Illustration by Avalon Nuovo
Picture it: A hot date is coming over to your apartment for a romantic evening. The lights are dimmed. The candles are casting a gentle glow. Rose petals? Yeah, all over the place. The mood between you and your partner is sensual—even electric with tension. And... your roommate is kinda high and microwaving a frozen black bean burrito in 30-second intervals. It can be hard to keep the proverbial spark alive between partners in the best of times, and I know you don’t need me to tell you that this decidedly is not the best of times when it comes to wringing a little pleasure and fun out of… absolutely anything. A fun, sexy little date night at home is no exception. Factor in the housemates who 30 percent of people in the U.S. ages 23 to 65 live with, and things start to get complicated—and not in the hot “I didn’t know a human torso could bend like that!” way. With that in mind, here’s a little advice on how to have a cute night in without tanking any of your relationships—romantic or domestic.
Just the fact that you have roommates, however, isn't what's standing between you and your romantic evening in. (Unless they are real and true magazine feature-worthy nightmares.) In most cases, a self-centered, adversarial attitude towards the people you live with is more likely to sour the night than anything those people actually do, according to Amy Canevello, an associate psychology professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies the impact of motivation on interpersonal relationships. When you're mostly worried about how your roommates are putting you out, you might view their actions through a combative lens instead of a good-faith one, which will only make the situation more stressful. “If the focus is more directed toward the self, people are quite likely to see others as competitors,” Canevello said. “It can set you up to make you feel like the other person is competing for some kind of resource, whether that be physical space or whether it be emotional space, which creates a zero-sum perspective”—meaning one person needs to lose in order for the other to win—“where the for the only way for me to get my needs met is for you to not get your needs met.”Canevello said that a zero-sum line of thinking is easy to fall into when you're living with other people, but that, in order to build a happy home, your goal should be cooperation. “The intention to support the other person can change how we frame our relationships with them,” she said. So, instead of grumbling about how your roommate could possibly be using the kitchen to cook dinner at dinnertime, just let them know you’d appreciate it if they could clear up the dishes because you’ve got company en route—and that you’d be happy to wipe the counters if they don’t have time to do a deep clean.
Think of you and your roommates as working with one another, not against one another.
Some of your big romantic plans may require use of shared spaces, like the kitchen, bathroom, or living room, which means they’ll also require some buy-in from your roommates. As Canevello mentioned earlier, the way you approach this conversation is going to determine a lot of how it goes. “Try to get yourself to a place where you want to make things good for you and for others,” Canevello said. Come at it from the perspective that it's not just about you and your partner. You’ll have a way better date night if you focus on how to make sure everyone’s boundaries are respected and nobody feels trapped in their room because you and your partner are reenacting the pottery scene from Ghost in the kitchen with a sourdough starter.Canevello stressed that there’s no perfect way to ensure you get free reign of whatever you want in the house or the apartment—because that’s not what your goal should be. Instead, you should imagine what you really want in the long term (a good roommate relationship and a nice home environment), and act accordingly. Have a talk with your roommates about what their plans are for that evening in question, what (if any) qualms they might have about company, COVID safety, and anything else logistical. If it’s a holiday like Valentine’s Day and multiple people plan on having guests, it could be helpful to set up a schedule so no one’s unexpectedly waiting in line to use the oven, or locked out of the bathroom for two hours thanks to someone else’s spa night.
Check in with your roommates before the night itself.
None of this is to say you need to ask anyone’s permission to hang out with the person you love—just that, because you’ve chosen to share housing with people besides the two of you, their opinions and needs matter just as much as yours do if you're using common space or otherwise affecting their comfort. If your roommate(s) are reasonable, personable people, they want the same things that you and your partner do: a good, sustainable relationship that involves care, respect, and thoughtfulness. It’s in everyone’s best interest to act accordingly.
