You have to live the challenge of being married and in your 30s, when it comes to date nights.
There is no suitable training.
Friday nights always hold an aura of excitement. When you’re young, Friday crackles with the excitement of a weekend just begun. When you’re older, you’ve gotten past the wide-eyed determination and traded it for confidence in celebrating it as it comes. Like most couples several years on and old enough to just deal, that’s where my wife, Liz, and I found ourselves on a recent Friday night.
“What do you want to do tonight?” She asked the phrase that’s launched a billion great and mediocre times.
The challenge in a response comes because we’re not in that young-and-dumb age group of your 20s, where date nights typically end recklessly at a dive bar with stale popcorn and warm PBR. We’re not quite to that sophisticated 40-and-beyond age group, however, where couples can occasionally take a pass at date night because they’re “above” having to express such commercialized versions of love and confident enough to know whatever is missed is not the end of the relationship nor the world.
There’s the first part of the question — “do you want to go out?” and then there’s a second question, “where do you want to go?”
While I’m typically the more decisive type — and Liz is my opposite — after a long day of work we’re both in the same exhausted boat where neither of us wants to lay claim to the responsibility of being the hero of a great night or the instigator of a total dud.
When you’re in your 30s, it’s likely you’ve still got the energy to endure a Friday night out of the town a few times a month, knowing that tomorrow’s hangover will be worth it since we get to sleep in, but the idea of spending the evening on the couch, wearing sweatpants, sorting through some favorite cheeses, and drinking a nice glass of pinot noir on a Friday night is just as appealing, if not more.
“Whatever you want to do,” I responded — when you’ve been married nearly a decade, you know how this plays out.
“Alright, let’s go out somewhere,” she said, leaving a destination entirely open-ended.
We’re not pretentious enough or wealthy enough to limit ourselves to high-end Italian places with $15 Caesar salads and $50 four-ounce steaks, even if the warm bread is delicious enough to be a meal within itself. When you’ve been married nearly a decade, hitting up the closest chain restaurant that serves mouth-watering buffalo wings, which I deem “prestigious,” won’t fit the bill either — even if I secretly covet their salty spicy amalgamated buffalo brilliance.
So we’re forced to find some middle ground. While I’d prefer some place quiet with good beer or wine where I can continue talking my wife’s ear off about whatever I’m currently reading, she leans toward the opposite, where my semi-incoherent ramblings are limited, and we can quite simply, get drunk without having to censor ourselves.
As is almost always the case, our end-goals align and it’s obvious we married the right person.
“Whatever’s easiest” is where we both once again meet in the middle.
As it turns out, the dating in the middle can be more when it involves a trip to that bastion of Americana and comfort: the bowling alley.
Before the words can leave my lips I’m already beaming in pride because I know I’ve got a golden idea. My wife grew up in a town where everyone knows someone who’s in a bowling league — North Topeka. (North Topeka is not an actual city, it’s north of Topeka, but if you try to explain that logic to locals you’ll spend the next half hour getting an irrational explanation on what the “difference” is. Don’t ask.)
When her eyes light up I know the game is on.
While an evening in sweatpants has officially been ruled out, neither of us have to dress up much for such an occasion, and by opting for the bowling alley I get to dodge my always risky input on the unanswerable “do I look OK” question. You know how that plays out.
Bowling, beers, and Q
The bowling alley was drenched in colored, neon and black light and booming with the bass of a Ludacris tune — this was any acid-head’s dream. Conversations filled the open space like white noise and every few seconds an inconsistent shatter of pins would echo throughout the room. Teens gabbed in dark corners, sharing occasional glances at other teens across the room. We aren’t quite old enough to be their parents, but we’re not quite young enough to fit in. Oh, life in your 30s.
After picking our size of clown shoes adorned with Velcro, I went to the bar to get a pitcher of beer. My fingers holding barely held heels of the shoes because I couldn’t help wonder how many people bowled sock-less in these shoes. My fingers were probably touching dead stinky feet flakes as I watched the foam separate on the top of the pitcher. My mind attacked again when I went to find a 16-pound ball. I could almost see sweaty fingers digging around the holes in the racks of balls, shiny with cheesy nachos glaze. The owners licking their fingers so they could slide them more easily into the dark holes of the public balls.
