When you have two children under 4, a date is about as easy to come by as a clean house, a full anecdote relayed between adults without interruption, or a dodo sighting in the backyard.
But Danielle and I are spotting dodos left and right lately. We may have broken our post-parental personal record by enjoying 3 dates in the span of 5 weeks! We’re clearly out of control. Someone might want to check on our kids.
Let me be clear from the start: My parents are to be credited for this epic accomplishment. Their free, top-shelf babysitting services are what have made this a financially viable option for our shoestring selves. Moving 1,800 miles east 6 years ago has paid off generous dividends, injecting love, joy, and emotional capital into our family ledger. You truly can’t put a price tag on the warm, tender love of emotionally invested grandparents. There’s no dollar amount for that.
But you can put a bright red tag on the act of dropping your kids off at their house so you can gallivant around town like carefree newlyweds. At the going babysitting rate, that’s worth 40 or 50 bucks, easy.
So off we’ve gallivanted. To the movie theater (1917!), to a bookstore (Barnes & Noble!), to restaurants (Harvest! Masala Bistro!), to a hockey game (the Hershey Bears!). Each one of our expenses was offset by coupons, gift cards, and special discounts. Because that’s how we roll. We are the cheapest date around, and we savor every cheap second.
How was the company, you may ask? Thanks for (maybe) asking!
I can imagine a scenario in which a married couple who has been together for a decade goes on a date and realizes — with a knot in their stomach — that they don’t have all that much left to talk about, other than their kids, in the absence of their kids. I can envision that scenario and I warmly empathize with the sadness and loneliness it would stir up.
But it is with gratitude in my heart that I tell you I’ve never had that knotty, sinking feeling. Every time Danielle and I are alone, I am struck once again by my singularly enviable position. I am one decade deep into a lifetime (minus 29 years) spent with my soulmate and my best friend. Not to mention one of the most high-quality people I’ve ever met. What could be better than that?
Sometimes I think about the dating advice I’ll give Greyson and Violet down the road (way, way down the road) when they’re old enough to consider linking their fates with another human being. I’m deeply grateful that I’ll be in a position to tell them from my experience what they should look for — rather than trying to awkwardly explain from my experience what they should avoid.
I’ll convey the enormous importance of finding someone who shares the same core values — personal, parental, planetary, and hopefully political too. I’ll convey how vital it is to join forces with someone who is smart and empathetic. Someone who loves the outdoors as much as they do (and boy do they ever love it). Someone who prizes integrity. Someone who deeply values them.
But when I think about my recent dates with Danielle, it becomes clear that something else belongs right next to all these crucial values. Something our children witness firsthand, and directly participate in, on a daily basis.
A collaborative sense of humor. An appreciation of belly laughter. A desire to poke fun at oneself with giddy delight. A willingness to spin goofy gold out of the straight straw of life. And, speaking for myself at least, a playful propensity for punnery that makes every conversation a jungle gym of words.
Danielle and I have a ridiculous amount of fun together. And I count that as one of the biggest reasons our marriage has been successful. All the other stuff is deep and solemn and meaningful, but it’s our overlapping sense of humor that infuses each day with helium. Remember that scene in Mary Poppins where everyone laughs so hard that they float up to the ceiling? On our better days — and we have more than our share of them — that’s what it feels like in our house.
And that’s a big reason why each of our bargain dates feel so rich with playful joy. [With the notable exception of watching the emotionally brutal 1917. There was not a drop of mirth on that scorched earth.] Money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy love, and it also can’t buy rib-tickling, torso-constricting merriment.
So these are the broad strokes of what I will tell Greyson and Violet about true love when they’re old enough to hear it. Find someone who is warm-hearted. Find someone who is honest. Find someone who loves nature and animals and books.
And find someone who makes you laugh yourself silly.
If you can thread that needle, then all your cheap dates — whether you’re in the first year of college or the first year of your 40s — will feel positively lavish. And the rest of your life will too. You know why?
Because you’ll be richer than a billionaire.