I stared at my glass through blurry eyes. Despite my best efforts, and my husband’s embarrassment, my tears fell before I had the chance to wipe them. If it hadn’t been for the large trays of food blocking the narrow pathway to the restrooms, I might have slipped away unnoticed. But I had nowhere to hide.

I know I am not the only woman to cry in restaurant, but it surprised me almost as much as it did my husband. There were no nasty words exchanged. No unexpected bad news. Still, our conversation triggered my emotional outpour and it seemed as though surrender was my only choice. Maybe it was hormones, too little sleep, or the fact that my youngest screamed like a fire alarm up and down several aisles of the grocery store earlier that day. Maybe celebrating our youngest son’s second birthday affected me more than I realized. Or maybe, it was just a build-up of little things that sent me over the edge after a long week. Whatever the reason, there I sat, crying into my freshly-poured Stella as my husband stared at me, trying to make sense of the situation.

I spoiled our date night. I was out with my husband (kid-free) and couldn’t even enjoy myself. And not just that, I had to make a scene too.

This was the story on repeat in my head.

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The problem with accepting this story was that it made my tears fall even faster. Accepting this story prevented me from regaining any shred of the composure I had when the waitress first took our orders.

Had this happened at home, I would have chalked it up to being tired. I am not ashamed of showing emotion, but the fact that I was red-faced in a booth with my husband sure made us a sight.

The point of this story is actually less about my tears and more about the danger of going on dates so infrequently. The pressure my husband I and put on ourselves to make the most of our once-in-a-blue-moon dates made this night an even greater disappointment. The two-and-a-half precious hours of alone time that we were gifted were supposed to be spent eating, laughing, and holding hands. But instead, our date turned into two-and-a-half hours of embarrassment and confusion.

To make matters worse, both of our boys were crying upon pick-up and it was all I could do not to join them and wallow in the shared misery of a regretful night.

When we first became parents, we kept our marriage alive doing the bare minimum. We prioritized time to talk and to parent as a team, but making time for dates took a backseat to the needs of our boys and our own self-care needs. In many ways, this seemed like the only way to be good parents, but our relationship suffered. The year our second son was born, my husband and I went on one date. I wore a dress, we ate slowly, and I could talk without entertaining a baby on my lap, but it wasn’t a real date. It was my husband’s company Christmas party and though it felt good to be among other adults without our boys, it wasn’t exactly a good opportunity to reconnect as a couple.

Up to that point, we had convinced ourselves that couples who enjoy solo vacations each year, along with weekly or monthly date nights were somehow overindulgent—selfish even. We were reluctant to ask for help when we moved (twice), let alone for a date. Our pride, along with a bit of jealousy, kept us blind to what those couples likely gained from their time away together. Behind the sunset-framed selfies on the beach were couples who were making their relationships a priority.

We soon realized that just as our boys fight for our attention, we need to fight for our marriage. We need to make time for each other because no one else will do that for us, least of all our boys.

Though I don’t think weekly dates or yearly vacations are in the cards for us just yet, we are no longer hoping and waiting for invitations to leave the house. This has only resulted in us attending annual work gatherings which rarely leave any room for romance, let alone meaningful conversation.

The night I sat crying in the restaurant is not one we want to repeat. But instead of calling it wasted and holding onto frustration toward one another for what we did or did not say, we are letting it be a good reason to make more time for each other, even when everything else in our lives seems more urgent. After all, if a marriage is what holds a family together, isn’t it worth making time for? Yes, I believe it is.

Ashley Case

Ashley lives in Michigan with her husband, two young boys, and a bulldog. She is a pediatric occupational therapist by profession and is currently at home full-time raising her boys. She writes about life and motherhood at https://www.inbetweenyesterdayandtomorrow.com/.