Gross. I needed to drink the pesky thoughts away.
The chilled pitcher of beer looked welcoming, and I gulped thirstily from my plastic cup while Liz sipped like it was wine. I know how this plays out — the quicker I reached optimal buzz the sooner I’d be tossing strikes. It’s a thing. Sober, I bowl like a comedian. A couple of beers and I’m Super Strike while being witty, charming and athletic all at the same time. But to achieve such astonishing prowess, it means I must concentrate mightily on my beer and my brew.
Liz? Not so much. She handles the bowling, the distracting clanking and twittering and the mediocre beer like driving a comfortable car on a familiar road.
“So where do you see us in five years?” she asked after tossing her first ball down the long wooden planking. It was hard enough adding up the paltry pins of the first couple of frames. I didn’t know there would be multitasking involved.
With picturesque concentration I fired my ball down the alley and right into the gutter before reaching any pins. When you’re Type A anywhere, you’re Type A everywhere.
So I chugged more beer and got another pitcher. Meanwhile, Liz marked up similar failures, though not because she was trying, she was more interesting in playing 21 questions than strikes. When her beer warmed up, leaving a warm backwater on the bottom, she offered me her remains, which I grudgingly took — I know how this plays out.
The questions continued on, moving along to hypothetical vacations, “where do you want to visit within the next year?” she asked.
Why wasn’t the beer working? Wrong beer? Nasty shoes?
By the second game I’d found my rhythm — or as Bagger Vance would put it, I could “see the field,” or more rationally speaking, the beer had kicked in and I was buzzing with the efficiency of a humming bird.
I was hurling my ball down the lane with reckless abandon, which would lead to the inevitable soreness on one side of my body that would plague me for days. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was beating Liz in front of all these people and my lame score up in the board for every amazing bowler in the building to see.
The pins would crackle in explosion against the backboard, though not all of them. I’d throw a spare, then Liz would throw a strike, as the second game went. There was no beating her, and she clearly wasn’t even trying. It didn’t matter if I cared less than the first game, because she cared less than me, thus her success was inevitable. It’s like being superstitious, only with beer.
With her score inching ahead of mine, I resorted to trash-talking — it was the only thing I could do better than her.
But as the game wore on and the cheap beer bore down, the questions became more questionable.
“Which of my friends do you think is hot?” she’d ask, taking larger gulps from her beer now.
This question is typically a trick, it’s a “do not answer under any circumstances — particularly when drunk,” but we had visited this question over the span of our relationship, and it was kosher.
I fumbled around in my head and gave an answer I hoped she’d be too drunk to remember in the morning.
When Liz toppled over the 200 mark — with a frame to go — I was defeated. She jumped up and down with her hands in the air while her blond hair bounced. Her eyes beamed with an electric blue glow.
I could smell the stinky-footed person who wore my shoes first as it wafted around me.
Defeated. Even in my beer buzz, I couldn’t compete. She tossed seven strikes with inebriated talent, but her third game would replicate my first game and she’d be back to double-digits. The final game would be the only one of the night that I would reign supreme. And that may have been because we starting bowling with our opposite hands.
Our game faded and so did the beer. The white noise of youthful conversations had dimmed as the kids were headed home before curfew, leaving us seniors behind.
When we bowled our final frame, we sat and sipped our beers and talked into the night. Only when the lights came on and an authoritative voice came over the intercom claiming the placed was closed did we realize it was a great evening and time to leave.
We were home early enough to enjoy some quality time in the sweatpants, saved a few bucks by avoiding the ensalada du Ceasar avec pan overpriced, avoided what would have been the Saturday morning hangover that dive-bar tequila promises.
Bowling is still cool. Ego-protectors are a must for Type A’s. I’m buying my own shoes.