'No Compromise Date Nights' Kept My Marriage Happy And Strong

"Whether it’s in friendship, dating, or raising children, when we’re interested in someone, we should be intrigued by what interests them."

"Basketball? Really?" I asked my new boyfriend. "I told you the sound of squeaky sneakers on the court kills me," I added, emphasizing my disbelief that I was actually at a professional basketball game for the first time in my life.

"You can't complain; it's Wednesday," John reminded me. "There's no complaining on Wednesday date nights. In fact, you're supposed to pretend to have fun, even if you're not," he added, rubbing it in my face that I was the one who had created the rules in the first place. I had no choice but to close my mouth, sit back, and pretend to enjoy the game, squeaky sneakers and all.

When the final buzzer blew, John turned to me and asked, "Well? What did you think?"

 "I actually had fun," I admitted. The rules had worked their magic. Not being able to complain, and having to pretend to have fun, had changed my mindset. I had actually enjoyed the basketball game, along with all the sounds and hoopla that went along with it!

I shouldn't have been surprised. John and I had been dating for three months. Each date thus far had been fantastic, especially the ones on Wednesday nights. When we were together on the other days of the week, we did the usual compromising thing that is essential to any healthy relationship. But Wednesday nights were different. They were "No Compromise Date Nights."

I had come up with the idea after our first date. I felt such a connection with John that I really wanted things to work out. But having spent years dating, with no long-term success, I knew I had to approach this relationship differently. I began to look closely at my past dating style. In doing so, I realized my biggest mistake was that I overcompensated.

Knowing that compromise was so important in a relationship, I would take it too far. I would defer to the other person's interests, sacrificing myself in the process. Each and every time, a day would come when I would wake up and not even recognize myself. I'd have completely lost myself in the relationship, becoming the person my then boyfriend wanted me to be. That was the day alarm bells would go off in my head, and I'd end it.

Having analyzed things backwards and forwards, I decided that in order to stay the person I really was at heart, I needed to be seen for who I really was. I needed my wants and interests to be known completely, without compromising them or watering them down. No Compromise Date Night was my solution.

My brainstorm went like this: Each Wednesday, the planner of the date would alternate. Rule #1 was: There was no consulting the other, and no compromising at all! In fact, we kept the plan a secret; the other didn't find out what the evening had in store until it unfolded.

Having a hunch that we were similar people at heart, yet having very different interests on the surface, I knew instinctively that each of us was going to plan events the other didn't like. Wanting John to appreciate what I planned meant I had to appreciate what he planned. So Rule #2 was: The other person couldn't complain. In fact, we had to pretend to be enjoying ourselves, even if we weren't. I knew the relationship had real potential when John agreed to my rules. So began our magical courtship.

Sometimes, we planned date nights all about ourselves, so the other person could see who we really were. If people had asked John if he would ever go salsa dancing, attend a performance by a mime, or walk a labyrinth on a moonlit night, he would have told them they were crazy. That is, until he did all those things and more on No Compromise Date Nights!

If someone had asked me if I would go to a Celtics game, mountain-bike through the woods, or hit golf balls at a driving range, I would have said no way. But lo and behold, we both participated fully in the other's interests, and our horizons expanded.

Other times, we planned date nights all about the other person, to show how much we cared. John put aside his own biases and took me to the Boston Pops and the Van Gogh exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. After I had mentioned I loved drive-in movies as a kid, he found one two hours away, and off we went.

For my part, I took John to an outdoor reggae concert and invested the dreaded physical energy it took to go cross-country skiing. Knowing he'd been obsessed with Bugs Bunny since childhood, I found a Bugs Bunny Film Festival in Boston and took him. I can't tell you how great it was watching the joy on his face as vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons played on the big screen.

The list went on and on, and the dates got more and more creative as time went on. It wasn't that we became competitive, trying to outdo the other; it's that we found we really enjoyed thinking outside the box.

Even when we did traditional date-night things, we'd get silly to make them more fun. When we went bowling, we had to wear nametags that said "Henry" and "Dolores." When we went out to an Irish Bar on St. Patrick's Day, we brought green food coloring to dye the beer green. When we went to the Planetarium, I had snuck into his apartment that day and placed glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling to continue the theme when we got home.

The time, effort, and love we invested in our dating life led to his proposal. I accepted, and here we are eighteen years later. We are happily married with three beautiful children. Although raising kids doesn't leave a lot of time for date nights, we're finding that, as parents, we're still following the No Compromise rules. The circumstances have just changed a bit.

For Rule #1, rather than spending time further discovering each other's interests, we're discovering our kids' interests instead. For Rule #2, when we attend the slew of events and activities for our kids, we can't complain, and we have to pretend to enjoy them.

It's such a gift to find that the rules still work their magic. It's in the pretending that our minds are opened, and we come to value and enjoy what matters to our kids. Consequently, the T-ball game doesn't seem so excruciatingly long; the whiny voices from the Pokémon movie don't grate like we know they should; and time spent building the millionth LEGO structure with them is still enjoyable.

Whether it's in friendship, dating, or raising children, when we're interested in someone, we should be intrigued by what interests them. When we love someone, we should try to experience what matters to them in hopes that it will matter to us as well.

Story by Claire McGarry, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Miracle of Love © 2018 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved. 

Cover image via  Stone36 I Shutterstock

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