Valentine's Day: Heidi Scrimgeour takes issue with Dave Cameron's routine ideas about romance and the long-married couple
Published 02/02/2012 | 06:00
I don't do date nights any more -- although they have become so fashionable that even David Cameron boasts about them.
Speaking about his relationship with his wife Samantha, the British Prime Minister told NOW magazine: "We have one night a week where we either stay in and do nothing or go out on our own."
One can only hope that Mr Cameron meant that the couple spend the evening quietly together instead of focusing on their children or all the other responsibilities that must take up their time on other nights of the week.
After all, staying in and doing nothing is about as far away from any definition of a date night that I can comprehend.
But, assuming 'doing nothing' is a byword for relaxing in each other's company and not staring at the walls in silence, is date night a good idea to help keep the flames of love alight in the midst of the hectic, fast-paced lives that so many of us lead?
Or is scheduling a regular appointment for time together every week just the antithesis of romance?
For me, date night is a no-no. I've been married to my husband, Matt, for nearly 14 years and throughout that time we've cycled through various seasons of committing to regular date nights together.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our first foray into married dating coincided with the arrival of our first child, almost seven years ago. It seems there's little need for a date night if you don't have kids, and looking back on our child-free, early years of marriage I now realise that every day was a date night.
How carefree we were back then; able to pop out for an impromptu dinner date without having to co-ordinate several different diaries many days in advance.
It's no wonder that we resorted to planning date nights when that freedom was curtailed by the arrival of two bouncing babies, less than two years apart. As a stay-at-home mum I needed regular date nights for my sanity, if not for my relationship.
So I get the concept. It's all too easy for a couple to spend their time worrying about financial commitments or household practicalities. We need to spend time together if a relationship is to grow.
But sometimes taking what you can, when you can is better than waiting for date night to express affection.
A quick hug in the kitchen in between yelling at our kids to brush their teeth is never going to make it into the annals of our relationship as a memorable moment of quality time. But those impromptu, tender exchanges matter as much as the big pre-meditated meals out -- maybe more so.
Nessa Robins, a food blogger (nessasfamilykitchen. blogspot.com) who lives in Co Westmeath with her husband Diarmuid and their four children, disagrees. The couple plan an evening at home together once a week, but have never found it boring or routine. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"My husband and I spend a lot of time together but the children are always with us," Nessa explains. "So, a few years ago we started to plan one evening each week for us to spend together.
'With four children, the youngest of whom is just 22 months, the days when we could head out on a real date are long gone, so a date of sorts is what we try for at home."
"We usually cook a meal together and then watch a movie or just listen to some music.
"Nights out are rather impractical but I think it's important for couples, especially those with young children, to put aside some time just for each other. I really enjoy these evenings together as they're something just for us."
Lisa O'Hara is a relationship counsellor with Relationships Ireland (www.relationshipsireland. com). She understands my preference for spontaneity over routine but agrees that date nights can serve a real purpose for couples who lead busy lives.
"Date nights are for couples who have so much else going on in their lives that they have to create space for one another if they want to spend time together.
"And the two aren't mutually exclusive: there's always room for spontaneity alongside date night."
She's right, of course. It's just that the thought of parcelling out portions of our time for allotted slots of togetherness smacks of box-ticking, and that fills me with dread. I want to believe that spending tender moments with the one you love should be easier and more instinctive than that. A flame of feeling, not a filofax, should be all you need to make love last.
To prove the point, look at all the great romantic love affairs of history. Can you imagine Anthony and Cleopatra consulting their hectic schedules before finding time for one another?
Or take Romeo and Juliet. He lingers, smitten, beneath her window -- he doesn't ask for a window in her diary. And she wonders aloud as to his whereabouts with urgent longing -- she doesn't pragmatically enquire as to his availability next week.
Why don't couples in the heady throes of a love affair ever seem to need to schedule date nights?
They seize the day and prioritise time together above all else, sometimes recklessly.
And while those dizzying days of new love will surely burn out or mellow into something much less urgent, signing up for date night seems like admitting that the first flush of passion is on the wane. I suspect my reluctance to commit to regular date nights stems from the fear of becoming one of those couples you see in restaurants who eat together in silence with nothing left to say to one another -- the dining dead.
But perhaps the secret to a successful date night lies in the planning.
Nessa's kitchen date -- making food together and listening to music -- sounds effortlessly romantic.
In contrast, I ditched date nights because a slavish obedience to scheduled time together felt like a half-hearted effort to keep the romance going; the unsubtle relationship equivalent of taking bellows to a burning ember.
If the hallmark of a good date is spontaneity and unpredictability, date night seems too habitual to be cool. But maybe the reverse is true -- with a little thoughtful effort date night could perhaps be something special, and the preparation time required doesn't have to lack an element of romance, or even preclude spontaneity.
We might not need the discipline of date nights in our diaries to keep our relationship feeling fresh. Yet maybe forethought isn't antithetical to romance either; but a vital ingredient that could add spice and flavour.