|Just chillin' at a bar on a Wednesday after midnight, as one does when childless.|
There was no pre planning, no negotiating with spouses or sitters, just good ol' fashioned FREEDOM.
The closest we're getting to "spontaneous" these days is ordering takeout on a Wednesday night because no one had time to grocery shop.
Now that we have two small humans under our charge, date night is a huge event that is planned weeks, sometimes months, in advance. It requires lots of calculated choreography, not unlike staging a Broadway show.
1. Secure a babysitter. This sounds simple in theory, but you'd be surprised just how complicated this can be. All future decisions about date night hinge on which babysitter is available. If your usual babysitter is available - the one your kids know best and are comfortable with - you're in the date night winners circle. This means that your kids will let her put them to bed and that you can eat dinner at any time you please, because you don't have to worry about being home for the bedtime routine. If your normal sitter isn't available, you've entered the date night danger zone. You have one of two options: forgo date night altogether, or go out after you've put your kids to bed and pray that they don't wake up, wander into the living room to find some strange person sitting on the couch watching Pitch Perfect 2, and commence screaming loud enough for your nosy neighbor to call the police, thereby cutting your date night short.
2. Choose a destination. Assuming that date night is a voluntary activity and not predetermined by a wedding, school fundraiser, or work event, then you have to decide where to go and what to do. Sometimes a cultural event or a movie sounds exciting, but you'll also need to eat either before or after these outings, which means an extra one to two hours of babysitting time. Using an average cost of $15-$20 per hour, this means that your dinner/movie/play is going to set you back twice as much as it would if you didn't have kids. So, you have to ask yourself: would I still want to see this movie if it cost $50 a ticket, instead of $25? Forget about those post-theater night caps you used to enjoy in the old days; once the evening's activity is over, you're racing home to get a decent night's sleep so you're halfway functional when your kids want to do craft projects at 6:30am.
3. Make a reservation or purchase tickets. Weekend dinner reservations between peak dinner hours are hard to come by in most major metropolitan cities. Chances are that by the time you've booked a sitter and figured out what you want to do, there won't be any table available at any of the restaurants you're interested in trying during the hours when your sitter is available. Same too with regards to movie tickets or the Hollywood Bowl. You will get so desperate for date night to happen that you will agree to a 9pm dinner reservation and write a note on your calendar to drink coffee at 3pm to ensure you don't nod off over appetizers. It's not unheard of to convince yourself that you don't mind sitting in the front row at the movie theater or behind a pole at Disney Hall because you are that desperate to spend just a few hours away from your children.
4. Schedule time to get ready. Break out your iCal, because you and your spouse must schedule time to actually get ready for the date. Figuring out the best way to divide childcare responsibilities so that each of you has a chance to shower and get dressed is a delicate negotiation. Between work and the busy social life of toddlers, it's entirely possible that you will have to get ready one to two days beforehand, and sleep in your makeup.
5. Actually leave the house. Date night can be foiled at the last minute by so many things: a sitter who cancels, a sick kid, an exhausted parent who was up all night with the sick kid, an epic tantrum, or a spouse who refuses to leave during said tantrum. Cancelling date night can seem very alluring, especially if you have a TV in your bedroom and a subscription to Netflix and HBO. Do not let yourself be swayed by the call of a soft bed and a remote control! You have worked too hard to make this date night happen, so unless you are literally coughing up a lung or have accidentally severed one of your digits, it's important to rally. You will be so glad that you went out, even though you were exhausted and grumpy, and really didn't feel like looking cute and conversing with your spouse or others.
Remember, date night is totally worth it. At least until you wake up with a raging hangover the next day.