Well, Date Night is under assault yet again, this time from the Gospel Coalition and it’s Valentine’s Day, so let me at it.
You don’t need date night, says the GC, for four reasons. It’s just a fun treat, it’s a modern, western invention (with a whiff of badness), it’s not always possible, and God can bless your marriage in many other ways. GC is able to arrive at this conclusion by framing date night this way:
As married moms of littles, we understand firsthand where this question is coming from. Like our podcast listeners, we look for reasons to hire a babysitter and spend one-on-one time with our spouses. Out-of-the-house date night without children in tow feels like the secret ingredient to a healthy marriage. Marriage “experts” gush over its ability to reboot romance in any relationship, and we all eagerly agree, welcoming any change from the daily juggle of work, household chores, and family routines.
But sometimes date night—complete with the babysitter and nice dinner—just feels impossible, and our unbroken evening routine leaves us wondering: Must two tired parents go on regular date nights away from the pressures of home life to maintain the joy and intimacy of marriage? Is that the Christian ideal?
So, let me just tweak this.
Their category of “date night” is absolutely wrong. Yes, if you think that going out every week, complete with a babysitter and expensive dinner, is what’s required for date night, that is an onerous and bad law that is, of course, not always possible, and maybe even a bad use of your money. Date Night should not equal, in your own mind, Expensive Romance.
This is important because if you can write off date night as some kind of fancy, decadent, godless, secular indulgence expected by rich Americans, then you will feel justified in not doing it and there you are, spared from the horrors of Date Night.
Trust me, though, you need Date Night. Or whatever you want to call it. I haven’t met a marriage in this country that couldn’t benefit from what I do generally call Date Night. But seriously, I don’t care, call it something else. The reason you do need date night is precisely because of the cultural expectations associated with marriage. If you lived in somewhere like Saudi Arabia, “romance” with your husband would probably not be uppermost in your mind. But likely, you got married somewhere here and not only have an expectation of “romance” but also of a spiritual and emotional bond that requires time and vulnerability to create. And that’s what date night is chiefly for.
So, here are the requirements for date night (or whatever you want to call it).
It has to happen Once Every Week.
You can’t have technology.
You have to both talk to each other.
You should probably eat food of some kind and drink wine (if you want to and can be responsible about it).
You should put your children in some corner and forbid them from speaking to you.
You (if you’re the woman) should consider coming unglued and crying, and, if you’re the man, you have to also talk about what is actually on your mind and in your heart.
You should talk about every portion of your life—all the things you’re worried about, all the stuff that was good about the week, all the stuff that was bad, all your hopes, dreams, everything.Five
Saying you don’t “need date night” is like, to my ear, saying you don’t need to pray or go to church. I don’t need to take communion, you could say, that’s a modern western construct. I’ll just live here in the desert without eating the manna falling from the sky. God will bless me in other ways.
Sometimes people don’t want to take up the discipline and practice of Date Night because they are actually really in pain—they and their spouses have hurt each other, and they don’t know where to begin. The years and years of frustration and rage cannot be solved by a single plate of cheese and a half bot of something cheap with regular shouting at the kids to leave you a.l.o.n.e. Sorry, though, that doesn’t let you off the hook. In that case, you have to go very softly like a butterfly. You have to begin the practice of carefully repeating back to each other what each one has said—fairly and honestly. Like this:
Susie, sipping a glass of cardboardeaux: I went out and bought a lovely pair of shoes today.
Johnny, bitterly biting down on cheap Aldi gouda: Oh, wow, we don’t have any money. I wish you hadn’t done that.
Susie: What I hear you saying, Johnny, is that you don’t really love me and don’t want me to have nice things, and that you want me to go barefoot and humiliated in the snow.
Johnnie: Oh no no, Susie, I really want you to have nice things, but when you said you’d bought a new pair of shoes, I heard you say that you don’t care about all the hard work I’m doing to make us financially secure. Which is another way of me hearing you say that you hate me.
Susie: Oh no no, Johnnie! I love you. All your hard work to make us financially secure makes me feel secure and I thought I would just go buy some shoes.
Johnnie: Oh, well, I love you too, but I really wish you wouldn’t do that.
And so the long date wears on.
As I said, I haven’t met a single marriage that didn’t need this every week. And sometimes you should go out. Not for the romance, but because sometimes these kinds of deep, desperate conversations are better had in public where it is inappropriate to throw the soup tureen at the other person’s head. This isn’t about romance, it is about communion. And guess what, if you do this every week, the other important part of marriage, the “intimacy” (Christianese for, well, I don’t want to say it) which is also an essential discipline, and not just something for “special people” who have a lot of time and money, becomes vastly less fraught. In fact, it becomes one of the very difficult things you can talk about during date night. Believe me, talking to the person upon whom the fruit of your life is hung isn’t something that just magically happens because you’re in love on your wedding day. You need to deliberately set aside several consecutive hours every single week to do it. You need it more than family night, more than a night out with the guys, or a weekend away with the girls, or another hour with your sweet needy child who will never find it within himself to want to leave you alone. Christians complain all the time about marriage being under assault. And David Brooks has just consigned the nuclear family to the trash heap of history. When there is such a small, basic practice that could keep Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness away from your most precious relationship, why wouldn’t you do it?
Happy Valentine’s Day and Go check out more takes!