When Ian and I started dating, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat around him. I still have a very clear memory of picking apart a sweet onion chicken sandwich with a fork—a fork—while sitting across from him at Subway. (Tiny college towns have limited dining options.) Later in our budding relationship he took me to Chili’s, half an hour away from our dorms, and sighed while I looked over the menu. “It’s not like you’re going to eat whatever you order anyway.”
Cut to last week, two and a half years into our marriage, me sitting at the coffee table inhaling a meatball sub as if I’d recently been released from a labor camp. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Ian looking at me. “What?” I said. Or at least that’s what I was trying to say around the French bread and marinara sauce. He just laughed. And I went back to my sandwich.
We’ve come a long way in our relationship. You couldn’t pay me enough money to be transported back to our unmarried days. For one, I like food too much. And for another, I was never very good at dating. (If Ian ever witnesses a Mob hit or decides to become a Catholic priest, I am in so much trouble.) So I thought I’d be excited to be done with dating when I became a wife. I thought dating had served its purpose. We met, we married, the end. After all, we spend most of our time together. We have our meals together, we go to the movies, we watch the same television shows, we have the same friends. Why would we need to go on dates?
Then the year of dates gift started making the rounds on Pinterest. The idea is that you give twelve preplanned, prepaid dates to your spouse, setting up an entire year of date nights in one fell swoop. Knowing how difficult it is to shop for my practical husband who doesn’t really believe in Christmas presents, I latched on to the idea. I spent a lot of time and energy coming up with the dates. I planned activities that took one or both of us out of our comfort zones. I even took into account the fact that we were probably going to move in the middle of the year. And then, shortly after we rang in 2013, we started methodically checking the dates off the list.
Ha! I’m totally kidding.
We spent January passing a horrible cold virus back and forth, and when we finally felt up to completing the month’s date—ice-skating downtown—it was too cold. March will be here soon, and it will probably arrive before we manage to go on February’s date. (Pottery painting, if you’re interested.) I guess you could argue that the dates are supposed to “rekindle” our relationship, a word that conjures up Victoria Secret bags and giant teddy bears. (And gags. From me.) So the fact that we’re zero for two at this point should probably alarm me. But it doesn’t, because something very nice has happened.
Even just putting the effort into planning dates has refocused our relationship energy. In January, we didn’t lace up ice skates, but we did go out for a lovely sushi dinner with friends. For Valentine’s Day this year, Ian gave me a time, a date, and a dress code, and surprised me with dinner at one of our favorite steakhouses. Just the simple act of dressing up, of thinking of creative ways to spend time together, of finding ways to surprise each other has made our relationship feel more exciting, and has made us feel closer to one another.
On Valentine’s Day, when our entrees arrived, there was a moment when we looked at each other across the table and I felt that same lovely nervous feeling I used to all those years ago. I thought about the year before, when we just hung out on the couch and watched things on the DVR, and how that was different but still romantic. And I thought about the year to come, and the dates we’ve got planned, and (whether we complete them or not) what they might add to the future of our relationship.
And then I cut into my steak before it got cold.