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.

  1. 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."
  2. "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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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."
  7. Feed the ducks at a local park. And don't forget to bring the day-old bread.
  8. Build a campfire and roast marshmallows. Classic, adorable and oh-so-easy. Just remember to check the local burn bans in your state.
  9. 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."
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

Not-so-cheap, but still easy

If you're willing to invest a little more cash, you’ll be rewarded with a date night (or date day) you’ll never forget:

  1. Sign up for a 5K. As if sweating together wasn't sexy enough, a typical 5K should only run you $20-$30 — and you get a free T-shirt.
  2. Sign up for a dance class. An old favorite like salsa dancing lessons is always a win, or try a line-dancing or urban dance class to push you right out of your comfort zone.
  3. Dinner and a fantasy. Taking dinner-and-a-movie to the next level, sex and relationship expert Dr. Megan Stubbs suggests talking about your wildest fantasies over dinner and heading to an adult store after. Instead of spending money on an activity, save your budget for those new bedroom accessories you've always wanted to try.
  4. Dinner with a stranger. Speaking of bringing fantasies to life, Stubbs has another twist on the traditional dinner-and-a-movie date, and it involves the hottest kind of role-play. “Pretend to be strangers and pick each other up at the local bar," she says.
  5. Coffee shop crawl. Because coffee shops are hipper than ever, and a sober date is always a good thing, take a morning or afternoon to try as many local coffee digs as you can. (And switch to decaf if things get too intense.)
  6. Fondue night. Forget the fancy fondue restaurants that are going to cost you an arm and a leg. You can do it all at home for the cost of a fondue pot and some fancy cheese or chocolate with something to dip in it. You can also scoop up a second-hand fondue pot at Goodwill if you're stealthy enough. Pro tip: Try at least one run-through to master the consistency of your cheese, chocolate and hot oil courses before the big date.
  7. Afternoon adventure. Sometimes, reigniting that spark really is as simple as getting out of your familiar environment. Rosalind Sedacca, author and dating and relationship coach, says, "Take a local train ride to a scenic or historic area about an hour away from home. Stroll through the streets, pick up a sandwich lunch and picnic in a nearby park, visit the shops and galleries, then take the train back." During a low-key afternoon getaway, you're going to get plenty of time to talk and connect, while being stimulated by the people, sights and sounds.

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Super-romantic splurges to save for a special occasion

With a birthday, anniversary or holiday coming up, it's time to pull out the big guns.

  1. Rent an unbelievable Airbnb. The best part is, you don't even have to leave your city to do this. Just increase your Airbnb filter prices and book that high-rise loft, luxury cabin or local mansion you've been drooling over.
  2. Get front-row concert tickets. If your partner's been dying to see Metallica since middle school, this may be the time to drop a few Benjamins to score the best seats in the house.
  3. Have a spa day. Regardless of gender, any human is going to love being pampered from head-to-toe on your dime. Many spa facilities will allow you to bring your own wine, fruit and cheese to snack on in between treatments.
  4. Go skydiving. Even if you don’t consider yourself a thrill-seeker, that shared rush of adrenaline is sure to bond you for life. And if your partner happens to be an adventure junkie, seeing you take the plunge will be a huge turn-on.
  5. Take a wine tour. These days, wineries are everywhere, not just in lux spots like Napa Valley. If you have several wineries in your neck of the woods, consider booking an afternoon wine tour with tastings included, or pay to ride a wine tour bus.

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