Who can think about romance in the middle of a pandemic?
I’d argue that this is exactly when it’s most important to think about romance — because it’s most threatened during the dreary stay-at-home experience, and because it can make the biggest difference in our lives.
Dating might not strictly qualify as “essential business” during this pandemic, but it is still important to the health of your relationship, even long after you’ve tied the knot. Maintaining a romantic connection invigorates a relationship, and there’s no better way to maintain a connection than by continuing to “date” each other.
For many couples, having a date night is the last thing on our weary minds, so here are some ideas on how you can intentionally spend some quality time with your S.O. during this strange time without breaking the bank or leaving your home.
All you need is a clear night, a location far away from the lights of the city, and a blanket. Toss in a bottle of wine if you’re being ambitious.
I like to imagine that stargazing was the most ancient of dates and that our ancestors would point out constellations and tell stories of ancient heroes and monsters. If you’re like me, however, chances are good that you’re not constellation-literate like most were centuries ago, which is okay, because there’s an app (or dozen) for just this problem. My favorite is Night Sky — and honestly, if you can pull it off, it’s worth paying the full price for all the bells and whistles, which would still make the date cheaper than your typical dinner-and-movie.
2. Dress up & dance
This might sound insane, but honestly — what’s one more insane thing right now? Remember that dress or tie you bought for your cousin’s spring wedding that just got cancelled? Put it on — along with your fancy shoes, some lipstick or hair gel, perfume or cologne, and clear the living room, dim the lights, and play some tunes (here’s a playlist to get you started). Bonus points if you use the strobe lights and fog machines leftover from your Halloween party.
If you’re the drinking sort, don’t be afraid to start with some liquid courage before you start swinging. It might be just what you need to loosen up and get your dance party on.
3. Do a hot sauce challenge
Ever watch Youtuber Sean Evans interview famous people on Hot Ones? Here’s the premise: you try 10 increasingly hot sauces on chicken wings (the Kristen Bell episode reveals there are vegan versions) and you see how well you can hold your own as you tell stories to each other. We know this could be rather expensive if you don’t already have your collection of 10 hot sauces, but fortunately Amazon has us covered, selling a gift set of 10 increasingly hot sauces for only $30 — again, still cheaper than your average dinner-and-a-movie date!
Laugh at each other’s faces as you go through the heat, and see if you can outlast each other. Pro-tip: be sure to stock celery and maybe even some milk.
4. Read to each other by candlelight
This romantic idea might have sharply declined with the invention of the TV, but reading together (à la Beauty and the Beast) is actually one of the most underrated and romantic things you can do, and the Victorians knew it. Turn back time and read an adventure story with old fashioned candlelight (or even better, a roaring fire in the fireplace) and take turns reading the chapters out loud. It’s a cathartic pastime that will bring you closer as you empathize with the lives of characters together.
5. Cocktails and comedy
We can’t go to comedy or improv show these days — but that doesn’t mean comedians are sitting idle and twiddling their thumbs. In fact, many of them are out there producing relevant comedic relief for our current quarantine status. You could try a solid classic, such as The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or dive into Mike Birbiglia’s new ongoing show Tip Your Waitstaff, where he co-hosts with other big names in stand-up for a show, and tips go to various wait staffs at comedy clubs across the nation.
If it’s your thing — definitely whip up a cocktail or two. The right show can make you laugh so hard that you get all those pent up tears out. If you want to make sure your stand-up is clean, check out the The Dry Bar on YouTube — they might not serve alcoholic beverages, but that clearly doesn’t matter right now. Plus, this guy is hilarious.
6. Fine dining (in)
Depending on either your preferences or cash flow, there are several ways to arrange for a prepared meal: If you are near a higher-end restaurant still taking orders — go ahead, order in. Choose the most uncluttered part of the house with a table (or maybe the backyard?), pull out the table cloth and turn on the kind of music you’d hear in that restaurant (if it’s Italian, Sinatra is a fool-proof choice), and set the table extra special — yes, this means cloth napkins and an extra fork! Dress to impress, light a candle, and pick your favorite alcoholic pairing, then unwind as your taste buds transport you.
