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Must 'date night' be a chore?

A "date'' is butterflies in the stomach. Pants that flatter the rear view. Surprise endings. Its very distant cousin, "date night," is an uninterrupted meal. The pants you wore to that wedding one time. A baby sitter.

Yes, we married parents know we're supposed to go on date nights.


Julia Stone, co-author of Babyproofing Your Marriage and mother of two, offers these tips:
  • Don't feel guilty. "To model a loving relationship and show kids that adults can have fun together and enjoy each other is one of the best things you can do for your children."

  • Don't let money be a hindrance. "If you're inspired to plan a surprise trip to Paris, then rock on," she says, "but it still counts as date night if you just jet to the local pizza parlor."

  • Don't talk shop. "Try to get through the entire meal without talking about the kids, the house or money," Stone says. Her suggested topics? "Is global warming a myth or a problem our kids have to deal with? What do you want to do before you die? What do you want your spouse to do for you before you die?"

And we're certainly all atwitter about other people's -- especially when other people's day jobs involve leading our country.

Date Night, starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a married couple, isn't set to hit theaters until 2010, and already it's creating Internet buzz.

We clearly love date night. But are we in love with date night? It's complicated.

Siobhan Smith, a Lincroft, N.J., mom of three, recently left her job at Goldman Sachs to focus on raising her girls, ages 10 months to 5 years. She has found the extra time at home rewarding but isolating.

"To counter that, I have started having more dates with my husband," she says.

Making those dates happen, however, is a bit of a feat -- even if Barack and Michelle Obama seem to make it happen pretty regularly.

"When I was working, I found it to be easier to sit at my desk and plan something," Smith says. "Now I have two toddlers begging for attention and a third screaming for a bottle while I am on hold with Ticketmaster. Planning has taken on a whole new dimension."

Does her husband ever take the reins? "You have to be kidding," Smith says.

"If I waited for my husband to make some huge romantic gesture, I'd probably still be single. He's a good man, but romance is the furthest thing from his mind."

(Besides, Smith adds, invoking those presidential dates: "I don't think either Michelle or Barack plan their evenings. It's their social coordinator, and I would kill to have my own." )

Valerie and Tommy Rey, teachers in suburban Maryland and parents of 2-year-old twins, take turns planning their bimonthly date nights. "Once a month I do it, and once a month he does," Valerie says. "This week is my turn. I choose the place, activity and get the sitter."

Which sounds ideal, except ...

"Sometimes I feel like arranging a date night is just one more thing to put on my plate," Valerie Rey admits. "It becomes a chore setting one up."

Still, she's vigilant about making them happen, even if it just means hitting the gym together and grabbing a bite to eat afterward.

"We both really miss our relationship the way it was before kids," she says. "We love the kids, but we are working on redefining fun."

And that, say relationship experts, is the key to a successful marriage.