12/17/2014 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What I Learned About Romance From a Year of Dates With My Husband

Ashlee Gadd

Last Christmas morning I sat on the couch in my PJs, sipping hot cocoa from my favorite mug while I watched my husband open his last gift. He looked at the brown box curiously before pulling out 12 small cards with a monthly date night printed on each one.

"See?" I exclaimed proudly. "Now you don't have to listen to me whine about date night for a WHOLE YEAR!"

(In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have led with that.)

You see, 2013 was our first full year as parents. It was the year we slept the least, bickered the most, reanalyzed our roles around the house three dozen times, and changed more than 2,500 diapers (approximately).

It was also the year we forgot about date night.

Well, I guess we didn't forget per se. It just became easier to stay home and call a carton of ice cream combined with a Breaking Bad marathon "date night" than it was to put on real pants and leave the house looking like two functioning people of society.

It was sad, really. We had a laundry list of excuses. We're tired! We hate paying for babysitting! We don't feel like it! This month is too busy! Did we mention that we are tired?

I let the blame fall squarely on my husband's shoulders. I wanted to be pursued; I wanted him to give me a reason to dress up. Me, me, me. Poor me. It was easy to grow bitter, to play the victim and complain till I was blue in the face.

"You never plan date nights for us anymore!" I whined constantly.

(Side note: who wants to date someone who whines all the time?)

My princess mentality was getting me nowhere, and finally, one day, it hit me. I'm the planner in the family -- the one who thrives on calendars and to-do lists and planning vacations full years before they actually take place. My husband is much more spontaneous and go-with-the-flow. Quality time is my love language, not his. Why was I stewing in our bedroom, harboring resentment towards him for not planning dates when I was more than capable of planning them myself?

So last Christmas, I took matters into my own hands. I planned 12 date nights for us to complete in 2014 -- rain or shine, no excuses. We went to a painting class and learned how to salsa dance and hiked around the river preserve at sunset. We ate corn dogs at the state fair, cheered for our home team at a basketball game, and enjoyed a gourmet picnic dinner at a local farm on a totally average Tuesday night. Last weekend we went to the drive-in and ate Milk Duds and Hot Tamales in the trunk of my car, snuggled up in a makeshift fort under the stars watching Katniss Everdeen on the big screen.

None of the dates was extravagant or super expensive, and that was the point. They were simply better than Netflix and ice cream. Because we wore clothes that were not sweatpants and I even wore lip gloss sometimes and for an entire year, once a month, we left the house together, just the two of us.

We held hands in the car. We flirted over dinner. We shared candy at the movies. To be perfectly honest, nothing extraordinary happened. We didn't fall in love all over again or run through flowery fields in slow motion while Sam Smith played in the background. That's not what the year of dates was about.

The year of dates was simply about taking back date night. It was about setting aside time to focus on each other without a baby in the room. It was about toddler-free conversations, lip gloss and real pants, dinners that didn't involve high chairs or sippy cups. It was about making room to dream together, to laugh together, to tell secrets and hold hands.

It was about demonstrating on a regular basis that our marriage is important -- a force to be reckoned with. It was about showing our children that our marriage is a separate entity from them, even though the lines often feel blurry at home.

It was about reminding ourselves that as much as we love our children, we loved each other first.

Not all of our dates were perfect. One of them ended in a fight. A few of the adventurous dates were modified to accommodate my almost year-long pregnancy. But as we get ready to wrap up the year, I can honestly say: I am proud of us for sticking to it. We went on a date night every single month this year -- a commitment that, at times, truthfully felt like a lot of work.

The year of dates was a practice in discipline. That might sound unromantic, but I'm learning that when you have small children constantly vying for your attention, sometimes you have to practice discipline to create the space for romance. Marriage is hard work, and date night is no exception, but if there's one thing I know for certain, it is this: time spent on your marriage is always energy (and money!) well spent.

We're already planning another year of dates for next year, only my husband promised to plan half of them this time around. We even have a friendly bet going for who can plan the best date (I'm totally going to win).

If you and your spouse have gotten in a rut with Netflix and ice cream, might I suggest you join us? Let's raise our glasses this New Year and toast together to a year of dates -- here's to quality time, to lip gloss and real pants, to a little bit of romance, and maybe even some good ol'-fashioned making out in 2015.

This post was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs.

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