Date? What’s a date? When you’ve been in a relationship forever and add kids and stressful jobs into the mix, putting forth the effort to orchestrate an actual “date night” sounds more like, well, work than an enjoyable evening together. It’s how we fall into habits like holing up on the couch and not leaving the house all weekend or running errands and doing chores together instead of going out for a night on the town. But as long as you’re enjoying a little quality time together, it shouldn’t really matter what you’re doing, right? Sorry, but the answer to that is a big, fat no.
According to psychologists, not only does it matter that you go out on dates, but it also matters what you do when you go out. Way back in 2008, Arthur Aron, a social psychology professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, told The New York Times that trying new things on dates can make for a more successful long-term relationship — because, brain science. The brain’s reward system, which is charged in the early stages of romance, may respond to the novelty of a totally random and fun date, triggering those gushy romantic feelings once again. In 2016, Chapman University researchers observed similar findings that translated into the bedroom — mixing things up could make for a more passionate long-term sex life.
Need we say more? Getting out of your routine may be just the kick in the pants your relationship needs. Here are plenty of fun date-night ideas to get you started.
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Cheap, quick & easy
There’s nothing wrong with the cookie-cutter recipe of dinner and a movie — it works for a reason. But sometimes, a little creativity goes a long way.
Farmers market shopping and dinner. “Shopping is a great way to get to know another person. You can learn about how they make choices, what they like to eat and how they handle money,” New York-based relationship expert April Masini says. “You’ll get clues as to whether they’re generous or stingy, impulsive or thoughtful, healthy or less so — all by having a great date that starts with a farmers market shopping trip and ends up with the two of you cooking a meal together back at one of your homes.”
“Netflix and chill,” with a theme. Watch a movie marathon from a specific decade or a favorite actor, and try to keep your eyes on the screen.
Text and seek. If you’re a longtime couple who really needs to shake things up, it may be time to make like a kid again. Shawn Schweier, personal development expert and life coach specializing in dating, suggests heading to the local mall for a silly game of hide and seek — using text messages or Snapchats to provide your partner with hints to your hiding place. The loser has to buy the first round of Orange Julius.
Free museum tour. Most local museums offer free-admission days to draw a crowd, and many more museums and cultural institutions are opening their doors to the public for the Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day Live! in September 2018.
Free art gallery openings. If you’re stumped for what to do on an upcoming night out, do a quick Google search to check for the latest gallery openings in a hip neighborhood in your town. “There’s no other date that screams hipster like those small evening gallery opening parties. They’re free to get into, and there is usually wine in plastic cups and crackers with cheese to set a date in motion. And then there’s the art — which is usually local and interesting,” Masini says.
National park and a picnic. Depending on where you live, a national park should only be an hour or two away. And while this date can be done on the cheap, it may take some prep work to pull it all together. Masini says, “In any weather, a hike is grand, and a picnic with wine or Champagne and healthy food that you eat on a blanket on the ground, a picnic table in a designated eating area or at a park restaurant gives you a respite and opportunity to bask in nature and romance. Adventurous? Turn the date into camping overnight if your park supports that kind of fun.”
Feed the ducks at a local park. And don’t forget to bring the day-old bread.
Build a campfire and roast marshmallows. Classic, adorable and oh-so-easy. Just remember to check the local burn bans in your state.
Stargazing. “Get in your car and grab your significant other and head to the country to stargaze,” Schweier says. “This one can also be done on the top of a free parking garage, but it is best experienced in the country compared to the city because there will be less lights. Get on top of the car with your partner and lie there with them, talking underneath the stars. This can really connect a couple and will leave a lasting memory for the both of you to reflect on.”
Scrapbooking. Make a vow to turn off Instagram for the day and use a disposable camera to capture all your adventures about town. It’s only gonna cost you to develop the film, and you can finish your date by arranging the “old-school” hardcopy pics in a scrapbook album.
Thrifting. Thrift stores are everywhere, and the finds can be so much cheaper than bona fide antiquing. Make things interesting by trying to see who can snag the weirdest — or most valuable — trinket.
Pretend to be fancy. “In my city, we all knew the richest hotel in town. It was fancy and really high class. What people didn’t know was that there was no reason you couldn’t go and explore it,” Schweier says. “Have your partner dress up and then take them to the fanciest open hotel (you might want to scout this out first).” On a faux fancy date like this, you could have drinks by a fire, walk through a garden at sunset or take in breathtaking views, without having to book for the night.
Next: Not-so-cheap, but still easy
A version of this article was originally published in February 2011.