Dating, like so many other aspects of romance and love and relationships, is heavily burdened by clichés and mythology. Romantic songs and rom-com movies distort our ideas of what a “date” is, or what it should be. A date can become a high-pressure situation when you are worrying about all the wrong things – what to wear, what music to play, what to say, how much to spend, whether to split the costs, whether to conceal that pimple, what to eat, what to do.
It can become a vicious cycle, too – if you get too worried about making mistakes or sending the wrong impression, you can become nervous and upset and ruin what is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.
A “date” is an idea that has changed, too, over time. Think of old-school chaperoned dates, where a couple would get to know each other with dour, eagle eyed adults standing by to supervise every aspect of the experience. University sororities had downstairs “date rooms” where young women could sit on couches to talk to young men who had come to court them. Neither of those type of dates would probably be classified as “fun” by the standards of today’s young people.
These days, we expect a date to be fun and exciting, and that’s fine, as long as we keep our expectations within reasonable bounds.
A date should be fun and lighthearted. It is a chance for a couple to hang out together and get to know each other in different situations and circumstances. Because we learn more about each other when things don’t go according to plan, it is best to avoid over-planning and over-scheduling dates. Let go of your desire to control the situation and it is likely to be much more interesting.
Fundamentally, a date should be an adventure, either a small adventure or a big one. One good definition of an adventure is “a discomfort remembered,” so don’t despair if things don’t always go the way you expect. If it rains on your picnic, that may be wet and miserable while it is going on, but it will provide you with great stories to tell and re-tell later on.
Most importantly, a date should be honest. Let me repeat that – a date is a time for honesty, by which I mean an honest presentation of yourself to the other person, rather than trying to impress them with money or smooth talk or plucked brows or fancy clothes.
Here are a few ideas and twists on classic dates that give you a good chance of sharing some adventures together.
Instead of going out somewhere to eat, try planning and preparing a meal together. If you’re really brave, start at the very beginning – sit down together, or scheme by text and email to put together a menu of every course you need, including dessert. You can split up the meal, each taking a course or two, or you can stick together and do it all as a team. Find recipes for what you want to make, figure out what ingredients you’ll need, and go shop for them. If you have limited time, this process can be broken into several “dates,” one where you plan, another where you shop, then another where you cook and eat the meal.
Be brave and try making as much as you can from scratch. Baking a pie for dessert? Make the crust yourself, and eschew canned filling for the real thing.
Cooking is just chemistry in the kitchen, and, like chemistry in the laboratory, it rarely all goes according to plan. But that’s OK, since you’re getting to know each other, and people’s true personality comes out when they are in an unplanned, unexpected, or stressful situation. When your homemade pasta sauce starts smoking on the stovetop and you scramble to save it, you don’t have time to worry about whether you’re making a favorable impression on your date. Rolling out pie dough and getting flour all over your clothes will also help you focus on what is more important than looking good – being yourself.
Success or failure at cooking isn’t really important. You can always resolve to meet and try again, whether to try the same meal again (if it failed) or to try something new and different.
Why stop with just one meal? Many fancy restaurants in urban areas offer cooking classes, which are becoming popular as corporate “team building” exercises. Acme Corp. takes a bunch of its computer coders or marketing copywriters and sends them off to learn to make paella or pizza together, and hilarity ensues, as well as better cooperation between employees, or so they hope.
What sometimes works for Acme Corp. can also work for you. A brave date would be signing up for a cooking class on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when you’ve got a couple of hours free. It won’t take much more time than dinner and a movie, and you’ll end up spending a lot more time interacting than in a movie theater. Besides learning about each other and having fun, you’ll learn something useful that you can continue to do together, if things work out and your relationship intensifies.
Make a movie
Seeing a movie together is one of the all time classic dates. Try a different spin by making a movie together. In the past, this wasn’t an easy option, as film-making equipment was expensive and cumbersome. But today everyone’s smartphone is a video camera, and, for just a little more money you can get serious professional stuff like a GoPro camera. Try your hand at thinking up a story and writing a script. Then act it out and make a movie of it.
If you’re really serious, get some editing software and edit your movie together. When you’re done, stage a screening, either just for the two of you, or, if you’re brave, for some of your friends. Even if they throw rotten tomatoes at the screen, you may want to get together for a sequel. No one in Hollywood ever let a bunch of bad reviews stop them from making another film!
Ghost story contest
The famous Gothic-Romantic novel Frankenstein began as part of a ghost story contest two hundred years ago. This could work as a couple of dates, starting with a planning session in which the two of you outline the rules of the contest. Give yourselves a few days or a couple of weeks to write out your story ideas, then meet for dinner or coffee and read them to each other.
It doesn’t matter, really, how good your stories are – what matters is that you’re both sharing something fun, interesting and creative. Treat this first reading session as a chance to give each other feedback, then go home and rewrite your stories before meeting again on a future date to read them to each other again.