Letters to the Editor #9 (All About Date Nights)

This week’s letters to the editor dealt almost entirely with the article I wrote about date nights. Now, I thought the article quite clearly communicated that date nights are fine and dandy, but simply not necessary. Hence the title You Don’t Need a Date Night. Unfortunately, some people took me as saying “Date nights are stupid and an utter waste of time.” Obviously, that was not my intent. I love going out with Aileen–I just don’t regard it as necessary. Still, the vast majority of the feedback was very positive—there seem to be a lot of people dealing with a lot of guilt for not dating more often–and I have reflected that in this selection of letters.

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Thank you for writing this. My husband and I were blessed with 5 babies in 5-1/2 years so our time during the “littles period” was full of the babies, and toddlers and diapers, and shepherding, and food prep…and…I could go on and on. Because we were so busy with our family, many older couples, with right intentions would say, “Do you have a regular date night?” and we would cringe, guilt and horror building inside, and sheeplishly say, “Well, no, there just isn’t time to go out.” The response was always the same, “Well, you need to make time for it. It should be a priority,” which only added to the guilt. I know we would have appreciated the nights we did get a movie in at home or all the hours we spent next to each other on the couch reading books in a finally quiet house had we had the perspective of this article. Our marriage has gone through so much—and survived—not because we had weekly date nights. It survived because we have God’s grace in the middle of it all and a deep thankfulness for the gift of each other—and the fact that we really like being together as “us.”
—Julie D, Grand Rapids, MI

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I was perusing Facebook for a few minutes this afternoon when I noticed a few friends had linked to your post. The title was provocative enough for me to click and read. I must say, friend, “Bravo!” My wife and I have been married for 5.5 years now, and we’ve had thoughts similar to what you’ve expressed all along the way. Certainly we enjoy a night out together, but by and large, some of our most cherished moments have come in relaxing together at home. I too have been disappointed that there seems to be a sort of air of legalism about this whole “dating your wife” thing, as if to say that if you do not take a weekly outing you are somehow sub-par and are probably in need of counseling. Hogwash! Of course I want to avoid the other ditch which might say that we absolutely never have to go out together, but especially while I’m in seminary full time, am working part-time and while we are raising young children (4, 3, 1), I want to focus on enjoying the “little” things. I think in the end, we’ll find that those “little” things will turn out to be not so little after all, and the elevated status we’ve given to the periphery that is weekly nights out we will find to be not quite so integral to a vital, loving union.
—Marco S, Minneapolis, MN

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Thank you for your blog post. I too love to go out on dates with my wife, but I’ve been saddled with guilt over not being able to maintain a weekly date night over the 20 years of our marriage. While she surely deserves better and more than I have given her, I believe she is grateful for what I have done and (like you and your wife) we have settled in to a comfortable existence with each other. Arranging and paying for a babysitter and thinking about how our 7-year-old son is doing while we’re out often makes date night a contrived and much less relaxing time than grabbing a few quiet moments with each other in our pajamas in the early morning or later evening hours. Some might read your post and lament over your “boring” life but what it sounds to me like is a happy, comfortable love. A commitment to sharing the small and the mundane, and actually enjoying all those little moments. While I hope to grow as a husband to my wife, count me among those who will do so not just in the romantic realm, but on the emotional and spiritual planes as well.
—Steve J, Ruckersville, VA

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Thank you so much for your thoughts on date nights. My husband and I have never been able to schedule regular dates as he works a 2nd shift job and every weekend. We also have four young children. When you add the cost of childcare to the cost of the date itself things get expensive quickly. I struggle with guilt because of all the people telling us that our marriage is not the priority as a result. After reading your comments I felt relieved. Thank you for your encouragement.
—Renee Y, Philadelphia, PA

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Thank you for your recent article on the ubiquitously recommended date night. My experience has been the same. I don’t remember the last date night my wife and I had but we do all kinds of things together. There is another angle that I think you have overlooked. My chief complaint about the date night is that it comes from people who are relatively well off with quite a bit more disposable income than me. As a pastor of a small church in a rural community with 4 kids at home, we can’t afford regular date nights. After a babysitter and a decent dinner we are talking probably $50 minimum. I can’t afford that every week and most of my parishioners can’t either, and they shouldn’t. There are lots of other ways to spend time together. Sometimes for us it is just talking over a cup of herbal tea on the sofa for a half hour after the kids are in bed. It seems like every time I turn on one of the “family” programs on Christian radio I get another wave of guilt for not planning a weekly or even monthly date night. I enjoy them and so does my wife, but we both know we can’t really afford them and we would rather give whatever excess money we have to other causes than our date night. We have made life choices and kingdom choices in which there isn’t much room for date nights, and that’s okay.
—Ian S, Millinocket, ME

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Thank you so much, Tim, for writing this article. I have been married for almost 29 years. We have never had scheduled date nights. We certainly had time out when the kids were younger, and made special occasions of it, but for the most part, we simply enjoy regular life together. We play board games, watch movies, read together, and go on photo walks together. Nothing special, but my husband has never felt pressured to organize anything, and when he has done something special, it’s been great. Thanks again for your perspective on this.
—Kim S, Simcoe, ON

And then there were some who disagreed. Some disagreed charitably:

You’ve done so much for so many of us in the way of encouraging a purposeful approach to the Christian life. I was disappointed to read that a purposeful approach to marital connectedness was not something that you espouse. Having been dead broke with young children (two of whom have disabilities), I can tell you that our marriage would be a statistic today if we hadn’t set aside time each week for our marriage and if we hadn’t made a priority of routine nights away from our busy, needy household. If I were able to speak to your readers, I would say, “Make time alone with your spouse a routine priority. Do whatever it takes so that both of you feel loved, cherished, refreshed and cared for in your marriage.”
—Dana W, Edmond, Oklahoma

Tim: I heard from a couple of other people who have children with disabilities and they, too, spoke of the utter necessity of date nights in their context.

