IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How going on 'anti-dates' saved my marriage

I’ve never been comfortable with romantic date nights. So I came up with a solution: the anti-date.

I never expected that a morning in Target would alter the course of my marriage.

On a sunny winter day, I found myself standing in the home decor aisle with my partner, Liam. I’d dragged him to Target after a ridiculous idea bloomed in my mind: I wanted him to guess the scents of all the candles they sold, while blindfolded. 

I tied my purple scarf around his blue eyes and shoved candle after candle under his nose. 

“Pine?” he asked.

“No.”

“Lavender?”

“Think candy,” I said.

His nose twitched. “Cinnamon.”

“Wrong.”

“I give up.”

“Bubblegum.”

“No wonder it smells so vile.”

I laughed and reached for a vanilla candle.

Thirty minutes later, as we drove home, candleless, I wondered why this spontaneous experience had felt so much more fun and intimate than the vast majority of our “real” dates. The answer, I realized, was simple: This had been more fun precisely because it wasn’t a “real” date. 

My partner, Liam, and me.
My partner, Liam, and me. Courtesy Billy Lezra

At this point, Liam and I had been together seven years, married for four, and although I loved him dearly, I hated going on dates. And by this I mean: I hated engaging in intentionally “romantic” activities. I resented the way romance demanded a performance — acting pleasant, affectionate, lighthearted, when, often, I am none of those things. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I am all of those things but I am also surly, cynical and prickly — moods you aren’t supposed to show during a moonlit walk or a candlelit dinner. As the years went by, I frequently backed out of dates, not because I didn’t want to spend time with Liam, but because our “romantic” time together often devolved into arguments due to my grumpiness. 

“I just feel like you don’t want to hang out with me anymore,” Liam said one day, crestfallen, after a botched brunch excursion.

This made my chest hurt but also made complete sense — how else was he supposed to feel? I didn’t know how to explain that I desperately wanted to hang out with him, but that going on dates felt forced and contrived — until our morning in Target. 

“I have an idea,” I said, over iced coffee, a few days after our candle-smelling session. “What if instead of going on dates we went on anti-dates?”

Liam leaned toward me, curious and amused. “Define an anti-date.”

“Like the way we went to Target just to smell the candles.”

“That was hilarious.”

“Right,” I said. “So if a date is when people meet up to do something thoughtful and cute, an anti-date involves doing the most pointless and silly activities we can think of.”

Liam stirred his coffee with a blue metal straw, the ice cubes tinkled against the glass. 

“So what is the difference between an anti-date and running an errand, like going to the grocery store?”

“We could definitely go to the store as an anti-date,” I said. “But we would have to find something really, really stupid to do while we’re there.”

A huge grin broke across his face. He stood up, put his coffee in the fridge, and grabbed my hand.

Five minutes later we were standing in a frozen food aisle.

An anti-date at Target.
An anti-date at Target.Courtesy Billy Lezra

“This is what we are going to do,” Liam said. “You’re going to tell me the most boring story you can think of, and then it’s my turn. The most boring person will be the winner, and the loser buys the winner a snack.”

We shook hands.

For almost ten minutes I described the precise reason I preferred rain to sunshine. Then Liam rambled on about an inane dream he’d had the night before until I stuck my fingers in my ears and begged him to please please please shut up. I bought him a box of frozen burritos, and we drove home, our cheeks flushed with laughter. The next day, we made our way to the Office Depot, where we tested every single ballpoint pen on a yellow legal pad in order to determine which pen was the best, and why. The following week, we sat in the parking lot of a decrepit gas station, singing at each other, trying to one-up one another with terrible lyrics. 

Since beginning our anti-dates, our marriage has improved.
Since beginning our anti-dates, our marriage has improved.Courtesy Billy Lezra

As I write this, one year has passed since our anti-date ritual began, and the quality of our marriage has improved drastically. Before the anti-dates, Liam and I were always working, always talking about work, constantly missing each other, and rarely playing. Our marriage felt sharp around the edges, like it had lost its laughter and breath. We were also adjusting to a newly sober lifestyle — alcohol had acted as a reliable gateway to connection and relaxation. Now, we needed something better. These days, my favorite words to say and hear are: “Want to do something stupid?” because the answer is always yes. The perfect anti-date has a three-part formula: it is cheap (or free), silly and spontaneous. And: It can be as short or long as you like. The beauty of the anti-date is that it prioritizes intimacy over romance. Whereas romance asks that you show up at your best, intimacy asks that you show up as you are. The most important thing I have done for my marriage (outside of getting sober and going to couple’s counseling) has been to abandon the pursuit of romance and seek intimacy, instead. 

One of the reasons I was drawn to Liam when we first met was because I loved how he moved through life when left to his own devices. Anti-dates allow me to witness how he interacts with the world when he isn’t only focusing on me. The other night, we went to a hardware store. I asked Liam to pick out the ugliest decoration he could find, while I did the same. As I watched him walk away, he brushed his hand against a yellow daisy that sprung from a clay pot. Through this small gesture, I noticed so many reasons I loved him: his attentiveness, gentleness, tenderness, the way his whole body perks up when he sees a beautiful plant. When we reunited he showed me his decoration (a garish plastic boat) and I showed him mine (a hideous stuffed mermaid). We decided that the boat and the mermaid were equally ugly, and left. As we walked to the car, the red sun dipped into the ocean. We stood and watched, silently. That’s the thing about anti-dates — spectacular moments of unexpected romance always make an appearance. When we got home, Liam slid a present on my desk: a candle that smelled like rain.