Click here to listen to this article.
I growl at my wife. You know, like a bear.
I should probably explain. Julie’s maiden name was Bates. When we started dating, I called her Julie B., or Julie Bee — and that morphed into Honeybee. She was sweet but had a sting now and then.
Julie decided I needed a new identity, too. She started calling me her Bear: I was eminently huggable but could occasionally be ferocious. Besides, if she was a honeybee . . . you know every bear’s favorite food, right?
Seventeen years later, we still address each other as Bear and Bee. I growl to show affection and she buzzes in return. Yeah, we’re delusional and borderline creepy. But we love our zoological lifestyle, and it’s one of the things that holds us together.
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to convince you to call your girlfriend Honeybee. The point is that every relationship could use some creativity. It reflects God’s nature. It builds a unique “language of love” to share. Plus, it just makes life interesting.
Inexpensive Date Ideas
One way to innovate a relationship is to try new dates when you go out. Here in no particular order are 10 creative date ideas just in time for Valentine’s Day. If you’re broke, don’t worry — most of these ideas are free and the others are cheap.
* * *
10. I’m Ready for My Closeup
You’ve probably done the photo-booth thing, but have you played photographer for each other? Drive your date someplace that’s warm but gives you a variety of backgrounds, like an arboretum, a fancy historic hotel, or even your parents’ house. Then take turns posing and capturing memories.
You might end up with some great shots for your phone wallpaper or bedside table. Even if your skills as a photog stink, you can enjoy laughing at the shots with your finger in front of the lens.
This date doesn’t require any planning if you use your phone camera and dress casually. But if you’re feeling ambitious, you can dress to impress and borrow a DSLR (fancy camera with interchangeable lenses) from a friend. Whether your date is basic or deluxe, picture-taking is a fun way to spend an evening.
9. Once Upon a Time
I’m a writer and theatre guy, so stories are my native tongue. When Julie and I dated, I invented tales of Princess Honey (the queen bee in her hive) and a Grizzly in the nearby forest who found her captivating.
Sometimes we’d go with a different theme: I would be Lord Georgio while she was Lady Juliet, characters in a chivalric fairy tale. Occasionally I wrote the stories down. More often I made them up on the fly.
If you’re a storyteller, try inventing a fairy tale where you and your boo are a prince and princess facing a challenge to their love. Yes, it will be cheesy, but that’s part of the charm.
8. Dinner and a Show
Eating out is expensive. Plays and concerts are even more expensive. What’s a boyfriend or girlfriend to do?
For dinner, you pack an indoor picnic, of course! Make some quality sandwiches, pick up fruit or a salad, and if you’re feeling ambitious, borrow a wicker basket or find one at a thrift store. Put everything together and take your date to a public indoor space, like the mall or a college campus. Sit down and enjoy your meal on the cheap.
For the evening’s entertainment, try your local high school or college performing arts department. If you have a university nearby, the productions are often near-professional caliber (but without the professional price tag). If you go to a high school show, it might not be pro-level, but if you were a teen theatre geek or band nerd, it’ll bring back memories. If nothing else, you can say you did dinner and a show for 50 bucks.
7. Cook Up Some Questions
If it’s too cold (or you’re feeling too lazy) to go out, you can have a creative date in your own apartment. Grab the ingredients to make a simple meal, then prepare it with your date. The point isn’t to impress her with your culinary prowess; instead, push the “easy” button. I recommend breakfast for dinner. Even a cooking newbie can handle pancakes or cheesy scrambled eggs.
Now for the evening’s activity: You’re going to learn more about each other by asking questions. Take turns picking interesting queries from an online list. The only rule is that both of you must answer every query that either person chooses. You’ll learn things that you never thought to ask.
6. Dating at a Distance
Before I met Julie, I almost married someone else. That’s a saga of its own, but one tiny part is relevant to creative dating: While Heather and I were together, I was in Canada on Valentine’s Day. In fact, I was gone for five months doing a theatre apprenticeship.
I knew Heather wasn’t thrilled that I was away, so before V-Day, I went shopping for “The Scummy Boyfriend Who’s in Canada for Valentine’s Day Survival Kit.” Basically, it was a mini-spa in a box — bubble bath, candles, and a fuzzy robe. I mailed it off so Heather could enjoy a night of pampering while I was doing my artsy thing.
Long-distance dating is tough, but a creative gift can make it a little easier. Maybe a spa-in-a-box isn’t your girlfriend’s (or boyfriend’s?) speed, but what gift can you put together to show you’re still crazy about them — even from Canada?
