If you’re a parent who’s been in various stages of quarantine for the past 11 months, there’s a decent chance your last real date night out was Valentine’s Day 2020. Despite continued COVID-19 chaos, I’m here to assure you Valentine’s 2021 can be just as special, even if you’re stuck spending it in the home you now only leave for work, curbside grocery pickup and the neighborhood walks that constitute your entire social life. Just follow these five easy steps.
Step 1: Choose a dinner spot.
A great local restaurant can still be part of date night without indoor dining. A table on the patio is an option, though you’ve never worn mittens, a Carhartt beanie and a warm base layer to a fancy dinner before.
Maybe you’d better stick with takeout. You could try somewhere new, unless it’s all the way across town. Or if you’re not sure what you’ll like there. Do you really want to try duck a l’orange for the first time from a Styrofoam container in your living room?
Sticking to the familiar is probably a better idea. It’s not such a bad thing that your favorite Greek place knows what kind of pita you want as soon as they see your phone number pop up. Maybe they have free delivery for the holiday.
Step 2: Make plans for the kids.
Even if you’ve been quarantining with a few close friends, your pod pals also are trying to sneak in a date night this weekend, so no pawning the kids off on them. If you have toddlers, you can stop reading now. You’ll be spending your romantic evening adjusting a small human’s socks 14 times, even though they don’t normally wear socks to bed. If you have teenagers, toss a pizza through the door and hope they look up from whatever app is cooler than TikTok long enough to notice it’s there. If you have school-aged kids, start negotiating a few days in advance. Don’t feel bad if the final price of a few hours of guaranteed peace is your debit card PIN, three brands of licorice, a giant-sized package of fun-sized candy bars and a bag of Cheetos that will result in orange fingerprints in every room of the house, including the ones the kids didn’t go in.
Step 3: Pick a movie.
It’s OK if you gag a little every time you remember how you used to sit elbow-to-elbow with strangers in movie theaters letting them breathe on you for hours. With streaming services, you’re not missing out. Except that your neighbor finally changed his HBO Now password. And your free month of Hulu ran out three months ago. And you’ve finished Netflix — even the sports documentaries and Korean ghost dramas. You’d put in a DVD, but you got rid of them during that mid-April energy spurt when you purged everything from your closet so you could make a teeny-tiny home office with an actual door. There is that one show you keep skipping on Amazon Prime, the critically acclaimed one about horrible characters doing terrible things, but you’ve been trying really hard to remember that you liked people once and you might actually like to be around them again, someday. You should probably stick to sitcoms.
Step 4: Find something to wear.
Isn’t it cute how you sometimes put on a nice outfit in the early days of quarantine and pretended dinner at home was going out on the town? So young. So naive. So unaware how constricting and unnecessary buttons are. But you’ve liberated yourself. All your sweatpants are your good sweatpants now. Just, you know, smell yourself real quick before dinner comes. Your Valentine has gone nose-blind, but the delivery guy from the Greek place hasn’t.
Step 5: Enjoy your date!
Time to snuggle up with your sweetheart in your jammies with a big plate of chicken souvlaki, a bunch of Reese’s Hearts you stole from the kids and a plan to watch the “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode of “Community” for the fifth (sixth?) time before falling asleep on the couch at 8:15 p.m. It’s what you’ve always secretly dreamed of doing Valentine’s Day, anyway.