If you’re more adventurous in the kitchen, put on an apron over your going-out outfit, and choose a meal that will transport you to another place. Check out Bon Appétit videos if you need culinary inspiration.
Either way, don’t forget an appetizer and dessert! You’ll want to pace yourself as you take turns waiting on each other.
7. Take a virtual stroll through a famous museum
Hundreds of famous museums and sites across the globe have opened their doors virtually — and you can go visit them with your S.O. as long as you have a solid internet connection. Take your time as you “stroll” through the elegant halls in the famous Uffuzi Gallery in Florence, or the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, or the Museu de Arte in São Paulo, Brazil, where works are displayed as if they’re hovering in mid-air. (For a more inclusive list, check out this roundup from Travel + Leisure).
If you want to give the date a little whimsy or structure, make it a “penny date.” This means you grab a penny, have your partner choose a number between 10 or 20 (or 50 — I mean, we have time, right?) and flip the penny for each time you come to a crossroads on your virtual tour. Heads is right, tails is left. Once you reach your number, you’ve found your piece of “art.” Then you discuss: What does it call to mind? What does it make you think of?
Or just stroll at your own speed — whatever works for your relationship.
Tip: Don’t forget high-end snobby coffee you can throw in your French press or pour-over so you can talk about profound artsy things afterward.
8. Church and tea (and cookies?)
If you feel like your relationship needs a little divine inspiration, consider streaming Mass (our favorite is Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire on Youtube) — and talk about the homily over some tea and cookies, or if the weather is nice, taking a walk afterward. It’ll feel just as if you’re sitting in the cafe you’d normally drop into after Mass, and definitely not your kitchen 10 steps from your TV.
It can be easy to get caught up in the dreariness of day-to-day living in this pandemic, and the experience is raising questions that are well-suited to spirituality. Using a church service, even viritually, can give us a profound sense of peace, especially if it’s with someone you love.
9. Play some Enya and give (and get?) a massage
We’ve all got a little extra tension these days, don’t we? Be it the less-than-ideal home office chair or the constant act of shaking off impending doom, it’s safe to say that our shoulders are holding more tension than usual right now. Offer to serve your loved one with a massage — dim the lights, throw some fragrance in the air (via candles, essential oils, or even incense if you’re extra), and turn on some relaxing spa music as you rub some oil or lotion their back. It only takes 10 minutes to learn how to massage like a pro, and if you’re lucky they’ll return the favor another night.
Tip: I’m sure by now, at this point, you’re all too familiar with your partner’s problem areas, so keep in mind when choosing an area of their body to focus on. Neck? Calves? Headaches? If you have no idea what you’re doing (you’re in good company), Youtube is a fantastic resource to learn simple techniques for specific areas, and your S.O. will definitely be thanking you for your attention to detail.
10. Host your own bake-off
The next season of the insanely popular Great British Baking Show (or just “Bake Off,” if you’re in Britain) will sadly be delayed due to coronavirus (as if things could get worse!) — but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring baking competitions into your home. Our suggestion? Pick one of the “technical” challenges from any of the previous seasons and — ready, set, bake! Once you’re done, you can even sit back and channel your inner Paul Hollywood.
Be sure to use the step-by-step instructions listed on PBS website, and you’ll hopefully fare much better than the contestants on the show, who are usually given the bare minimum of instructions and not a lot of time. You can get as ambitious as you need to: try the Charlotte Royale, Prinsesstarta, or my favorite, Kouign Amann. Just double check that you have all the right ingredients and equipment *before* you start, which might involve a little extra planning. Maybe your hips won’t thank you, but your loved one definitely will.
And during quarantine, that’s all that matters, right?