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Alex Horvath / The Californian

Columnist Valerie Schultz

In retrospect, the fact that our first date was to a dance concert is significant. My husband-to-be and I were college students in 1978 when we attended a performance on campus of a visiting dance troupe from Atlanta. After the show, we took a walk. Then we sat outside under the stars and talked, and declared our "like" for each other, and finally kissed goodnight. The rest is history.

All these decades later, my husband has given me a Christmas gift that refers back to that first date: Last December, he gave me a certificate for a monthly "day of culture" -- 12 of what we now call "culture dates." He is in charge of the planning, the tickets, and all the arrangements, and once a month, we go on an outing. I was going to wait to write about this exceptional gift until the end of the year, but it turns out that May is "Date Your Mate" Month. It seems especially appropriate, therefore, to write about culture dates now.

Dating your mate is a lovely idea, and a contributing factor to a vibrant and healthy marriage. But who has time? Or the funding? In the years when we were raising four daughters, we could probably have counted our official dates on one hand. When we did manage to go to the theater and see a play or a movie or a concert, we usually brought the kids with us, to give them an appreciation for culture. Sometimes it was popular culture: We saw many of the Disney princess movies on their first run. But we also made annual treks to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where we saw matinee performances because the tickets were cheaper, and we camped at night because hotel prices were beyond our means. We took the girls to museums in Los Angeles and San Diego, and my husband gamely took them, as they became teenagers, to concerts by bands they adored. (Ask him about being the only dad at the Blur concert in Hollywood once upon a time.) As our family grew, a lot of the plays and dance concerts and music recitals we attended were chosen because our daughters were performing in them. The two of us on a date as a couple was a rare event.

But in the blink of an eye, as the saying goes and as older women warned me when I was a young mother, the children who voraciously consumed our free time for many years are now grown up and out of our home. I do not agree with the "marriage is hard work" school of thought, but I do think that every marriage benefits from some conscious care. My husband, as usual, has impeccable timing in giving me this year of culture dates, because now we have the precious free time, along with a bit of disposable income, to date our mate.

So far this year we have gone on four culture dates. In January, we scheduled movie marathons on the weekends in an attempt to see all the Oscar-nominated movies before the Oscars, a feat we'd never before accomplished. (We caught most of them.) In February, we enjoyed seeing an old friend in a new play, called "Above the Fold," at the Pasadena Playhouse. In March, we went to the production of "Hair!" that toured Bakersfield.

In April, we attended an "open mic" night for budding stand-up comics, one of whom was my cousin. This month we are planning to see the Cal State Bakersfield production of "Hairspray." Possibilities still to come: the symphony, the ballet, a concert in the park, the required Shakespeare and, of course, the Getty Museum.

For us, it is Date Your Mate Year.

Our culture dates help us to remember the college couple who liked each other enough to be exclusive. We didn't know then that we were pouring the foundation for a long married life, but we committed to building a future together. The construction of the house of our marriage didn't always go according to the plans, but the blueprint has been flexible enough to accommodate the necessary changes and improvements. It seems sturdy enough now.

Dating your mate reminds you of why you fell in love with that person in the first place, instead of any other someone. A date with your mate is an echo of the past, but with the deeper, richer tones of the life you have shared. There is also a level of comfort on a date with your mate: you don't have to wonder if you're going out with a decent kisser. You don't have to worry about whether or not you should end the date in bed with this person, because you know you will. Dating your mate is romantic and refreshing, intimate and important. And it comes with benefits.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at