"Do you remember this?" my husband asked, handing me his phone. How could I forget? It was a video he took of me and our baby watching a bunch of pigeons on the roof across from ours. My son was 18-months-old, and my husband and I hadn't slept for more than three hours a night for six months. We were tired, burnt out, and about as connected as freshly-blown dandelion seeds. It was the lowest point in our otherwise happy marriage.
Despite the fuzzy brain that comes with sleep deprivation, the exhortations from our nearest and dearest rang loudly in my ears: Take care of each other. Take care of yourself. Take care of the baby. Make time for family but keep up your career. Let the dirty dishes go. Don't let yourself go. Make your own baby food. Don't forget the sunscreen. Always pack extra diapers. Go on date nights. Go on date nights. Go on date nights.
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I soon came to resent the phrase "date night"—it made me recoil in the same way the words "hubby" and "babymoon" do. Still, we gave the nights out a shot, because at the end of the day, we knew we loved each other—we just wanted to enjoy being around each other again. But here's what no one told me while waxing poetic about night date: It's not all it's cracked up to be. In fact, logistically, it was a nightmare for us. If we could land a sitter (a big if for us), then we were almost always too tired to carry on any sort of decent conversation. Our exhaustion became our main talking point -- hardly the stuff of rekindling romance. And since our baby was waking up all throughout the night, there was no incentive for us to linger over a glass of wine or even order dessert. We were back on duty the second we walked back in the apartment.
So after a handful of tries, we stopped. The Great Date Night Experiment was not only crazy expensive, it also failed to bring us any closer. If anything, I started to feel like something was wrong with me, with us. If these nights out were supposed to "fix" us but didn't, did that mean we were unfixable? I stewed on that question for a while, and it was heavy on my mind when my husband took that video of us. I can see it my eyes.
But gradually, sleep training took hold, our rational selves resurfaced, and we found smaller, easier ways to reconnect. They were all things that felt more natural to us than a high-stakes night out: lots of jokes, holding hands on the sidewalk, having brunch with our son at our favorite weekend spot, taking a break from doing the dishes to dance, snuggling on the sofa at night and watching TV. I can't say that any one of these small acts of intimacy was enough to bring back all the butterflies, but collectively they did the trick for us. Before long, I was once again noticing how his eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled and how my head fit perfectly on his chest. And the question of us faded.
I want to hear from you: How do you keep the spark alive in your relationship? Do date nights work for you?
Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up.Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
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