love these days

Dating at Home Can, In Fact, Be Romantic

Illustration: By Stevie Remsberg

Staying in for a romantic night has always been a nice alternative to going out for a date. Sometimes it’s fun to not have to go anywhere, to make home feel new and special. For those of us who are isolating with our partners, our date options, for now, are mostly of the at-home variety. In that spirit, we’ve put together a bunch of at-home ideas to try for your next date night.

Dress up and have a fancy dinner. It’s easy to want to stay in comfortable clothes while you’re at home. But to make date night special and to feel a bit normal, why not dress up? Make an effort. Look nice. Have predinner cocktails, light candles, find a “romantic dinner music” playlist on the streaming service of your choosing. Have a “night out” at home.

Paint each other’s portraits. If you drink, you’ll need wine for this. Set up newspaper on the floor, paints, paintbrushes, and two canvases and attempt to paint each other’s likeness. If you’re not that daring, maybe you can instead both attempt to paint a fruit bowl or a pet.

Pick from the bowl of secrets. You and your partner each write down 20 things the other person might not know about you, cut each of them out, fold them into tiny squares, and put them in a bowl. Thinking of 20 secrets may seem hard if you’ve been together for a long time, but they don’t have to be big secrets — things like, “This is my favorite pen to use in the apartment.” “This is the last interaction I had with a neighbor.” It may sound boring, but nothing is really that boring if it’s handwritten on a small, folded-up piece of paper. Take turns picking. There is only one bowl of secrets, so if you pick your own secret, just fold it up again and toss it back. (You do lose a turn, though.)

Play a board game. If you’re having trouble remembering a two-player board game other than Scrabble, you can check out some of the best two-player board games here.

Give each other massages. “I don’t know how to give a massage,” you might be thinking, but you can look it up online. Watch a YouTube video about how to do it, maybe. “Does this feel good?” you can ask your partner. They’ll probably be nice about it even if it doesn’t.

Abandon a puzzle together. You might feel the urge to do a puzzle as a date night activity. We understand. It does seem like a nice activity for two people who are spending a quiet night at home. Maybe you can light a scented candle, put on some relaxing music. Have some cheese and crackers while you do the puzzle. But please, feel free to abandon the puzzle once you realize it has gotten boring. No one is watching. You don’t need to finish the puzzle.

Listen to a scary story. Find a recording of a scary story, maybe from an old-timey radio show or a new-timey podcast, light a few candles, turn out all of the lights, lie down on the floor, and get spooked.

“Restaurant Wars.” This is a special idea because it’s actually two dates. Maybe you do it on a Friday and Saturday night. Inspired by the signature Top Chef challenge “Restaurant Wars,” you and your partner will each have a night to design a restaurant. Name it, put together a menu, put together a specific style of décor, a specific vibe. Then, on Sunday, or whatever the next day is, you decide a winner (a “top chef,” let’s say). If there are only two of you in the house, you have to be very honest; you can’t just vote for yourself if you were the worse restaurant. But if you have children and they’re allowed to participate in date night, they can be the tie-breakers.

Play “remember this?” This is a more “comfortable” date option. Make some popcorn and bring up YouTube on your computer, or the YouTube app on your TV. Pass the computer or remote to each other, back and forth, each alternating a turn finding whatever clip they remember in that moment. Maybe it’s a play from a basketball game, or an old SNL sketch, or a music video. Maybe it’s a viral video from ten years ago or a Vine. Play it for the other person and say, “remember this?”

Have an indoor picnic. Set up a blanket on the floor, put nature sounds on the television or computer. If you have a picnic basket, pack it with whatever is in the fridge and maybe a chilled rosé. Unpack your basket on the blanket, eat your picnic dinner on the floor. Each of you will think, “Why are we doing this?” But the answer is: to have fun.

Have an indoor beach night. Set up a towel on the floor, put ocean sounds on the television or computer. (Yes, this is a similar idea to indoor picnic.) Wear bathing suits. Put on enough sunscreen to get the scent of it but not enough to feel like you’re wasting sunscreen. Have a lighter dinner, something beachy — maybe fish tacos? (Figuring out how to make a good fish taco is on you.) Have a fruity cocktail, maybe blend something with ice. Listen to beachy music. Spray each other with a spray bottle full of water to mimic an ocean mist. Yes, this might seem a little dire, but try to remember that beaches still exist and you’ll be able to actually go to one another day.

Have a yoga night. Queue up a yoga video — maybe Yoga With Adriene? — burn some sage, put on some relaxing music, and stretch. You’ll feel like you did something good for your bodies and your spirits.

Have sex. This one is fairly self-explanatory.