5. Appreciation Day
My first V-Day with Julie was just a month after we started dating, but I already suspected she was The One. I cut a bunch of hearts out of construction paper and wrote something I appreciated about her on each one, from her baby browns to her passion for worship.
She was renting a room while she worked for peanuts as a church intern, so I got permission from the family she lived with to hang the hearts in her room. She came home after work and found them.
Julie loved the hearts — I mean, really loved them. She has them in her keepsakes box 17 years later, and still says it’s one of the coolest gifts she’s ever gotten.
Now we have a kind-of-annual tradition of “Honeybee Appreciation Day” (or Week). Some years I write down the things I love about her, just like I did with the paper hearts. Other years I get her a small gift every day for one week. Either way, I try to show her how much better she makes my life.
4. Surprise Service
Julie and I are busy, so we love it when the other person gives us time by performing a task from our to-do lists.
Remember, Julie was living in one room when we dated. She had a bathroom but no kitchen, which means she did a lot of microwaving. The few plates and dishes that she had were piled by the bathroom sink, growing penicillin.
One day, with mixed motives of making her bathroom less disgusting and genuinely wanting to help, I kidnapped her dishes and took them to my apartment’s dishwasher. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it . . . and Julie was grateful that it wasn’t her.
To this day, when Julie or I take time to help each other, it’s an especially meaningful gift. I’m not saying dishwashing is the most romantic thing you can do for someone you love. But it could make their bathroom less gross.
3. Go Shopping (Without Money)
Picking out new stuff at the store is the best! Unfortunately, it also costs money — unless you don’t take the stuff home with you.
This creative date is basically a scavenger hunt at the mall or a big-box store. You and your date will need a list of things to find in the shops (see below) and your phone. When you arrive at the mall, agree on a place to meet in one hour. Then split up and find something that fits each category on the list. Take pictures of the items you select.
Here are the things to find as you roam the mall. And remember, you’re not actually buying stuff—just taking pictures.
- Something for yourself for $250 or less
- Something for your boyfriend/girlfriend for $250 or less
- Something to help with your job for more than $500
- Something for your parents for $250 or less
- Something for your home for $1000 or less
- Something you think is a complete waste of money (any amount)
- Something for a friend or sibling for about $50
- Something you think every home in America should have for about $50
- Something for a colleague or work friend for about $50
- Something you can wear on a cold day (any amount)
When you meet your Valentine in an hour, you should each have 10 pictures on your phones (one for each item on the list). Show off the images and explain why you picked them. Your date’s photos might even give you birthday gift ideas (hint, hint).
2. Take a Personal History Tour
Take your date to a few places that hold strong memories from your past. Good candidates are your elementary or high school, your childhood home, the church where you grew up, or your college campus. Escort him or her on a tour, sharing whatever memories spring to mind. (You can also do this with photos, but going to the actual place is way more interesting.)
Julie and I have both taken each other to our college campuses. We’ve visited the homes where we grew up. I’ve been to her high school, and I would’ve taken her to mine except that they tore it down. Each trip has been a journey deeper into the other person’s life because stories are one of the most powerful things that bond us as human beings.
1. Will You Marry Me?
I knew Julie was Miss Right by the time we’d been dating for a year. But of course I didn’t want my proposal to be normal — I wanted to make it a night to remember.
I worked part-time for a theater at the time, so I asked my boss if I could use the stage. I begged a friend to run the sound board; that way, my proposal could have music. Then I got on my computer and adapted the famous balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” to become . . . wait for it . . . “Georgio and Juliet.” (Come on, what did you expect from a theatre guy?)
I brought Julie to the theater for the big event. There was a sign onstage that read: Today Only: “Georgio and Juliet.” We performed the scene I adapted, she foolishly agreed to become my bride, and my sound guy played “our song” so we could dance. (In case you’re wondering, I did not prewrite the part of the scene where she said yes.)
If you’re planning to pop the question on V-Day, I’m not saying “do what I did.” Just think about how you can make the proposal more creative than a dinner and a bended knee. Your talents and interests can make it extraordinary.
* * *
God made each of His creations beautifully different, and those differences are why it’s worth working to make your dating relationship special. If you have marriage in mind, you’re pouring the foundation for a shared future that’s as extraordinary as God’s design for you. You’ll discover a language of love that you can always share by expressing your uniqueness to each other. Besides, making your relationship (and your dates) more creative is just plain fun. Would a bear and a honeybee steer you wrong?
Copyright 2024 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.