Guest post by Laura Leavitt.
Date night conjures up images of candle-lit dinners, snuggling on the couch or heading out to catch a movie. For my husband and I, however, date night also means volunteering our time with a variety of organizations who need volunteers.
One thing that we learned early on in our relationship is that volunteer service together balances us both. My husband isn’t so chatty, and volunteering gives him concrete things to talk about. I’m not emotionally consistent, moment to moment, and volunteering gives me focus, usually with some nice positive outcomes, which calms me down. Volunteer opportunities don’t usually create stress or drama for us, so we started treating them as date nights.
There are plenty of organizations that don’t require a ton of time from their volunteers. Take one of our most common volunteer gigs: selling cold drinks at a free summer concert series, where all the money made and tips go back into a general fund to bring better and more exciting bands each year. We helped keep the cost of the festival down, but we also got to listen to the music whenever the drink line was empty, and we usually saw a few people we knew every night as we handed them a bottle of water or can of beer. We left those experiences so much more energized than we ever felt after just attending the concert by ourselves, even if we’d been on our feet for four hours!
We’ve also used volunteering as an exchange at times. For example, if we weren’t thrilled to pay $30 a person to see an upcoming show at a performing arts center, we’d see if there were any ticket-taker positions available where we could hand out programs in exchange for a leftover seat in the auditorium during the show. It felt like we were part of the excitement of the program, even if we weren’t acting or singing, and we still got to enjoy the experience.
Bartering our time for meaningful and/or free experiences has worked out well for us and has brought at least some value to the organizations with which we volunteer. Here are four reasons I’d recommend volunteering as part of your next date night:
You learn teamwork. Very few dates are task-oriented. Movies don’t require you to do anything, and you aren’t making dinner together when you go to a fancy restaurant. Many task-oriented people will feel forced to talk on dates like these! So, if you can cook together and serve dinner at a soup kitchen, for instance, you’ll learn way more about how the other person leads and follows, how they focus on a task at hand, and what interesting thoughts occur to them while working.
Something comes out of the date even if you two don’t “click.” One of the hardest parts of dating early on is that it feels like a zero-sum game: either you stay together and you’ve “won” or you realize you aren’t a good fit and you’ve “lost.” When you volunteer together, even a date where you don’t fall in love is providing you with a meaningful experience and an organization with some helpful labor. Just make sure you don’t let any relationship-related drama play out on the organization’s time.
You save money. One of the pressures of many dating experiences is that it costs either both people or one person a pretty penny. Making dating cost less can lessen the pressure for it to go well, paradoxically making it easier to get comfortable with each other. If you’re a person who likes to economize, you probably want to meet someone who you can appreciate the value of an evening that’s less pricey, which is just another compatibility factor you might discover when you volunteer on your date night.
As your relationship progresses, you keep learning about each other. Our date nights for volunteering are held now after we’ve been married for years. When we try a new volunteer opportunity, we get to see each other in a new light, not just “didn’t finish the loading the dishwasher” or “left her towel on the floor.” When you see your partner effectively solving a problem or leading a team in a new context, you can get a bit of the spark back in your relationship. And you’re reminded about why you’re lucky to be with them!
Author Bio: Laura Leavitt is a writer who runs Onword Content and Copywriting. She drinks lots of coffee and lives in Ohio, tweeting occasionally from @realworldmagic.