Bake an insane cake. Find a recipe online for the sort of cake you’d never make ever, let alone for two people, because it seems complicated and insane and like it would just be too much cake. Then: Attempt to make that cake.

Take turns being the DJ. There are few things better than making someone else listen to the exact song you want to listen to in the exact moment you want to listen to it. Take turns queuing up songs on the Sonos or putting on records. Make sure the other person is really listening when it’s your turn for a song — “This is a really good one,” you can say. “Make sure you’re listening.”

Memorize a scene from a movie and then film yourselves performing it. Your instinct will be to share this on social media, and you can, but it’s not required. It would be a nice artifact to have even if you just kept it private, to watch sometime in the future. “Here was the night we performed the ‘it’s not your fault’ scene from Good Will Hunting together! Remember, you were Matt Damon? I was Robin Williams?” “Ah yes, that was so … well, it seems gauche to say it was fun, considering the content of the scene, but it was a fun activity. Next time we should maybe pick a lighter scene.” “Yeah. But still a fun idea, yeah.”

Shuck oysters. But PLEASE be careful!

Watch a classic film that’s new to you. Figure out a movie neither of you has seen that is widely regarded as a classic, and then watch it with a bowl of popcorn and a bunch of movie snacks. Decide together, honestly, if it really should be regarded as such a “classic.” Is it even … that good? Don’t worry, no one is listening.

Play “guess who I am.” This is an impression-based game, and there is no score and no winner. You simply say “guess who I am” and then do an impression. (To make it more of a “date,” you should make some hors d’oeuvres, have date-light lighting. Really make a thing of it.) They don’t all have to be vocal impressions; maybe you can make a face that you think looks like Robert DeNiro or do the kicks that you think your partner should recognize as those from a member of The Wizard of Oz’s Lollipop Guild.

Write a song together. If you’re musically inclined or even just have access to a musical instrument, you can try to write a song together in under three hours. Maybe you’ll become so inspired that you’ll create a whole album. Then maybe you’ll get famous!

Play “just the pilot.” This is a night where you and your partner are allowed to force each other to watch just the pilot of a TV show you love but that your partner has so far refused to watch with you from beginning to end no matter how many times you’ve begged. Gallery Girls, Sex and the City, Deadwood. You each get to pick, and the other person has to watch just the pilot.

Learn a dance. Maybe a TikTok?

Pick from the bowl of questions. Like the “bowl of secrets” idea, during this date night, you and your partner will each write down 20 questions (for example, “What is the worst novelty cocktail you’ve ever had?”) and crumple them up and place them in a bowl. The slight difference here is that you always have to answer, even if you pick your own question.

Play mixologist. You know how at a certain kind of cocktail bar, the bartender will ask you what kind of taste you’re looking for and then they’ll attempt to make you a cocktail to suit that taste? Why not try doing that? (A nonalcoholic version, of course, for those abstaining.) Ask your partner what kind of drink they’d like to have — what kind of spirit, fruity, not-so-fruity. You’ll be limited to the liquors and ingredients available in your home, but that will either make it more fun or more disgusting. There is only one way to find out.

Share your favorite stand-up specials. You can learn a lot about another person based on what they think is funny. Mitch Hedberg? Chris Rock? Maria Bamford? Even if your partner has seen your favorite stand-up special, I doubt they’ve seen it recently, so it’s fine; they can watch it again. (Each of you gets to pick one.)

Make another papier-mâché couple. You and your partner each make a papier-mâché head out of a balloon, some newspaper scraps, water, and flour. (You can look up how to do it online.) You can decide together whether you want the heads to be yourselves or other people. Maybe they can be “friends.” And then during future date nights, you can say, “Should we invite Richard and Jessica?” (Or whomever.) And your partner can be like, “… Nah.” And you can say, “Yeah, I’d rather it just be us.”

Attempt to take a fancy bath together. Are you lucky enough to have a bathtub that’s a decent size? Light candles, put on some music. Put in some bath oils and bubbles. Let the lighting be romantic. Clean the bathroom beforehand so you’re not thinking, “This bathroom is gross,” but instead are thinking, “It’s so nice that the bathroom is clean now, even after the date is over.”

Write a play together. This should be a short play, maybe just one act. Each of you takes turns writing a line of dialogue. Then you can send your play to people and make them read it. “It’s pretty good!” they’ll tell you. “Okay. Do you want to put it on sometime?” you can ask. “Well. I don’t know … Why would we do that, and how?” they’ll say. “We can do it over Zoom,” you can say. I’m not sure if they’ll respond at that point, but you can see.

Dating at Home Can, In Fact, Be Romantic