In the spirit of Valentine’s Day arriving, this post is centered around relationships; and meant to generate some non-boring, no pressure, easy, date nights for you and your sweetie, or even friends if you are rocking the single life! Covid has forced us to get creative and enjoy the small things since the typical dates like going to a movie, or meeting up for a drink haven’t been a consistent option. Dating in general, let alone Valentine’s Day, can be a stressful. The pressure to be in a relationship if you’re not, wanting to keep your relationship interesting, where to go on the first few dates or even the stress of wanting to find the perfect box of chocolates (mine would be all of the coconut filled ones…unpopular opinion, I know) for your significant other is real! Just like the Bachelor thrives off creating dreamy dates that aren’t realistic in real life at all, sometimes we (girls) like to think of super romantic Pinterest-esque dates, and they create so much pressure that it’s just awkward. These date ideas are casual ways to spend time together, but in reality, may be more enjoyable and stress free than a dreamy date because they eliminate all the little stressors we amplify in our heads such as who pays, what to wear, or deciding what movie to watch…we all know the awkward back and forth that follows, so why not just get rid of it?
1. Restaurant check list
Yes, going out to dinner is a very typical date, but everyone’s gotta eat! Something that Jeff and I have enjoyed doing since we started dating was making a physical list of all the restaurants we’ve never been to, and slowly visiting each one. Having a list eliminates the “I don’t care” conversation that we all hate to have. We just pick a place from the list and go! We’ve had some great experiences with this-one being dining on the “pawtio” at The Block in St. Louis Park, where dogs are allowed to dine-aka-their owners can order them a meal to eat in a bowl and eat alongside their humans. While I could gaze at Jeff all day, the wiener dog eating a bowl of chicken and wild rice had most of my attention that night. Places like these, where they have a unique quirk or additional things to do, can be a great date spot for first dates, or new couples. In this case having some pet therapy helps to relieve the awkwardness of trying to eat in a not embarrassing way all while thinking of something to talk about besides how nice the weather is. If it is not a first date, the payment part can be uncomfortable, even for couples that have been dating a while! I know that I feel guilty every time Jeff pays for me still because it gets expensive for the guy to pay every time. We now play credit card roulette and let the waiter/ress choose the credit card, or just alternate who pays. We’ve visited some great spots with good food and fun atmospheres which is why this is one of my favorite things to do!
2. Make a family recipe together
Food seems to be a common theme in dates- but that is perfectly ok! It is something everyone in the entire world has in common. Cooking or baking together is a stress free date that promotes communication, helping each other out, and it is fun to enjoy the end product together afterwards. I loved sharing a family recipe with Jeff because it added much more meaning to the date than making boxed Kraft mac n cheese (unless you and your date met by reaching for the same unicorn shaped noodles special edition kraft in aisle 6). Whatever you make does not have to be anything fancy or extravagant, and honestly it is probably better that way so you don’t end up bickering about how well done the steaks should be. Jeff and I made and decorated my Gram’s sugar cookies together, and it was probably one of my favorite dates so far because it was different than anything we had done. We had a great time roasting each other about how badly we decorated a cookie, throwing flour at each other, and straying from using the cookie cutters to try to create shapes of our own. Whoever said that guys don’t belong in the kitchen was mistaken!
3. Target date challenge
Have I actually done this yet? No. Did I see this on Tik Tok and instantly want to do it? Yes. I don’t know anyone who does not like roaming the Target aisles up and down, and this date is a great combination of seeing how well you know your SO/friend, competitiveness, and resourcefulness. The challenge is to create a list of things to get for the other person in a given time (ex: find something red, find their favorite snack, find something to help them relax, etc…) and you are only allotted a fixed amount to spend – usually $10-$20, but the smaller your budget is, the more interesting and weird things get! You then have the given amount of time to frantically rummage around Target to find all the items on the list. Once this is done, take it all home and take turns going through the list and presenting what you got the other person. If they get you a bunch of things that you actually like, it is a win win because it shows they know you, AND you get to keep it all!
