Reinventing Date Night

by Brian on April 17, 2008

in Just For Fun

My wife Jody and I try to go out for a date night once a week. Sometimes we slip to once every two or three weeks. So when we do get out, we want to make sure it’s good.

Regular readers will know we’re big fans of sushi. So when we heard that our favorite sushi bar had opened a new branch just a few minutes drive from our home, we hastened to give it a try.

We knew something was wrong when we arrived. There were no tables and chairs in the restaurant. Was this a new twist on trendy – the standing room only establishment? We asked at the counter.

“Sorry, we’re only open for take out this week,” the friendly proprietress told us. It was a few days before the Passover holiday, and they were cleaning out their hametz – the leavened bread forbidden during the seven days of Pesach.

Now, a sushi bar doesn’t serve bread per se, but rice is one of the grains classified as kitniyot, “legumes” that appear similar enough to the main prohibited foods that the Rabbis forbade them on Pesach as well.

I was sorely disappointed. I had my heart set on a satisfying sushi meal and it seemed a shame to leave empty handed. Jody had an alternative proposal. “Why don’t we do take out and eat it in a park?” she suggested.

I was hesitant. I had imagined a sumptuous sit down meal with sake and miso soup for an opening course. After some back and forth discussion, I eventually acceded and we ordered some tuna sashimi, sea bass maki and a unique sushi sandwich with sesame seed peppered rice arranged on three sides and a special sauce doused liberally on top.

We took our sushi and headed for nearby San Simon Park. We parked ourselves under a tree, took out our chopsticks and dug in.

Little did we know we were doing exactly what scientists say a long married couple ought to in order to rekindle the romantic love that brought them together in the first place.

In an article by Tara Parker-Pope entitled “Reinventing Date Night for Long-Married Couples” appearing in the New York Times on February 12, 2008, Parker-Pope argues that “simply spending quality time together is probably not enough to prevent a relationship from getting stale.”

“Rather than visiting the same familiar haunts,” Parker-Pope writes, “couples need to tailor their date nights around new and different activities that they both enjoy.” Parker-Pope cites Arthur Agron, a professor of social psychology at the State University of New York: “The goal is to find ways to keep injecting novelty in the relationship. The activity can be as simple as trying a new restaurant or something a little more thrilling, like taking an art class or going to an amusement park.”

Or having sushi on a sunset picnic dinner in a local park.

Reinventing date night is not just new age pseudo-psychology. It’s based on serious brain science. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. “These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner,” Parker-Pope writes.

“We don’t really know what’s going on in the brain,” comments anthropologist Helen E. Fisher of Rutgers University. “It seems that as you trigger and amp up this reward system in the brain that is associated with romantic love, it’s reasonable to suggest that it’s enabling you to feel more romantic love.”

Experiments prove out the theory. In one study, researchers recruited 53 middle-aged couples. Using standard questionnaires, the researchers measured the couples’ relationship quality and then randomly assigned them to one of three groups.

The first group was instructed to spend 90 minutes a week doing familiar and pleasant activities like dining out or going to a movie. Couples in the second group were told to spend their 90 minutes on “exciting” activities that that the couple didn’t usually do, like attending a concert, hiking or dancing. The third group was not assigned any particular activity.

After 10 weeks, the couples again took tests to gauge the quality of their relationships. Those who had undertaken the “exciting” date, Parker-Pope writes, showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction over the “pleasant” date night group.

Our own experience was similar. As we sat under that tree in the park, thoroughly enjoying our elegant take out meal as a warm Jerusalem breeze fluttered around us and the sun slowly sank between the almond trees, both Jody and I commented on how romantic our evening had become. “Much better than sitting in a loud, crowded restaurant,” Jody said to me as we held hands and watched mothers pushing strollers around the park and dogs romping with their owners.

“You don’t have to swing from the chandeliers,” Dr. Fisher told Parker-Pope. “Just go to a new part of town, take a drive in the country or better yet, don’t make plans at all and see what happens to you.”

Which, however inadvertently our night started out, is exactly what we did.

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