For self-proclaimed foodies Jeff and Candace Brown, a typical date night was usually spent dining out, enjoying the bounty of the city’s celebrated culinary scene.
“We love trying new restaurants, and since there is no shortage of great ones in Atlanta, we try not to go to the same place twice on a date night,” says Jeff Brown, a VP of marketing at a local non-profit.
But of course, all that changed at the start of the spring season when shelter-in-place measures limited the Browns, much like the rest of the state, to their home.
Yet, for some couples like the Browns, instead of feeling stuck, home confinement seemed to unleash newfound romantic creativity, and 2020 became the year for the in-home date night to flourish.
>> RELATED: Date night ideas during coronavirus isolation
“The coronavirus quarantine impact can also be used as a positive ‘relationship muscle builder,’” says certified relationship coach Paula Y. Martin of Marriage Relationship Synergy. “Couples who choose to alter their mindset and view the shelter-in-place mandate [now advisory] as an opportunity to spend time together use their energy to identify new ways to strengthen their connection with one another.”
Inspired by their mutual interest for the Food Network and cooking shows, the Browns, who live in Dacula with their two young children, started cooking together more throughout the course of quarantine. They even created a virtual cooking competition with a few of their married friends.
“The cooking challenge was a lot of fun,” says Candace Brown, a digital marketing entrepreneur. “It gave us a break from Netflix, allowed us some adult time with friends, and gave us a reason to break out our cooking skills together. It’s definitely something we’d do post-COVID-19.”
Likewise, Heather Freaney and her husband Kevin, also established a new date night routine at the start of quarantine, which they say they’d like to continue even as their usual go-to restaurants, spas and entertainment venues re-open.
“We started this on March 15, and we said we would have a different cocktail every day during shelter-in-place,” says Freaney, a teacher, who lives in Brookhaven with her husband and two young sons. “We basically created a master list of cocktails that we could make, using the ingredients we had or ingredients we could buy at the grocery store, namely juices. Then we just go through the list and see what sounds appealing that day.”
For hair stylist Jackie McCleskey and massage therapist Tia Wowk, dates during quarantine have shifted toward more time spent together in their Smyrna home garden.
“The quarantine has provided the time to perfect what we have back there,” McCleskey says about their backyard sanctuary. Her girlfriend Wowk adds, “We started growing a lot of vegetables, hostas, lemon trees, clematis— there’s all different kinds of stuff going on.”
For all these couples, date nights have become a welcome relief from the stress of COVID-19 and a nice break from the monotony of staying home. And as both a relationship expert and wife herself, Martin agrees. The Kennesaw-based marriage coach says any opportunity to share “intentional” activities with your partner will yield the benefit of a heightened “physical and emotional connection.”
So, let the date nights begin — if they haven’t already. But while some of the typical couples outings, like restaurants, movie theaters, parks, bowling alleys and other sites, are re-opening to welcome patrons, you may still be inclined to keep up social distancing measures just a little longer. But don’t worry, these couples are showing how you can still have a thriving love life in the time of the pandemic. Here are some great at-home date night ideas to keep your romance alive.
>>RELATED VIDEO: 5 Fun Things to Do While Quarantining With Your Partner
Sharpen your kitchen skills
The quarantine kitchen became a trend over social media with home cooks touting their freshly baked breads, scratch-made desserts, daring protein choices and other impressive feats. Now we’re all itching to show off our newly polished culinary skills, but the big dinner party plans may still be off the menu for a bit longer. Instead, why not try a virtual cook-off?
Creating a virtual cooking competition for their at-home date night, Jeff and Candace Brown found a way to flex their culinary talents while still social distancing.
The competition, the Browns say, was run similar to Food Network’s show “Chopped,” in which each couple sent five mystery ingredients via Instacart to another couple. Each couple had the tasks of preparing a meal for two with those mystery ingredients and anything else from their pantries.
“Once all the meals were cooked, each couple presented their dish, then judged the other three based on presentation, plating and creativity using the mystery ingredients,” says Jeff Brown, who utilized Zoom for their virtual kitchen throw down.
Need another hand in the kitchen? Cooks Warehouse in Peachtree Station is offering virtual cooking classes, in which guests can sign up to learn how to cook the perfect burger, jambalaya and more.
Step up your bar game
Off-premise spirits and alcohol sales have seen a spike since the start of quarantine, according to Nielsen research. Instead of just uncorking your favorite wine or trying a new brew, couples like Heather and Kevin Freaney are brushing up on their mixology skills, learning a list of classic cocktails and new-school specialties.
“Once it’s been made, it’s been crossed off the list, and we can’t make it again. Our favorites have been the French 75, painkiller, watermelon margarita, Malibu sunset and a Southside,” Heather Freaney says of their quarantine cocktail list. “We feed the boys, and then I put them to bed a little earlier while my husband Kevin picks up dinner. Once the boys are down, I set the dining room table up with our cocktail, some wine and tableware.”
The Freaneys used a recipe book and Internet research to create their list, however there are other online resources, such as Likewise Bar, based in Ponce City Market’s Citizen Supply, which offers virtual cocktail lessons and also hosts a daily 5 p.m. virtual happy hour on their Instagram stories.
Do-it-yourself home projects
If you’ve been home day-in and day-out for the last two months, then the word “shelter” has probably lost its appeal. If that’s the case, then consider repurposing or redesigning a space in your home to make it feel like a new escape.
Jackie McCleskey and Tia Wowk found themselves outside in their garden more, working together to transform the space into their idyllic home haven. The process not only proved to be a mental escape for both, but it was also another opportunity to bond over this shared experience.
“It’s therapeutic for me and Tia to actually weed. It quiets your mind,” McCleskey says, admitting she’s spent hours at a time absorbed in weeding without even knowing.
In addition to their gardening time, the couple also works on a lot of DIY decor projects together.
“We paint rocks. We turned an old baby changing table into a garden bed for our beans and okra,” Wowk says. “And it doesn’t have to be fancy either. It can be your own thing. My wish for people is that they get more creative.”
And if you need a little inspiration to spark your creativity and you don’t mind venturing out, check out the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which recently reopened to its members on May 18 and will open to the general public on May 23. All Atlanta Botanical Garden guests must have a timed ticket or timed reservation for admission, which are available at atlantabg.org.
Reminisce on classic memories
It’s hard to look ahead, let alone plan ahead, when there’s so much unknown surrounding COVID-19. So, when you can’t look toward that future romantic getaway, look back at your relationship highlights or replay one of those nostalgic moments from your dating years. That’s a date night activity that relationship coach Paula Martin personally enjoys with her husband of 39 years.
“Looking at old pictures of fun and memorable family events reminds us of how far we have come, the foundation we have built, how blessed we are, and the many joys and sorrows we have shared in life,” she says.
Throughout quarantine, Martin says she and her husband Rex have been listening to music and watching old sports replays (which is popular now since no new games are being aired). The walk down memory lane can spark conversation or trigger those romantic feelings of when you and your partner initially fell in love.
But whatever you decide to do for your date night, Martin says, it’s just important to carve out the time together because the purpose of a date night is to build new, enduring memories together. COVID-19 will certainly be an unforgettable life chapter for all of us, but quarantine could also be a defining moment in your love story as well.
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