It was a perfect day for a date. The weather was sunny and warm but not overbearing. There was a light breeze. The restaurant patio was surrounded by trees and flowers; everything was lush and beautiful. My cocktail was bubbly. The enchiladas were cheesy and the guac was perfect.
Except it wasn’t. Not quite. Things were just ever-so-slightly off.
The couple who wore masks until their food arrived.
The spacing of tables on the patio, a space that’s usually packed, now spread out.
The signs reminding us to keep 6-feet apart.
The other signs reminding us that masks are mandatory indoors.
The side street, normally for parking, now given over to picnic tables for people to sit socially distanced with their take-out containers.
It was our first date since the pandemic began.
My husband and I went out to dinner the first week in March. Our next date—this date—was the last week in July: almost exactly five months later. Childcare for us has been non-existent. We’ve been without school and activities for months now. My husband’s parents live out-of-state; we haven’t seen them since February. My parents are both over 60 and my dad has pre-existing health conditions, so for a long time my parents were uncomfortable watching our kids for fear of spreading the disease. We were similarly wary of hiring a babysitter to come into our home. My parents eventually decided they felt comfortable watching the kids so long as they stayed outside, knowing that all too soon even that won’t be an option.
That last week in July was the first time since March 19th when both my husband and I had time—at the same time—without our three kids.
We made the most of our four hours. Our first stop was ice cream, which we ate while walking for a long time by the nearby lake. We wandered around the cute shopping area. I stepped into the bookstore myself while my husband waited outside. We ate an early dinner to ensure a spot on one of our favorite patios. We took our time there, luxuriating in the fact that we could order drinks and an appetizer and dinner on our own schedule.
It felt unbelievably nice to be out on our own again. Also: totally and completely bizarre. Four hours was a gift. Also: not nearly enough time to recover from being with our kids almost 24/7 for the past several months.
Are you familiar with this feeling? The feeling that when you do get time to yourself, especially when it’s been so long, it’s hard to relax into it because you’re so used to being on high alert. (Although it was still hard to rest completely while we were on high alert in a different way: to keep our distance, to wear our masks, to sanitize our hands.)
Still. It was a date. The pandemic version of one.
If getting out of the house for a date felt complicated before, it’s nothing to arranging everything during a pandemic. COVID-19 has complicated nearly everything in our lives, including something as seemingly simple as going out to dinner. For what it’s worth, here are some things my husband and I thought through:
Assess your comfort level.
Check in with yourself and your partner to see what you’re comfortable with. Neither my husband nor I feel comfortable eating inside a restaurant, so a good patio was a requirement for us. Also consider your childcare options. Maybe you feel comfortable with a close friend or family member watching the kids inside your home. Maybe, like us, that was less of an option. Check in with your babysitter to make sure they’re taking precautionary measures that fit your comfort level, too.
This is a must right now, especially if you plan to dine or drink out. Some restaurants/bars/breweries require reservations. Others don’t take them at all. Some have a time limit. Others don’t. And plan your time: it was important for us to be in an area where we could easily do several things without having to drive.
Acknowledge that things will look different.
If 2020 had a slogan it would simply say, “2020: things are different now.” Nothing will feel quite the same. It might get close, like it did for us. But our reality was that this was a date at 2 pm on a Thursday. My husband and I, thankfully, have flexible schedules. We wanted a time we could best guarantee social distancing. And though usually one of the most glorious parts of date night is having someone else put the kids to bed, on this day we arrived at the restaurant at 4:30 so we could get back to pick up the kids before bedtime.
Do what you can while you can.
Part of our motivation was to get out now, while we can still comfortably be outside. My husband and I most likely won’t be doing this as the weather gets colder. We hope to be able to do another pandemic date soon, to take advantage of outdoor patios and walks and walk-up ice cream spots and grandparents who can be outside with the kids now while we can enjoy the beautiful weather.
And when we can’t? There’s always take-out and Netflix in our pajamas. It’s not the same. But it’s better than nothing.