4. Activity or place swap
When I think of this one, I think of my parents. My Dad introduced my mom (from Kentucky) to Minnesota and all that comes with it, as well as her first REAL winter coat, while they were dating. In return, my mom shared her love for Kentucky & UK basketball and dribbled circles around my hockey dude of a Dad who couldn’t shoot a basketball to save his life. While sharing some interests is important, I would find it incredibly creepy if the person I’m dating’s favorite sport was gymnastics, they loved the color maroon, had a blog, was a cardio junkie, loved traveling to Danville, KY, couldn’t stand golf, had a word find addiction, and a majority of their favorite TV shows were about dramatic girls fighting about being there for the wrong reasons (if you know, you know). Where’s the fun in being exactly the same? Part of the fun of dating is getting to show the other person something or somewhere you’re passionate about with hopes you can share that together, and also getting to branch out only to get knocked off any high horse you were on (my mom described my dad’s basketball skills as “shooting bricks”).
In addition, doing an activity that you know one of you already likes doing eases the pressure of the “what do you want to do today?” followed by the classic “I dunno” or “I don’t care” conversation tennis. When Jeff and I started dating, it started off pretty small. I took him to Lake Harriet for dinner outside at the bandshell, and on the converse I watched Sunday football with him, aka fell asleep…it’s the thought that counts. As time has gone on, he’s brought me to his hometown, Windom, to spend time with his family and show me where he grew up. Knowing that it was meaningful to him and was a part of him made the experience so much more special than if we decided to go to a random place for the weekend. I can’t wait to take him to Kentucky someday, or to a gymnastics meet with me so he can witness that side of me, too. The activity swap is no big task- maybe it is going to your favorite hole in the wall ice cream shop, going to a Twin’s game together, or watching your favorite movie. Opposites do attract in most of these cases!
5. Ice skating
As cliche and Minnesotan as this sounds, it is such a good date idea for several reasons. First, it does not require spending hard earned money on mediocre food with Covid plexiglass to create a “romantic” ambiance with your date. Second, it is completely different than your typical date such as watching a movie or staring at each other eating food. Third and most importantly, embarrassing yourself together is great bonding. Let’s be honest- there is a solid 50% chance that one of you has not skated, is not good at it, or will eat the ice at some point in the day (I did). There is nothing more humbling than watching someone who says they are a pro, or a manly man, get on ice skates only to flail around until they splay face down across the ice. At that point, there is nothing to do but laugh, especially if you both are terrible skaters and look like you’re shuffling around stripped of your athleticism. Psychology shows that hazing creates a bonding feeling due to shared embarrassment and experience, and while ice skating is not anywhere near hazing, it may feel like it and create the same shared bonding experience if you are absolutely terrible or take a tumble in front of the person you want to impress. But in the chance you both are great skaters, it makes for a cute date 🙂
6. Tour your own town
I have come to realize how terrible of a Minnesotan I am. I have never been to the sculpture garden, boundary waters, popular lakes, or well-known breweries. I barely go downtown, uptown, or really to any town other than where I live. It wasn’t until this year that Jeff and I ventured to the Stone Arch Bridge to make it my first time, and it was one of my favorite memories of 2020 because it turned out to be just as great as it looked on Instagram. Sometimes I simply forget that places exist and that I can go see what I’ve always wanted to see whenever I want, I just don’t! This is why it makes for a great date idea to go do and see the things you probably should have seen, but seem “touristy” to do as a native. Become a tourist for the day, and go to that coffee shop everyone posts about on Instagram, that one wall with the mural everyone poses with, that iconic sculpture 10 minutes away from you, or that popular brunch spot. Everyone’s got a list of places they’re wondering about or have never seen, but forget about them when free time arises- make your list and go!
7. Start a show together
As I always say, it is the little things that do it for me. As a kid, I remember trying to take my shower in between commercials so I wouldn’t miss any of the new episode of “American Idol,” and hearing my brother yell “IT’S BACK ON!” when I failed to complete my mission to my pjs. Even now, I get way too excited for The Bachelor to roll around every Monday, and new episodes of This Is Us on Tuesdays; but I can’t be the only one that plans their weeknight around an hour in front of the TV. Jeff and I have made “Bachelor Monday” a thing- and it is something I look forward to because: 1. I like the trashy-ish show, but mostly: 2. It is a guaranteed and planned two hours with Jeff. It is something we have in common now and can chat about, but also time to catch up with each other. While TV dates may not seem the most romantic, starting a new Netflix show together, or planning a date night around a show in live time (yes, that is still a thing!) is just as much of a date as a dinner date. It is something constant to look forward to and anticipate every week. If anything, it may be more enjoyable after a long day than the typical image of a date because it doesn’t require reservations, fancy food, parting with your paycheck, or wearing jeans!
