Getting bored of the typical date nights? Casey Monteleone, a guest outdoor columnist at The WON, has 5 ideas for magical outdoor dates.~MC
I have a crazy life. I have 2 amazing daughters—the lights of my life. I have an incredible and tiring full-time job. I have a house that I can never seem to keep tidy or organized. I have a yard that I can never seem to keep trimmed, and when I pull one weed it seems like 2 grow back in its place. I have an endless list of errands that require more time, energy and focus than I have to give. I don’t keep up with the Joneses. Now, I don’t want this to be misconstrued as a rant: I know that I am so blessed and fortunate for everything I have, and I wouldn’t trade my frazzled and chaotic life for anything in the world. I’m sure you can relate.
After a few failed attempts, I finally got lucky in love. I have a wonderful relationship with a man I adore. He always provides support and encouragement, and loves me and all of my flaws. I cherish our time together, and look forward to our date nights with a wild, girlish anticipation.
I also have a burning passion for the great outdoors. I was camping in the pristine and rugged mountains of eastern Oregon before I could even walk. I grew up hiking and learning how to survive in the wilderness on bare essentials. As a young girl, I shot guns at tin cans for target practice in the back yard on my parents’ farm. I could gut and fillet a fish before I could ride a bike. Everything that I grew up doing led me to develop a full-blown addiction to being outdoors.
When I am outside, I feel tranquil, rooted, rejuvenated … alive.
So, fast forward to the present. Every week, giddy anticipation of date night bubbles over into wild excitement. My hard-working man and I each wrap things up at work. He gets the kids from daycare while I finish up my weekly errands, and we finally get home from another exhausting and stressful week. His bloodshot eyes lovingly gaze upon my puffy, sleep-deprived face and he asks me the age-old question: “So, what do you want to do for date night?”
Now, if you’re anything like we used to be, you would go back and forth a few times throwing out the same ideas week after week, then finally settle on the same Mexican restaurant we’d always go to. We’d plow through an entire bowl of chips, inhale dinner platter No. 13 in record time, and rush to the movie theater, hoping to make it in time to get good seats. Then we’d spend about $85 on tickets, popcorn and water, then sit there silently in a dark room while thinking about how much cheaper it would have been to wait for this stupid movie to come out on DVD and snack on some Orville Redenbacher’s instead (yes, I know movie-theater liquid butter is amazing, but the thought of watching a movie on my couch in PJs outweighs even the greasiest overpriced bag of delicious popcorn).
On one of these routine date nights, as I was halfway through platter No. 13, I had an epiphany: We don’t have to do this.
We have a sitter, we are alone and free, and can do whatever we want. Why monotonize the 1 night each week that should allow us the opportunity to spice things up and be adventurous? Why sit in a dark room and silently stare at a flickering screen, devoid of all interaction and romantic connection?
We can do better than this.
We made a commitment to bring back the adventure and spark. That night, we finished our dinner, went to a deserted parking lot down the street with rolling hills engulfed by towering pine trees. We found a spot where we could see the sky, and we stretched out on the damp grass together. I lay my head on his chest, and we looked up at the stars. We made up new and silly constellations, traced them out with our fingers as we laughed and giggled, broken apart by moments of silence where all I could hear was his heart beating and the gentle purr of his breath. Every now and then, I’d close my eyes and feel his body radiating heat, contrasted by the cool blades of grass tickling my neck and arms. I breathed in the ruddy, musky smell of the earth, the intoxicating perfume of nature. We rediscovered our connection to each other, and to the magical tranquility of the earth.
OK. So I’m sure you’re thinking this sounds a little cheesy, and even if you wanted to spice it up and kick your date nights up a notch, you’re not sure where to start. Well, you’re in luck. I’ve put together a list of my 5 favorite outdoor dates to get you started.
