My husband and I went on three bona fide dates in 2012. So when I started reading about Dr. John Gottman’s “magic five hours a week” principle, I was a bit dismayed. When studying successful marriages, the relationship researcher found that happy couples typically invest an extra five hours a week in their marriages. Short, daily gestures such as a warm good-bye add up to three of those hours. But successful couples also set aside at least two hours for that weekly ritual known as — you guessed it — date night. Now, I know my hub and I may actually be three dates ahead of some couples’ annual tally, but we can do better. So I’m setting my sights on a minimum of one monthly date in 2013. And I’m also challenging us to get beyond our standby of dinner and a movie. With the help of a quick poll of parents, we put together a year’s worth of ideas to help us — and you — accomplish our mission!
Play hooky in the hillsRemember the days when you’d go skiing or snowshoeing without small people who needed cajoling, snacks and extra bathroom stops? In honor of Valentine’s Day, relive those glory days by taking a weekday off together while your kids are in school or day care (free baby-sitting!) and head to the mountains for your favorite winter sport. Don’t have a winter sport? Go sledding at one of the Sno-Parks off Interstate 90, or at Mount Rainier’s snow play area near the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center.
Get cultural Remember the First Thursday Seattle Art Walk (or third Thursday, in Tacoma)? It’s still happening, it’s still free, and there are more museums and galleries than ever to check out. Try Museum of History & Industry at South Lake Union; combine it with a nosh at Tom Douglas’ Brave Horse Tavern nearby. Visit the Northwest African American Museum in Rainier Valley, and eat at one of the terrific restaurants in Columbia City. Or take in the upcoming, much-anticipated Rembrandt exhibit at Seattle Art Museum (opens Feb. 14).
Bust it out with burlesqueSpring is a good time to up the raciness factor by taking in one of the area’s growing number of burlesque shows, which incorporate elements of strip tease, exotic dance, vaudeville and cabaret. A ParentMap staffer recommends the Thursday-night show at the Noc Noc in downtown Seattle: “You can see the show and grab really great happy-hour drinks and food for under $50 for both of you.” Other popular burlesque shows include the cabaret and burlesque show at The Pink Door in Pike Place Market, and the late-night “Libertease Burlesque” show that’s part of The Moisture Festival, a comedy/varietè festival that plays in Seattle in March and April.
Date night at homeGottman’s whole point about dates is that it’s time spent together focused on connecting. So time together at home after the kids go to bed counts. But instead of firing up Netflix and a bowl of popcorn (our typical strategy), try something new. A friend of mine has an at-home date with her husband on Friday nights. They read aloud to each other, give massages, work on projects or just talk. A related idea is to send the kids somewhere else for the night and relive your pre-kid days with a romantic night at home.
Trivia nightA former ParentMap staffer says one of her favorite budget date nights is finding a local bar that has a trivia contest and making a night of it. “They usually have drink specials, and it’s always fun to work as a team. You get to see how much your partner really knows,” she says. Get started by going to quiznight to find a trivia night at a bar near you; usually there are at least a dozen options on a given night.
Ferry tale I can’t promise, but I suspect that a scenic ferry ride in July plus a walk to a restaurant plus meal and drinks equals magic hours. Bainbridge Island is an optimal choice, with a good selection of restaurants in Winslow (lovely Cafe Nola, classic Streamliner Diner or highly rated newbie Restaurant Marché), a mere 10-minute walk from the ferry landing. You also can take the Edmonds-Kingston route north of Seattle; either grab fish and chips and beer in Kingston, or, for a twist, take the ferry there and back, and then eat at Anthony’s Beach Café or Demetri’s Woodstone Taverna in Edmonds.
Walk, talk and picnicSimple, cheap, scenic, conducive to conversation: It’s hard to top a walk; add in a picnic and you’re golden. I’ve already targeted several new spots for us to try this year: Kubota Gardens, a stunning, 20-acre Northwest-Japanese garden in South Seattle; Volunteer Park, with a stop at its lovely conservatory; Mercer Slough in Bellevue (perhaps with a stop for blueberry picking at the nearby farm); and Point Defiance Park.
KayakSeptember, when we usually have gorgeous weather minus crowds, might be worth two date nights, and at least one should be spent in a double kayak. Rent a kayak at Agua Verde on Lake Union, and follow it with margaritas and Mexican food. Or take one of Alki Kayak Tours’ seven tours in West Seattle, including a moonlight paddle, a Duwamish River tour and a lighthouse tour. Kayaking not exciting enough? You can also rent paddleboards, longboards and fishing boats.
Movie sandwichIt is hard to beat the dinner/movie combo, but I love this variation, suggested by a reader. Sandwich your movie between two happy hours. First, find a fun happy hour and indulge in appetizers and a drink before the movie. After the movie, do late-night happy hour someplace else. “The variety is nice, and two happy hours usually end up being cheaper than dinner for two would have been,” says the reader.
Cooking classIn time for the holidays, take a class that will expand both your connectedness and cooking repertoire. I can’t begin to name all the local cooking classes offered, but some of the most popular include The Pantry, a project by the folks behind the renowned Ballard pizza restaurant Delancey; Hipcooks, which has a vast selection of themed classes and typically includes a beer, wine or cocktail tasting along with the evening’s menu; and the Art of the Pie, which teaches you how to make the perfect pie.
PCC Cooks also has a great selection of classes around the Sound, usually at a more affordable price (including an upcoming "Easy as Pie" class in February) that's not yet full. Check the full PCC Cooks calendar here.
Tip: Classes at all these venues fill up fast, so book as far in advance as you can.
Detox together Take a break from the holiday frenzy with a joint soak at Banya 5, a coed, full-service Russian spa in downtown Seattle with a plethora of pools and saunas (including the Parilka, a 200-plus-degree Russian sauna oven), and services ranging from salt scrubs to mud wraps. After you sweat it out, replenish yourself at the elegant Boat Street Cafe, just a few blocks away. Another winning spa-food combo is a nosh at El Camino in Fremont (the happy hour is good and affordable), plus a foot massage across the street at Two Smiling Feet massage.
Date night in a jar Celebrate a successful year of date nights by brainstorming more ideas for the next year. Here’s a fun way to do it: Write 20 or so activities that you agree you want to try together, each on a separate piece of paper, and throw it in a jar. (Decorate or not, as you wish.) When you’re planning a night out, pick from the jar and voilà: no arguing about what to do. The jar has picked for you.
Elisa Murray, ParentMap’s Out + About editor, hopes to go on at least 12 dates in 2013.
1. Go to a comedy club and laugh together.2. Take a dance class (salsa at the Century Ballroom in Seattle is a “hoot”). 3. If you’re in couples counseling, make a date of it by sharing a meal or drink afterward.4. Go old school and bowl or play mini golf together — and don’t forget the cheap beer and hot dogs or pizza.5. Attend one of the Seattle Symphony’s new “Untuxed” concerts, which are affordable, short and informal, and include a pre-concert happy hour.6. Ice skate at one of our region’s good indoor rinks.7. Book a two-hour class in pottery, painting or glassblowing.8. In the summer, attend a free concert in the park or a Shakespeare in the Park production.9. Get a not so cheap but memorable thrill by trying indoor skydiving at iFly in Tukwila.10. Buy Gottman’s “Salsa Cards” (”mild,” “medium” and “hot”) to open romantic and sexual convos.