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I read your article and JA Medders’ about not needing a date night. I have to say, I think you might be in the very small minority! Many couples “do” life separately. They are pulled in opposite directions daily by the demands of kids’ schedules, work activities, church service, or different hobbies. And they don’t do chores together (as you described)! So for those couples, the purpose of the date night is to purposely set aside time for one another. And, as you sort of alluded to, date nights don’t have to be romantic evenings with high expectations (and even higher dollar signs). Going for a jog together, having coffee on the patio, running errands, etc–the point is to ensure you’re making time for each other, and more importantly, that you’re making your marriage a priority. The concept I think you left out is that we must be proactive in our marriages. Medders was right–if we wait until our marriage is in trouble to have a date night–it’s too late. As Christians, we know that Satan is out to get marriages and families. Marriage is a picture of the gospel, and ripping apart marriages is a picture of ripping apart Christ and His Bride. With that knowledge, and because Satan is like a lion prowling around seeking whom he can destroy, we must put safeguards in place to protect our marriages. Date nights are one such safeguard. Christian marriages should be fun, lively, and attractive to proclaim our witness to the world–that God designed marriage to be good and to bring glory to Him. When we are ho-hum and mediocre, we dim the light that God wants to shine on the beauty of His plan for marriage and family. You probably agree with all I just stated, but it’s too important not to say—Christians need to do a better job of understanding the purpose of marriage and what’s at stake when marriages are just “ok”. Date nights are strong statements that say, “I value my spouse among all others on earth, and I value God’s glory and His plan for us.”
—Marla C, Owensboro, KY

Tim: Quite right. But I would simply add that there are other ways of making that same statement.

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Well, between you and (hitherto unknown to me) blogger J.A. Medders, we’ve recently been treated to thorough arguments as to why we don’t need date nights. I’m not sure why the sudden need to attack this particular item but I’m a little surprised (by you, I’ve never read Medders). My wife and I have been married for 20 years this month and about a year ago we started a date night. Not because there were any problems but because as missionaries with a large family (6, now 7, children + one orphan we are caring for) learning an exceedingly difficult foreign language, not to mention my pastoring a small church–we need some weekly time away. It’s nothing fancy–Sometimes, we’re deciding what to do as we walk out the door–but it’s become a really nice thing for us to look forward to each week. I’m not really aware of some date-night-saves-your-marriage culture but you should both beware of criticizing something that may be helpful to many couples out there. There was one quote from Medders article (which you referenced and endorsed) that I found very telling. He said “In the early stages of my marriage there was a greater need for expected date nights; we were still getting to really know each other.” This set off major alarm bells. As I’ve counseled married men in the past (and will in the future), your wife is a “moving target”–IOW, just because you know her today doesn’t mean you’ll know her a year from now. Never take your knowledge of your wife who is a growing, changing person (just like you), for granted. I guess what really bothered me was the overall condescending nature of your post. In all the years I’ve been reading you (and you’re now the only blog I have the time or desire to read–other than the ones you link to) this may be the only time I’ve felt this negatively about something you’ve written. Overall, for me at least, this post was spectacularly unedifying.
—Ryan G, Taiwan

Tim: I would say you stand as proof of my point. Your marriage has survived and thrived for 20 years without a date night. That’s wonderful. And, again, I do not mean to say that date nights are bad. I simply mean to say they are not necessary.

And then there were some who disagreed somewhat uncharitably.

The headline of your article certainly caught my attention and I was suprised by it. Then, I realized the article was written by a man and I wasn’t suprised anymore. Sorry if that sounds snarky, but really that is how I feel. I get your point, really I do. But if your wife is being totally honest with you, she would like to write a rebuttal to your article and the headline would be, “Why My Husband Really Doesn’t Need Sex that Often…”
—Kellie O, Andover, KS

Tim: I hope I misunderstand this, but it seems to indicate that a date night is a kind of sexual transaction in which he takes her out in order to earn the right to sex. I fear this happens in too many marriages. But, please, whatever date nights are, don’t reduce them to a transaction!

Comments on Liberation Letter

Through the grace of God, I was delivered from the Mormon church over a decade ago. I was raised in the church from childhood, left for a few years at 18 when I refused to go on a mission because I had begun to question what they taught, and returned again as an adult after my wife and I suffered through the loss of a child and I was desperate for their “families are forever” theology. We were completely sold out – serving in callings, having our children baptized and sealed to us in the temple, receiving our temple endowments, and being sealed to my wife (sort of the Mormon version of a wedding ceremony – our civil ceremony would never do if we wanted exaltation). However, it didn’t take long for the old, nagging questions to surface and I eventually came to the same conclusions as the letter writer. I wrote my own letter to our local Mormon leadership and have never looked back. I do, however, continue to struggle against years of indoctrination that my salvation requires works and I am often overwhelmed by a sense that I should be doing more, reading more, serving more, praying more…performing more like some sort of trick pony trying to please God and always falling short. It has been difficult to walk in grace and let go of the old mentality but I am making progress every day as I remind myself that it is not anything I do but what Jesus has done for me. I, like the author, pray that those who have been deceived by the “Christian” veneer of Mormonism will have their eyes opened to the truth and write their own letters of liberation!
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR