Don’t Stop Dating

Your road through marriage can come with a lot of new identities: parent, spouse, Home Depot junkies, just to name a few. You’ll run a household together, manage finances together, become your own handymen and landscapers (even if you delegate those jobs you’ll have to have instructions and vision), raise children, reprimand teachers and other care givers when they step out of line, deal with in-laws, and handle end of life care for your parents.

You may not think, doing all of these things and dealing with the punches life throws at you, that you have the time or bandwidth to tend to the tasks that brought you together in the first place. You may vanish as regulars to your favorite bar or restaurant, your friends may see less of you, you may see less of each other. Some of this is bound to happen, you just aren’t getting out for dates as much when you’re say, sleep training an infant. But I implore you not to let ‘phases’ become new norms.

When there is a genuine need to put the nights out on the back burner, do so, you have a family to take care of, but don’t give up on dating forever. Love is not something that you achieve and then put in a trophy case, it requires constant reinforcement and reaffirmation and I find a lot of couples discard dating as soon as they tie the knot. They seem to think of dating as this courtship phase that has a hard end when they get married, they don’t recognize their dates as the series of love and trust deepening behaviors that got them to the marriage finish line in the first place. On that note, the act of marriage isn’t the finish line at all, it’s the starting line.

I think you could be reasonably confused about that. Society certainly is. Young couples overwhelmingly choose cohabitation over marriage as their preferred lifestyle. According to a study by Sharon Sassler at Cornell University, this largely comes from a fear of divorce. Sassler has further found that a good portion of these people are primarily worried over the emotional turmoil from the split.

So let’s simplify that thinking for a little bit just so when can put it in perspective and consider the implications. A significant group of young people, are living together for as long as they can, and having and raising children, instead of getting ‘married’ in order to avoid the psychological pain of splitting up. I am left wondering what the word marriage must mean to these couples. It wasn’t that long ago, from a historical perspective, that living together this way made you married, and I don’t mean de facto married, I don’t mean as good as married, I mean married married. Hell, there are still 15 states in the United States, 16 if you include D.C., that recognize some form of common law marriage. A lot of these have caveats but there are a few that don’t including Alabama, Colorado, D.C., Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

Whatever causes this line of thinking, it’s clear there’s at least one thing going on. Marriage has become some sort of magical divider that separates us from our pre and post dating state, but having children does not. Sure, there’s not having to go through divorce, but the moment you split there’s going to be a custody fight and child support to pay. You’re not ‘getting away clean’ here, and you may end up just as in court as you would have been in a divorce. The evidence is clear, many of us are convinced that our entire emotional state regarding our relationship should change on our wedding day.

That’s rubbish.

Emphasizing your new identities as spouses and parents to the exclusion of your old identities as a romantic dating couple can cause you to become entirely consumed by these identities, and that often leads to long term unhappiness in your marriage. A wife consumed by her identity as a mother may have trouble with mustering the raw feelings of desire she needs for sex. A father consumed in his role as a provider may have trouble prioritizing the emotional needs of the rest of his family and ironically fail in that exact role. Either parent, consumed by their roles as such, my absorb themselves in their children to such a degree that their partner may feel unappreciated and unloved. Balance of our myriad identities matters. Maybe I could spend a lot more words trying to convince you of that, but I think Esther Perel does a much better job and I don’t wish to duplicate her research or experience. Just go read Mating In Captivity if you’re skeptical, then get back to me.

For the rest of us, remember that continuing your courtship behaviors helps you balance your new identities with your old ones. Emily and I recently had our tenth anniversary and we spent it doing something I think you may find interesting.

Emily and I dumped our kids off with relatives, and generally when we do that it’s so we can have some of the kinkier sex that would be too noisy and require too much assurances it wouldn’t be interrupted than we can manage when they’re in the house. That day however, we had a different goal in mind. We were going to just have a good old fashioned mall crawl. We arrived when the doors opened, and were immediately hit in the face with the smells of Cinnabon. We hadn’t had breakfast yet and Emily exclaimed something to the effect of, “that would be good”. Emphasis on the would. I chuckled a bit and corrected her. That’s going to be good.

Emily realized at that moment, it finally hit her after about an hour and a half, that she was free to act without children, that she could be a little selfish, that she could enjoy herself, she didn’t have to buy extra cinnamon rolls or share one with sugar craving piranhas, that, for the moment, for this day, we were just the 2 of us again. She got so happy she nearly cried, and we spent the next five hours or so going through makeup, clothes, video games, candles, and whatever the hell we felt like doing.

I explained the day to a coworker, 11 years married and he exclaimed, “Yeah, we spent our tenth pretty much the same way, we had a Home Depot date and spent most the day casually building the kitchen island we have now and it was fantastic”.

We certainly have dates more frequently than just our anniversary date, but we don’t get to do these things as often as I’d like, granted, perhaps should. We could strive to do our date nights a little more, tone it down on the sex and up on the sushi bar. I understand the concept of having superior obligations too, like bills and house maintenance, but take it from me, take it from my co-worker, it’s worth it. Don’t stop dating.

Screen Time for You and Your Kids

Screen Time for You and Your Kids

Photo by sandra dubosq on Unsplash

As our modern world hurtles headlong into the automation of everything, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to take our heads out of our screens. As professionals we may spend our time in screens as part of, or the main focus of, our job. We could be editing video, making Photoshop magic, keeping the internet working, interfacing with a car’s on-board computer, or writing a blog or book. When we need downtime, screens offer escape in the form of movies and video games, they offer to distract and babysit our children, and our phones keep us in constant contact with friends, relatives, and supervisors. As a result we spend over 8 hours a day on average in front of some sort of screen, and so do our children.

