maxwell pokes his head into our room shouting "cock-a-doodle-doo" at the top of his lungs. He's usually wearing an adorably comfy onesie, a look he thankfully refuses to retire. His rooster call is followed up with strict demands in quick succession:
"Turn on the lights."
"Where's your phone?"
"Put on Nick Jr."
"Feed me yogurt while I play Fortnite!" (Note: we don't… well… anymore.)
This Groundhog Day routine follows us as we pick out his clothes for the day —"Comfy camouflage t-shirt and sweat pants!" he insists (shoot me now). We then make him breakfast, prepare his packed lunch and then make sure his completed homework is in his schoolbag.
On the way to school we talk about our plans for the day as I educate him on the music that I used to rock to when I was a kid. Classics like Billy, Elton, Prince, Springsteen, Guns N' Roses, and of course, Whitney. Nothing like the schlock kids listen to these days. (Yes, I'm aware that I've officially just turned into my father.)
Then comes work. Deadlines. Briefs. Putting out fires. Pitches. Writing. Clients. Feedback. More writing. And more deadlines.
Then after we're both home from work, it's playtime, review homework time, bath time, milk and cookies time, brushing teeth time (which now includes cleaning his Invisalign… Yay, 4k!), followed by reading-books-in-bed time, and finally tuck-him-in-and-turn-off-the-lights time (which on some nights is my favorite time).
You know what that leaves little of?
At this point, it's close to 9pm. After we clean up dinner dishes, put away Max's toys, and finish up our respective workloads left over from our day jobs, we end up in bed around 10pm. We spend thirty minutes scanning Netflix before finally agreeing on something to watch (usually a Netflix documentary). Alex falls asleep before the opening credits have ended. And that only means one thing: reruns of "Picture it, Sicily" for me (if you don't know what I'm referring to, you're dead to me).
And then a few hours later, it starts all over again.
It's great. It's our life. It's everything we signed up for and wanted. And everything we're blessed to have. But it's also a clear indication that the relationship part of our relationship can sometimes feel more like a roommate situation than a marriage.
So what do you do to avoid becoming two BFF ships passing in night?
Two words: Date night.
Yes, I know. The mere thought of it makes you gag, and not in the happy RuPaul Drag Race kind of way. Yes, Date Nights can feel forced. And, yes, they sometimes feels like you're living a suburban cliché. But let me tell you something, folks, it pales in comparison to the alternative. You know… Complacency. Predictability. Redundancy. Routine. Boredom.
And this is why date nights are something we force ourselves to take seriously. Because when you're a parent, time alone with your significant other isn't a luxury — it's a necessity.
Still not convinced? Here are 10 more reasons to make date nights part of your weekly routine:
Did you know that date nights can increase sexual satisfaction? Now that I got your attention, here's my rationale: I read an article online that says couples are 3.5 times more likely to enjoy above-average sex than couples without weekly-scheduled alone time. I mean, if for no other reason…
Having a date night helps you reclaim both your individual identity and your identity as a couple. We're so busy being dads, siblings, friends and professionals; we forget to focus on who we want to be as people and as a couple. Date night reminds us of who we were and who we are: not just Dada and Papa, but us, a couple. It's a chance to look across the table and see the person you originally fell in love with, not the person who left the bed unmade or forgot to take out the trash (I'm looking at you, Al).
Date nights give us a much-needed, be it temporary, break from the demands of being caretakers, and allows us once again to concentrate on each other instead of everyone else in our household. We get to take a step back, if only for a few hours, which is valuable because it's hard to truly appreciate what you have when it oftentimes feels like you're drowning in it.
Date nights can remind you what you love so much about your spouse. Like when I watch my husband's face light up as he gleefully talks about our son, I'm reminded again how much I love him. (Like when he says: "I love Max so fucking much" – I know, what a poet). Sometimes, this type of thing gets overlooked in the midst of the daily chaos, which is sad, because we end up looking at each other without really seeing. In the hustle and bustle, we so easily forget that at one time, there was no one we'd rather look at (well, aside from Stamos).
Date nights help maintain your appearance. We all know how hard it is to stay fit and fly. But when you have someone to impress, you're more likely to maintain your appearance than just letting it all go. You care about whether they still find you attractive, so you're more likely to be the best you can be if you have little reminders like date nights. I'm not saying you've got to go all Trumpian with the orange face, but a little bronzer to warm up those cheeks never hurt no one.
Date nights help you prioritize what's important. Your relationship should be at the top of your priority list, even before work and right up there with children. Every type of relationship needs to be a priority at some point. Ensuring that you have regularly scheduled date nights prove that your relationship is getting the attention it deserves.
Date nights can be the great escape you desperately need — a few hours away from ringing phones, play dates, whiny kids, work emails, laundry, homework, bill-paying and Paw Patrol! It's important to turn it all off and disappear every once in a while. Too much work and no play causes a lot of stress that affects every area of your life. Weekly date nights will relieve you from those stressors and offer special one-on-one time with the one you care about most.
Date nights up your chances of having a long, happy and successful relationship. According to a new study by the Marriage Foundation, couples that have a date night at least once a month are 14% less likely to break up. And couples who spend quality time with their partner at least once a week were three and a half times more likely to describe themselves as 'very happy' in their relationship, compared to those who don't enjoy regular date nights.
Date nights show your kids what a healthy relationship looks like. While a date night is certainly meant to be all about you and your mate, it's also great for your kids to see. Not only is it good for them to learn that it's okay to be separated from you, it's also beneficial as they are growing up to be witnesses to a healthy relationship. These are teachable moments to pass along values and behaviors when it comes to romance.
Date nights can help you get back on track: Having that open communication and closeness allows you to be aware if one of you is growing in a different direction and make adjustments in real time. It's like if you have a car, you want to make sure you are topping off the oil regularly, rather than waiting for it to conk out on the freeway. What, were you expecting a sports analogy?
There you have it… ten convincing reasons to make date nights a regular occurrence.
If you walk away from this article with nothing else, just remember that relationships take work. Look at it like an important project in your life that needs focus and attention. Oh, and don't fret about money — date nights don't have to be fancy or expensive. Our last date night consisted of my in-laws watching Max while we walked around Home Depot looking for inspiration for our next renovation project. Okay, fine, we also stopped for sorbet on the way home. But we didn't get any toppings. Well, one of us didn't. Okay, fine, I didn't. It was me! I can't deprive myself peanut butter cups on top of my chocolate sorbet.
With Valentine's Day around the corner, now's the perfect time to plan a special date night and get back to the fundamental reason why you started your family in the first place. Because I believe that when you strengthen your foundation, the home you've built can withstand just about anything.
Well, anything except The Lego Movie 2. That shit was insufferable.