The term “Netflix and chill” is typically employed in the context of casual flings and hookups—the 21st century version of inviting your date upstairs for “coffee” at the end of the evening. But for folks in long-term relationships, “Netflix and chill” often describes your regular date-night formula: grab the takeout menus, fluff the throw blankets, and queue up the latest movie.
The point of date night itself, of course, is to carve out dedicated one-on-one time with your partner. But doing the same activity over and over again, whether it’s movie night at home or going to the same restaurant down the street, can quickly grow boring.
Stuck in a rut with your date night routine? Then you might be interested in trying the alphabet dating model, which uses the letters of the alphabet to decide what date night brings. Similar to other tools like the relationship bingo card, alphabet dating provides a structure to actually make date night happen and imbue it with some variety when it does, which relationship experts say can go a long way toward keeping the fires of romance well-fed and roaring. Here’s how to start (and make it work for you and your partner).
How tools like alphabet dating work to boost connection
Alphabet (or ABC) dating is basically exactly what it sounds like: Starting from the beginning of the alphabet and advancing in order, daters plan outings that correspond to each letter.
For example, an “a” date could mean a trip to the local aquarium, while a “b” date could be an outing to the beach; “c” could mean breaking out the art supplies and getting crafty, while “d” could entail movie night at a drive-in theater. Using the alphabet as a linear structure, ABC dating ensures you and your partner are always trying new activities together (and keeping up with regular date nights).
Why does that matter? They say variety is the spice of life, and it’s just the same in relationships. Making time for one another and taking part in new experiences together are two key components of banishing boredom, which can sour your dynamic as it settles in. “We get into these ruts in our relationships where you initially do lots of fun and exciting things and then you settle into a routine,” says therapist Claudia de Llano, LMFT. “When we do that we begin to disconnect from each other, and that’s difficult because that’s how bonds begin to rupture.”
“Having the alphabet be the source of inspiration for different date ideas is quite easy and clever, and can add something more interesting to what could otherwise be monotonous.”—Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist at Tinder and Bumble
Repeating the same dates over and over again gets boring fast, and robs couples of chances to create new memories and routines together (which keeps a relationship exciting and fulfilling). Using all the letters of the alphabet ensures you’re mixing up your activities, which goes a long way toward staving off a date night rut. “Having the alphabet be the source of inspiration for different date ideas is quite easy and clever, and can add something more interesting to what could otherwise be monotonous,” says relationship expert Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist at Tinder and Bumble. She recommends aiming for a weekly date night, whether you’re in a newer couple or a more established one. Remember, not every week has to be expensive, so keep it flexible to fit your budget.
The alphabet dating model is fully customizable and the possibilities endless. Simply come up with a list of activities, or reference other lists for ideas, and start making your way through. Keep things fresh by varying the activities by season. For example, try apple picking as your “a” date in autumn, or fly a kite in the springtime when you get to the letter “k.”
Looking for more tips on alphabet dating? Here are some great ideas from the experts to make ABC dating easy as 1-2-3.
3 tips to use alphabet dating to break out of your date night rut
1. Involve both partners in planning
To get the most of ABC dating, be sure both you and your partner are involved in planning dates. If this pursuit turns into one partner’s fiefdom, meaning they’re always actually planning the dates or choosing ones only they’d enjoy, Dr. Carbino says the exercise can just create more conflict.
Part of the benefit of using any fun tool to plan date night is the process of making the date happen together; if one person feels like this is just another chore or that they’re not doing anything they want to do, they won’t be invested. “If one person is doing it, it would somewhat defeat the purpose of it, and both partners should be involved in the process if it is being used as a fun and collaborative tool,” she says.
2. Don’t keep picking the same kinds of dates
Another tip for ABC dating success? Really make an effort to vary the activities you do to keep the excitement up, says Dr. Carbino and de Llano. As you devise activities to go with each letter, make sure you have a variety of options both you and your partner would be intrigued by.
For example, if you feel most at home doing something like going out to a bar or restaurant, try to come up with some dates that involve something a bit out of your comfort zone—like a physical sport, class, or a DIY project at home. Remember that a key component of this is trying something new together, and that point is moot if you’re only doing activities you routinely do.
3. Prioritize connecting on the date itself
Of course, even more important than exactly what you’re doing is how you’re doing it. If you and your partner go to a high tea for the letter “h” but spend the whole time with your noses in your phones, the date wasn’t as useful for connection as it could have been, says de Llano. Don’t worry about making your list full of elaborate, bucket-list experiences either—keep the dates simple enough to actually do, but exciting enough to have a benefit.
One way to encourage deeper connections is to follow a model de Llano came up with called emotional alphabet dating. The conceit is similar to alphabet dating, but focuses on emotional connections. For example, “t” could stand for “trusting day,” which means to make time to build trust with your partner. You could do this separately or combine this with a trip to the tide pools or theme park. “You can combine [the two methods of abc dating] or do them separately, but this is going to elicit an even bigger response in terms of getting to know your partner and strengthening that bond,” she says.