Many parents I know seem to have an inherent sense of the dangers of excessive screen time, however few seem to be on top of it. They can tell you how a child threw a tantrum after being pulled off a video game or a TV show but can’t seem to tell you how much screen time their kids are getting on a typical day. Just like we know how eating too many calories will make us gain weight but few of us actually count them properly, many parents also aren’t counting their screen time hours for themselves or their children. Children in particular are vulnerable to harm from screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strict guidelines for all children under the age of six, with the guidelines becoming more stringent as age goes down. Excessive screen time can harm your children, and especially young children, in several ways: being linked with high rates of obesity—screen time is often sit time—behavioral disorders, and stunted learning.

I myself am a recovered video game addict, and I’ve experienced these things first hand. I spent the bulk of my 5th through 12th grade years addicted to video games. My grades suffered, I didn’t get enough sleep, my social life never got a chance to begin, and I even threw away a shot at post-secondary education. It wasn’t until life asserted itself to the point of eviction that I finally started a nearly decade long road to recovery.

I didn’t grow up with smart phones, they didn’t really enter the picture until after I graduated high school. The iPod was a new fascination in those days, and the iPhone wouldn’t hit until years later. I’m not sure where I’d be if I had access to things like smartphones back then. Many people are as absorbed in social media as I was to my games. You see them every day, ignoring their surroundings, stumbling into traffic, weaving on sidewalks, bumping shopping carts into bystanders, running their cars off the road. Social media and the constant ability to access it has dangers in store for adults and children alike in the form of sexual exploitation through revenge porn, cyber bullying, and pornographic exploitation of minors.

I could go on about the dangers of getting absorbed into video games, social media, TV, and other screen based time wasters. Here’s the thing, you probably could too. You might already be thinking about the stuff I missed in the last few paragraphs. As I said before, many of us know the risks, we just aren’t aware we’ve fallen into them or how to manage them. It’s easy to get frustrated at the very idea of managing this stuff for you or your kids. Social media seems nearly required of us, and for school children it’s sometimes actually required for assignments. Classrooms are getting ‘smart’ and your child may be sat in front of a screen for hours on end before they ever make it back home. The internet of things is upon us, and now our refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers are having full featured touchscreens built into them that you can even watch Netflix on. In a world such as this how could we even think to manage screen time for us or our children?

Fortunately, there are remedies. I gave a little hint at the beginning of this post. The context surrounding screen time matters. The current AAP guidelines for children I linked above are much different than the ‘no screens for children under 2’ blanket ban just a few years ago. Researchers have found that not only what’s on the screen matters, but what your environment is as well. Your work use of screens (for work purposes) isn’t a problem as long as you’re keeping it to work hours. Most of us inherently feel a difference between screen time spent for business or pleasure. Children also seem to know the difference, and as long as an adult is in the room co-watching and guiding consumption of the content, very young children can actually benefit from screen time. The exception seems to be children 18 months and younger, which the AAP recommends only being exposed to screens in the context of a video chat with another human being. Apart from the 18 month age group, high quality programming co-watched with an adult seems to be okay. Here are a few things you can do to help keep screens from becoming a problem.

Monitor your screen time–

Actually clock it. Treat it like watching calories. Record your patterns for a while, and the patterns for your children, and see how the numbers stack up. Make notes on whether the programming was work related or otherwise educational, or whether it was recreational.

Reduce very low quality content–

Video Games, pornography, and other forms of instant self-gratification content—Instagram anyone?—release large amounts of dopamine in your system that you can easily become dependent on. People heavily addicted to games like I was, or addicted to porn, can take up to 90 days to reset their dopamine levels back to normal. This shouldn’t be construed to be anti-games or anti-porn, there are many activities that can do this to you, but these two are shoved into our faces almost as hard as the screens themselves. In fact, Emily and I still regularly participate in these activities together, now that my addiction is under control, in an interactive manner I’d label as fulfilling. Closely monitor consumption of these types of entertainment if you allow them at all.


Watching entertainment as a group, and turning it into an interactive and potentially even educational experience, can take otherwise low quality content and make it beneficial. Interact with the evening news—my grandfather and father preferred heckling for those—make fun of shot composition, keep a Michael Bay explosion counter in his films, and other activities that promote interaction between the people watching the content. Avoid just vegging out.

Engage Educators–

Talk to your child’s educators and make sure they are aware of the dangers of excessive screen time. Make sure they understand that even high-quality screen time is linked to health issues like obesity. Have them go over the electronic curriculum with you and object to low quality content when you see it. Make sure the educator, especially elementary level educators, aren’t using screen time as a pacification, and make sure your child has sufficient opportunities for physical activity at school. If your child’s educator is using screen time in ways you find unacceptable go over their head to the principal, contact other parents, and get the school board involved if you have to. If your school board is responsive that’s great, if they aren’t—as seems too common—make them listen with a ballot initiative if you have to.

Detox and Recover–

I know I know, that word is abused to death, but in this case it could be taken literally if you consider constantly elevated dopamine levels toxic—after my experiences I sure do. Pay a visit here and read some of the stories of people just like me that were awfully addicted to dopamine simulators. If you or your child are addicted to these mediums, don’t give up, get educated, and learn how to support them. Ripping the bandage off will be the hardest part, like the cry-it-out sleep training method, but there is light at the end of that tunnel for you and your kids.

Hopefully, managing screen time for you and your children won’t turn in to the struggle that it did for me. I hope you’ve found some useful information here if you do. As always, this blog is no substitute for professional help. If you need serious help, or can’t seem to get a handle on it, enlist the services of a qualified professional.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my¬†contact page.