1. Take a hike.
The couple that sweats together stays together. No, really: It’s been scientifically proven that couples who take on physically challenging adventures together are actually happier, healthier and more in love with each other (Aron, Norman, Aron & Heyman, 2000). So, dust off your hiking boots, grab a map, and make some magic on the trail. Be sure to bring a picnic basket (or backpack), complete with a blanket, snacks, wine and candles. Once you reach the top of the trail, take a break, get cozy with your lover, and feed each other wine, cheese and chocolates while looking out over the picturesque mountain you’ve just conquered together.
2. Play in the Water
There’s an anonymous quote I’ve seen shared on social media: “Love is like water — we can fall in it, we can drown in it, but we can’t live without it.”
Just like love, water can be tranquil and soothing or turbulent. It can be as quiet as a delicate, warm whisper, or it can passionately roar as it barrels through rocks and cuts through mountains. Like water, love always finds a way.
For this adventurous date, grab your honey and head to the nearest body of water. If you prefer to be on the water, take a romantic ride in a canoe, kayak or boat. If you’re the type who would rather be in the water, try paddleboarding or snorkeling together. All of these activities require no prior experience, offer gorgeous scenery and will get your heart pumping (from the workout, and from seeing your love bird putting his muscles to good use). Once you’re done, be sure to take the time to relax and snuggle on the shore together as the sun sets. There’s nothing more romantic than curling up in a blanket together to warm up.
3. Star-Crossed Lovers
One of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights in the universe is the dark night sky set ablaze with twinkling stars. For a truly romantic (and maybe a little nerdy) date night, get a blanket and head outside after the sun sets. Find a spot with a clear view of the night sky and curl up with your sweetie for an astronomy lesson for 2. Look for constellations (or create your own), planets and shooting stars; and be sure to sneak in a few kisses as you lean in close to point out what you find. There are several free apps you can download that show you all of the constellations in any part of the sky that you hold your phone up to. The one I’ve got is called “SkyView Free—Explore the Universe,” and if you dig astronomy, it’s amazing. As an added bonus, you can do this in your own backyard and it doesn’t cost anything or take any special planning. If you don’t have a sitter or forgot to plan date night, put the kids to bed and get out under the stars.
4. Backyard Camp-Out
I love camping. The smell of firewood, the sound of logs crackling and popping as they cast playful shadows on the ground and the smoky taste of anything you cook on a stick. This is another one of those date nights that doesn’t require babysitting or too much planning, other than a quick trip to the grocery store for some campfire essentials. Grab some hot dogs, buns, s’more supplies and hot chocolate (and perhaps some peppermint schnapps), then put the kids to bed and sneak outside for some fireside romance. Set up 2 camping chairs, light up the fire pit, and have a backyard campout with your snuggle bug. If you don’t have a fire pit, you can find them online for anywhere from $40 to $300. If you don’t have the time or budget to get a fire pit, a barbecue will do. For an extra fun night, set up a tent and spend the night wrapped up in a sleeping bag and your lover’s arms.
Slap on your cowboy boots and saddle up. For an unforgettable adventure, find a local horse or dude ranch and take your love out to the range. The Dude Rancher’s Association offers a great online resource for finding the nearest ranch. This adventure offers up loads of jaw-dropping scenery and a truly magical connection with some amazing animals. After your horseback ride, keep on your boots and hat and hit up your local country-western tavern for some line dancing and a few cold ones. This activity could either be a date or an entire getaway. Most dude ranches offer vacation packages that include a room, meals and several activities in addition to horseback riding, like bird watching, mountain biking, river rafting, hay rides, western dancing, campfires, cookouts, canoeing, rock climbing, skeet shooting and archery.
So there you have it. No more excuses for not making the absolute most of your date nights. No more predictable conversations about which movie to see this week. I still make time to go out for platter No. 13 because it’s delicious, but it’s time to take in more than just amazing Mexican food on your date nights. Take in your lover and take in everything this gorgeous world has to offer. You deserve connection, adventure and to live for more than your schedule, errands and routines. You deserve a life full of joy, wonder and magic. Now get outside and create it together.