Valentine's Day was Tuesday but my husband and I had our Valentine's date last Friday when we went to a glow bowling date night, at South Hanover Lanes, hosted by the Marriage and Relationship Education Center (MREC).
MREC hosts date nights several times throughout the year as a way to encourage couples to get out without the kids and put a little spark back in the relationship. Even though I work part-time for MREC, I'd never been to a date night event, so I signed up — not to work — but for the spark.
Dan and I seldom get out, unless it is stopping at Bob Evans on a Saturday while we are also going to the dump, picking up groceries and chasing a long list of other errands. After 36 years of marriage, we've found it's easy to become complacent — to go to work and home and follow the usual routines without putting the same amount of effort into keeping our relationship fun. And then there is the expense. But this date night was only $8 per person and it included bowling shoes and three games, so it wouldn't break the bank.
This was not our first time to bowl. We had just taken the grandkids duckpin bowling a few weeks ago. But this was the first time in a long time to bowl tenpins, and our first time to go glow bowling. And this time we could hang out with other couples.
It all started with a weekend post, shared on my Facebook page, by someone who knows I am obsessed with Chincoteague Ponies. The post showed a 2-year-old Chi
While waiting for everyone to arrive, we ordered a pizza dinner and made new friends. When it was time to bowl, the lights went out. All around us, colored lights danced on the floor and black lights gave neon bowling balls a bright new look. We were paired to bowl with two young couples we'd never met. What would they think of having an old couple hang out with them?
I needn't have worried. Both couples were sweet and funny and even cheered me on, despite my horrible bowling skills. Erica and Sean Haeffner were clearly real bowlers, racking up strikes and spares, while my balls crawled down the lane, veering right or left or making a slow hit in the middle, often splitting the pins. I think I was subconsciously thinking about baseball. That's what was holding me back, I'm sure. After all, in baseball, three strikes and you're out.
"We hadn't had a date night in a while," Erica said of why they had signed up. "It's very important to have date nights. You get caught up in everyday life and doing your everyday things and sometimes you don't stop to smell the roses. That's what a date night basically is to me. It's like, 'Hey, let's hang out together, be ourselves and just have fun and not have any worries.' This was definitely fun," she said. 'We bowl on a league so we never get to do glow bowling."
Andrea Danton said she and her significant other were encouraged to come by Erica, who is her sister.
"We normally don't go out or do fun activities," she said. "We stay inside and watch our saved TV shows, so this was a nice change of pace."
As the evening rolled on Dan finally saw his score go over 100 and I had one game in the 80s, laughable to a real bowler, but progress for us. The score didn't matter. The conversation, the atmosphere, the time with Dan — that all mattered. With all the laughter and chatter all around us, you couldn't hear a pin drop. Folks were clearly having fun.
I wasn't surprised to hear comments from bowlers throughout the night that mirrored my own feelings. The research I read while working at MREC supports a true need for couples to have date nights. That same data shows that couples frequently don't invest time in the most important relationship of their lives, their marriage.
A Redbook survey of readers shows that 45 percent of couples "rarely" have date nights, and a paltry 18 percent said they manage to go out about once a month.
Date nights aren't going to save a crumbling marriage but they add a new layer to the relationship and might keep the marriage out of trouble. And, hey, an occasional date is less expensive than divorce.
You might ask, what do date nights offer a relationship? Research from The Marriage Project at the University of Virginia shows that date nights foster stronger marriages and relationships through communication, commitment, and Eros — romantic love. The novelty helps, too, and it sure is a great way to destress.
That same study shows that those who find "couple time" at least once a week are 3.5 times more likely to report being "very happy" in their marriages, compared with those spending less alone time with their mates.
Dan and I are so busy running after our jobs, doing things for our kids or grandkids or racing off to volunteer somewhere that it seems we never find time for an actual date, for planning something fun for just the two of us to do together. Yet we did that last week and I am so glad we did. I'm learning that it is worth the effort to plan outings where we can laugh and listen to each other while having fun. And even though my back is still trying to recover after I chose a 13-pound ball — just because the holes fit my fat fingers — I would do it again. I think most or all of the other 30 couples who turned out felt the same.
Fred Wheatley brought his wife Linda. He said he hadn't bowled in about 15 years and was looking at this as a challenge, but it ended up being more.
"We never make time for a date night," he said. "And this was fun."
Dianna Wilson — who has been married nearly 14 years — was glowing. Not because of the black lights, but because she had won two raffle prizes.
"We've always done the date nights," Dianna said. "This is important. It helps hold a relationship together. You need to continuously realize the importance of your mate and spend time together alone. We have children and we have work and other things in our lives. You can start to lose track of everything, but this brings you back together again."
As we were getting ready to go, Dan smiled and told me when his friends asked how he did at bowling, he's going to say 340. "I just won't tell them that was for three games," he said.
After all these years, he still makes me laugh.
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Lois Szymanski is a Carroll County resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.