8. Work out together
When I think of workout dates, I liken it to the adult version of the playground dates I’d have in elementary school where we’d do monkey bars together. Working out together does not mean running 10 miles or squatting side by side- unless that’s what you’re into! Most of the time, I’m not even working out with Jeff, we are just there doing our own workouts at the same time. Being someone that actually likes to go to the gym with my significant other; it’s nice to have that extra social facilitation since I will always try to impress my man as long as I live and his presence makes me run a solid 2 mph faster. I enjoy the time together between sets, the sly knucks exchange in passing, or trying out new machines/showing each other tricks we can do (like I used to do on the playground). If working out still isn’t your thing- try a class together! Try a yoga class, HIIT class, or Zumba- and if they don’t know what Zumba is, don’t tell them until you get there and watch the look on their face when they realize what their hips will be doing. On the flip side, if one of you is into lifting, learn/teach how to do the basics. Creating or maintaining healthy habits together as a couple is so important and makes it a lot more fun when you have someone there to do it with you! Workouts are one of those “everyday” things, and being able to do those everyday things together shows just how compatible you are or how you work as a team. But my favorite part? Being perched on the stair stepper while watching Jeff doing bench presses followed by a wink from across the gym all while other girls are checking out his biceps- he’s mine, ladies.
9. Be seasonally cliche
As the seasons change, so do the cliche date ideas. I’m talking about your Pinterest -looking apple orchard, pumpkin patch, hot cocoa drinking, christmas cookie making, beach day, 4th of July fireworks watching, picture taking kind of dates. I find it funny how everyone thinks they’re never going to do those types of dates but ultimately want to…me included. In my opinion, they’re like sitting ducks; dates basically already planned for you, you just have to go do them! For the very few cliche dates I have done, I have enjoyed them a lot! There is nothing wrong with hopping on the bandwagon of all the things we see on Instagram. There’s a reason we see so many cliche dates…it’s because people enjoy doing them! Take advantage of the path paved before you and go wear your flannels together by an apple tree, drive through the Christmas lights, visit the seasonal ice maze, eat your corn at the State Fair, sit on the beach with your drinks, and soak in all the unoriginality.
10. Coffee walk
Just like we all share the commonality of food; walking is another commonality most have, as well as the love or withdrawal symptoms sans coffee. Taking two everyday things, and putting them together, makes for an easy and casual date. I think sometimes when trying to think of date ideas, we totally overlook the simple things that we can do. I like this idea for first dates because a walk allows for conversation to happen without any pressure to always say something- there’s dogs to look at, lakes to gaze at, or someone tripping over a branch on a run (true story). Being able to just be with someone in silence and enjoy the surroundings and company is important, too. For couples that have been dating a while, this date is still is relevant because it is undivided attention to just catch up and talk about things you probably don’t have the time to talk about. The great thing about walking, is that you can do it anywhere (obvious statement but sometimes I forget that I can drive places just to go for a walk). Pick a location to take a stroll through, pick up some coffee along the way, and enjoy each other’s company…but don’t pick a long route, we all know what coffee does to us.
This definitely was not one of my most insightful posts, but that was kind of the point! My favorite dates to go on are the simple, casual, stress free, everyday things we do in life because that IS life. When you are with the right person, all of those things become so much better and even things like going to the grocery store for bagels become fun (or maybe it’s just me and my little things again). As time in relationships go on and the honeymoon phase supposedly wears off, people forget to date each other as weird as that sounds, and I think it’s because we have this idea that all dates need to be fancy. Once you change your perspective to seeing everyday simple things as dates too, or simplifying stressful processes, then it is impossible to stop dating each other! Happy Valentine’s Day and happy dating!