dating in the age of bedtime

Date Ideas for Parents Who Don’t Want to Leave the House

Now’s your chance! Photo: Marcus Mok/Getty Images

This year, Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday. My day will look like any other, a long careen toward the ultimate goal: my baby’s bedtime. Lucky me, I’m in the stage of parenting where my son goes to sleep an hour or two before his parents.

Those post-bedtime hours are golden. I use them for short but crucial moments alone, to catch up on work or with a friend. It’s also prime time for hanging out with a romantic partner — a spouse, in my case. But if you’re like us, it’s rare for you to go out on a date, to drum up the energy to leave the house or the cash to pay for child care. That doesn’t mean romance is dead. It just means it’s contained inside your home for the time being.

Why spend money only to find yourself out on the town, miserable and wishing you’d never left the house? In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are five at-home date ideas for those blissful two hours between their bedtime and yours.

The Tropical Date

This date requires some imagination, but the payoff is huge.

Plan ahead: Where are your bathing suits? Find them. Order cheap ones online if you don’t have them. Make sure your bathroom is stocked with books and magazines.

Enact: Put on your bathing suits and grab a beverage of choice — something in a can is nice and feels like vacation. Once you’re suited up and have drinks, head into the bathroom and shut the door behind you. Do you have a bathtub, and are you and your partner small enough to fit inside at the same time? The tropical date is perfect for you. Draw a bath, pull your knees to your chest, and sit facing each other, drinks in-hand. Talk or don’t talk; the point is to do what you’d do if you were on a beach. Leaf through reading material if you like.

No bathtub? No problem: Turn on the shower and sip your canned beverage underneath the warm spray. This won’t be fun for long, but still accomplishes the main mission of this date: Yanking you out of your normal evening. Now you have to get dry and choose new outfits! (Pajamas are more than fine.)

End: Lie on top of your bedding with bare feet.

The Outside Date

I know, I know: February is cold! But maybe you live in a warmer place, or maybe you are of hearty stock and like to be outside in the winter. This idea works well if you have access to an outdoor space — a stoop, a fire escape, a backyard, but you know what? A hallway will do.

Plan ahead: Personally, I have never purchased a baby monitor, but if you have one: Put it on your person. If you don’t, download an app; I recommend this one, which is $3.99 and requires two phones (one can use the cracked-screen model you have lying around, just as long as it still turns on). Leave one phone in the baby’s room and configure it to the baby settings, then set up your phone as the parent. This takes a little fiddling — don’t be tricked into thinking you can do this the evening of your date. You can’t.

Enact: Grab your baby monitor or phone, pour yourself a drink, bundle up as appropriate, and slip out the door or window. Pizza works especially well as an accompaniment for this date, should it be warm enough to eat an entire meal outside. If it’s not, I’d recommend huddling close to each other for the length of exactly one drink.

Remember when you were dating and you’d scheme up ways to spend extra time with each other without revealing your intentions? Maybe you pretended to smoke cigarettes because she did back then, maybe you just happened to be heading in the same direction as him when you ran into each other on the street. Here the two of you are again, remembering the lengths you’d go to just to share the same space.

End: French like no one’s watching.

The Shared-Space Date

Maybe your baby sleeps in the alcove off the living room. Maybe you prefer to relax in your bedroom, which is also where your baby’s crib is. Don’t despair: The challenges of dating with a baby in the same room are high, but can be overcome.

Plan ahead: Buy a headphone-splitting device.

Enact: Your baby is asleep, and now it’s time to start tiptoeing. This, in itself, is romantic. You’ve learned to communicate with your partner in the language of looks and gestures. The stakes are high, and you’re doing great.

All you need to do now is plug your headphone-splitting device into a machine that accepts headphones. You’re going to listen or view something, anything — a movie, a podcast, an album. This is one step up from sharing one set of headphones, but just as intimate: Whatever culture you’re consuming comes from the same source. Just make sure the volume isn’t too loud — your sleeping baby is nearby.

End: Kiss softly on the lips. Then go to bed.

The No-Technology Date

It sounds simple, but there are a few things to consider.

Plan ahead: Make sure you’re caught up on work. As long as you don’t plan to be available for something post-bedtime hours, you won’t be.

Enact: If you’re the person putting the baby down, hand over your phone (exception for those feeding the baby to sleep — don’t torture yourself by sitting in the dark). Do you use a phone app instead of a baby monitor? That’s fine. Put the parent-enabled phone on top of the fridge, and leave it there. Do not turn on the TV. Do not listen to a podcast. Your apartment is silent (sort of). Shut your eyes, and ask yourself: What music should we listen to? Cue up some music, however you want, then banish that technology too — make sure you’ve chosen something you can listen to for the entire length of the date. Yes, making this decision adds some pressure, but you’re not the one putting the baby to bed.

Now, you eat. This could be delivery. It could be reheated leftovers (or cold ones, get real). Your only task is to sit near each other and eat. Like the Tropical Date, you can talk or not talk. All that matters is you’re not bound to a phone or a computer. After some peace, you might find that you want to talk to each other.

Are you talking about the baby now? That’s fine. But are you reaching for your phone to show your date a video of the baby throwing Cheerios? Stop that! If you have to talk about the baby, use your words. Scrolling through your phone for “just one thing” can lead to who knows what — an email from your boss or an Instagram by someone on an actual beach. You don’t want to see these things while you’re on a date.

End: Do you feel like slow-dancing? I think you do.

The No-Effort Date

It’s been a long week, month, and year. This date is the most obvious one.

Plan ahead: The key is not to plan ahead too much. Don’t decide what you’re going to eat the morning or day before you’re going to eat it. Around 4 or 5 p.m., text or chat some cravings to each other. The person who puts the baby down gets to choose if they have a strong craving, but if he or she can’t decide, they are 100 percent off the hook. The person who’s not doing bedtime: Yes, you are responsible for guessing what your partner wants and choosing an ideal arrival time. You can do this.

When ordering delivery, do not provide an apartment number. Say your buzzer is broken and they need to call you. This is key for when people visit as well, and something all new parents should be taught: DO NOT reveal your apartment number unless you absolutely have to.

Enact: One person does bedtime. The other person tidies up the rest of the apartment, readies drinks, fields the call from the delivery person. Bonus if you have time to slip out for a chocolate bar. Do NOT make the mistake of getting flowers when you should get chocolate. Flowers are just one more annoying thing requiring care and maintenance. Parents should never receive flowers as a gift.

When the bedtime-doer emerges, your date has begun. Do not waste a minute. Eat delivery, drink your beverages, zone out in front of the TV. Just as in the No-Technology Date, put your phones all the way across the room. This benefit of dating in the home cannot be emphasized enough: When you’re out, you need to be reachable at all times in case of an emergency. You’re not out. If there’s an emergency, you’re already part of it.

The person who did not do bedtime is also responsible for cleaning up.

End: Hold hands in bed. It sounds dorky, but it’s really nice. Trust me.

Date Ideas for Parents Who Can’t Leave the House