It was a cold Friday night in the middle of October. We were in a semi-private room with a peach curtain for privacy should we so desire it. The walls were painted a pastel yellow in an attempt to create a cheerful ambiance. I was wearing a white, loose gown with a floral print pattern. My husband was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The dress code was casual. In front of me was an antipasto platter with bocconcini balls, artichoke hearts, dolmade, an array of cheeses, prosciutto, and fake red wine in plastic wine glasses. We talked, we laughed, we held hands. It was the most romantic date night I’ve ever had . . . in a bed . . . in the high-risk pregnancy unit . . . in the hospital. I was 27 weeks pregnant with twins.
My husband had surprised me with a “date night” after seeing me burst into tears the night before at the grim news that I may be in the hospital for the next four months on strict orders of bed rest. The neonatal intensive care unit team also paid us an impromptu visit that same night to prepare us for how things would unfold if I went into preterm labor. There was a litany list of things that could happen—blindness, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, breathing issues, impaired learning, death . . . the list seemed endless and depressing, and it wasn’t jibing with my date night. I joked to the NICU staff that we weren’t concerned because my babies were going to stay put for a few weeks longer. They smiled and nodded placatingly at me. After they left, my husband gave me a goodnight kiss and also left to go home.
A mere 12 hours later, I went into labor and delivered two tiny babies who did spend the next 87 days in the NICU. Perhaps it was all those feel-good chemicals (aka oxytocin), from my date night that kick-started the labor.
Around Valentine’s Day, the consumerist culture we live in bombards us with messages to do something for our significant other to show how much we love and care for them. Plan a romantic date night or romantic getaway, buy flowers, chocolate, jewelry, lingerie (or any combination of the aforementioned). Do something—anything!
There are some couples who buck this trend and do absolutely nothing. To them, Valentine’s Day is just a marketing ploy to get people to spend money, and while this is very true, I will admit that I do like Valentine’s Day. Any reason to go out on a date night and receive flowers from my husband is always fine with me.
But you know what I’ve realized the longer I’ve been married? The most memorable dates in my life did not happen on Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, or even on “planned” date nights.
As much as I love donning my chic attire, going out to a fancy restaurant, drinking a glass of (real) red wine, receiving flowers, and whispering sweet nothings into my husband’s ear, these are not the dates I remember the most. The most memorable dates that always hold a special place in my heart are the ones that have happened at the least likely of times, in the least likely of places, and are often associated with events in our lives that are stressful and sometimes tragic.
Like the sushi lunch my husband and I had after the hospital ultrasound had just confirmed that our child’s heart had stopped beating at 24 weeks gestation. I had avoided eating sushi (my favorite) for the past six months, but at that moment, when I found out the news of my baby’s passing, it no longer mattered. It was lunchtime by the time the ultrasound appointment was over. “What do you want to do now?” my husband asked. What else was there to do at this moment in our lives when our entire world had just come crumbling down? “How about a sushi date? I’m allowed to eat it now.” I responded matter-of-factly. We went to an all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet down the street. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Music–my favorite song at the time–was playing on the TV in the restaurant. It was the first time I had seen the video to this popular song. The people in the music video looked so happy, I remember thinking while I drowned my sorrows in a bowl of miso soup. As tragic as this may sound, for my husband and me, this sushi “lunch date” cemented us in a way that I never thought I could truly experience. I felt connected to him in the aftermath of our loss. I knew my husband and I were in this together during the good times, the trying times, and the “I’m not sure what we do next” times.
Isn’t this what love is about? What romance sometimes looks like?
A decade or more after the nuptials, when the honeymoon period has long, long since worn off, the child-rearing years are in full throttle, and those mom/dad bods are here to stay, it’s these connections at the most inopportune times that inextricably link us together in the chain of events that mark our lives together as a couple. As mundane as they appear on the surface, these are the most unforgettable dates I’ve shared with my husband.