OK, now that your roommates are either out of the way or respectfully sharing the zone however you both agreed was right: How can you make the space itself feel more romantic? Was I joking about throwing rose petals all over your 3BR/1.5BA earlier? Absolutely. That would be so annoying to clean up later. But that doesn’t mean that creating a sensual vibe is anything other than essential to having a good date night in. The place to invest that energy, however, is the bedroom—not common spaces, where scarves draped over lamps or a smooth jazz soundtrack could be an unwelcome intrusion into someone else’s after-hours Zoom call with Grandma or 30-minute at-home barre class.If you’re working from home, decoupling that space from your 9-to-5 will take a little extra effort. Sofia Barrett-Ibarria recently shared a few tips from sexologists for VICE about how to take your room from “shitty home office” to “sex palace” STAT! It also works well for making your room feel sexier, in general—basically, clean and declutter, change your sheets, be more intentional about lighting, and burn some candles or incense. The extra preparation shows your partner that you really care they’re coming over—and that alone will go a long way towards transforming another Saturday night binge-watching 90 Day Fiancé into something a little more special—and make it feel less like you're trapped in your bedroom because of your roommates, and more like it's somewhere you'd both never want to leave anyway.
Make the most out of your bedroom instead of relying on common spaces.
Quarantine is so boring and so depressing that it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing to do. That’s not true, though. Tap into that well of creativity you’re no longer using for themed Zoom nights and plan a unique, one-night-only set of activities. Preparation is critical here. If you already had a bottomless list of ideas and the means to carry them out on deck, you wouldn’t be reading this article, would you? If you’re both down to commit to it, do not shy away from a theme: music festival, après-ski, beach weekend, TikTok house, murder mystery, Michelin-starred restaurant, whatever—it can actually help all the other pieces of the “So, how the fuck do we make this fun?” puzzle, like wardrobe and decor, click together perfectly, even if you're just hanging out in your room.Theme aside, what to actually do with your partner is only limited by your preferences, energy, access to props, and imagination. Take a bath together (if it won't put anyone else out); watch a bunch of instructional videos and then give each other almost-professional massages; DIY a wine flight; play strip chess (just kidding… unless); have a shitty Lifetime movie marathon; go Chef’s Table on their ass and present each other with an at-home, multi-course “tasting menu;” use an instant camera for a boudoir photoshoot; make firecrackers and giggle together at the Bernie Mittens porn parody; take turns nude modeling for watercolor portraits you paint of each other; order opulent takeout from a restaurant where you had your best pre-’demic date night; watch Moonstruck, the most romantic film of all time; or throw together some combination of the above.
Use activities to make your date feel like an occasion, even if you can’t really leave the house.
Ultimately, any activity that makes you and your partner feel closer and more connected to each other makes for a good date night—it doesn’t have to be, like, naked Twister or something cartoonishly sexual (although if that’s what gets you going, who am I to stop you!). Just be mindful of the sounds/sights/scenes involved as they relate to your roommate's night, too.
Famously, plans can get derailed. (See: the entire last year.) That means crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s in preparation for your date night doesn’t mean everything will go off without a hitch—on your end or your roommates’. Shit happens: People get food poisoning. People get dumped. Pets pee on laptops. Pipes burst and the wifi cuts out. Someone else’s emergency could mean you have to rearrange your night to clean up a mess. That's life!Being a part of a healthy roommate team means you have to roll with the punches and accept that even the best-laid plans can change—and that those plans aren’t changing at you. “It’s about navigating in the moment, and in the moment, trying to keep that perspective of, This is not just about me. I really care about what other people are feeling now and what their experiences are like, and I want them to have a good Valentine's Day too,” Canevello said. “From there, you can say, ‘Let's see if we can figure out a way to make that happen for everybody.’”A guiding principle: Nothing is less sexy (or less productive) than passive-aggressive bickering between roommates. Except, of course, a partner who doesn’t treat your roommates like separate human beings with their own wants and needs. “It’s the same as, ‘Don’t date somebody who mistreats waitstaff!’” Canevello said. “It’s just not cool.”Follow Katie Way onTwitter.