“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

This is not the opening exchange at an Indecisives Anonymous meeting. (I’ve never actually been to one, I can’t decide if I should go.) This stimulating conversation is the exchange that begins date night with my husband.

A long time ago, in the land of skinny jeans and carbs, my husband and I could ponder the, “What do you want to do tonight?” question for hours and still come up with something fun to do and have a great time doing it. Since we’ve become parents, this question has a pressure for which I was unprepared. We’ve got to figure out what to do with our precious date night time right now. We must connect! We must have fun! We must make our Golden Time remarkable!

These days, my brain is too overworked from answering tough questions like which brand of kids’ fruit snacks is less deadly, and will our toddler’s Spiderman costume turn him into a spider. For date nights, I’d like to suggest a romantic evening of staring at the wall, but I know my husband and I need time to connect, so I’m not sure that’s going to suffice. The best plan my tired noggin can think up is dinner and movie. Admittedly, this is not very creative or exciting. Unless it’s a movie with Chris Pine, then it’s very exciting! (My husband loves Chris Pine.)

Dinner and a movie gets us out together, but oftentimes we find ourselves rushing through the dinner portion of the evening only to find me falling asleep through the movie portion of the evening. It feels hurried and forced. I only have a limited amount of time to prove to my husband that I’m still that fun gal he married – that I can totally stay up past 9:30, laugh at his jokes, and use words like “gal” easily in a sentence. I’m scoring very high on using words like “gal” in sentences, but I keep falling asleep in the middle of his jokes. Our Golden Time in not very golden.

I want to feel like my husband and I have left our date nights like we used to before we were parents – full of each other, the kind of happy-full I feel like after I’ve eaten that ridiculously enormous chocolate cake from Claim Jumper (don’t ask me to share). Mostly, though, I leave our time together feeling hungry like I’ve eaten my toddler’s portion of vegetables (ask me to share). I want more him. I want more us. I want more chocolate cake.

In an effort to help us connect more, I started trying to come up with different ideas for our date nights. Maybe the dinner and a movie thing just wasn’t conducive to connection. We tried staying home and catching up on TV like we used to. We tried going out for long dinners with no other plans like we used to. We tried heading out the door with no specific itinerary except maybe to get dessert like we used to. None of these helped me feel more in tune with him. Now that we were parents, was this just the new norm – me falling asleep face down in our appetizer in the middle of his punch lines? Had we changed that much?

I’ve definitely changed, and it isn’t just my wardrobe. Yes, elastic pants have replaced tight-fitting jeans and 9:30 PM is my new midnight, but I feel my insides have shifted, too. As a stay-at-home mom, my days are filled with my child. My focus is all-kid-all-the-time with only an occasional adult-alone break to use the bathroom, and even then I occasionally have a toddler-sized chaperone. I’m constantly a mom, always tuned into that mom-channel within. Maybe the problem isn’t with us, the problem is me.

I keep looking for time with my husband to be like it was, and that’s the true problem. I’m not the same person I was before I had a child. Why would our date nights feel the same when I don’t? I was slow to figure it out (I’ll blame that on lack of sleep for over a year), but once I stopped expecting our Golden Time to feel the same, an immense amount of pressure dropped away. Our time together began to have a lightness that sparked that connection for which I’d been searching.

Date nights with my husband aren’t what they were, but I am cool with this. Releasing the heavy expectations of our previous time together has freed up space to allow them to be what they are: a reflection of us now. Sure, my husband might prefer I stay up later than 9:30, but we are a couple with a kid. I may not get there. However, this doesn’t make me any less great of a “gal” or us a less fun couple, it just makes us partners with a kid. Enjoying our time together for what it is has made all the difference. That and starting our dates at 4:30 pm.