Perhaps I'm naive, but I think dating should actually entail, you know, dates. It has been my experience, however, that guys are interested in the first few outings, but after that they prefer to stay at home on the couch, remote firmly in their grip. That's not to say that a quiet night in watching a game or a good movie can't make for an enjoyable evening, but I wouldn't necessarily call that a "date."
Dating should be about getting to know each other, and a good way to do that is to be active. I used to be one of those people who complained that there was nothing to do in Charlotte. Untrue! There are plenty of places to explore, restaurants to try, and events to enjoy - and the dates don't have to be expensive. In fact, in an informal poll of my Twitter and Facebook followers, singles say that they prefer affordable dates because the focus remains on the moment, the connection, and the person you are with.
Here are some date ideas that should help get the creative juices flowing:
1. Get into a Jam. The U.S. National Whitewater Center hosts the Whitewater River Jam concert series on Thursday nights 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. May through September, and Saturday nights 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (June through August. Watch the sunset over the Catawba River while relaxing on the patio. $5 parking fee. Visit their website for the artist lineup.
2. Try swinging. No, not that kind of swinging (at least not on a first date). Stumptown Stomp is a free outdoor swing dance on the second and fourth Sundays of every month at Stumptown Park (120 S. Trade St. in Matthews). Free beginner lessons start at 4 p.m., no experience is required, with a dance to follow. For more information, call (704) 321-7275.
3. Take a hike. Need to get away from city life for a few hours? Head west to Crowder's Mountain State Park. It is open year round and offers a variety of trails to suit your level of hiking ability and interest. Once you reach the summit, kick back and enjoy the panoramic views. Bonus points if you bring along a picnic lunch.
4. Stop and smell the roses. The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is lovely, but for the true tightwad, the free UNCC Botanical Gardens are the clear choice. Meander through 10 acres of tropical plants, wildflowers, orchids, and Asian gardens. 9201 University City Blvd. in Charlotte. Call (704) 687-0720.
5. Get meals on wheels. Check out Food Truck Friday in South End and sample some of Charlotte's best grub. If you really want to make a night of it, go on the first Friday of the month, which is also the South End Gallery Crawl. Be sure to stop in at Lark & Key gallery, my personal favorite.
6. Enjoy a blast from the past. Drive on over to the drive-in theatre in Albemarle. Curl up in the front seat with your honey and catch a double feature for only $6 per adult. 2411 Badin Road in Albemarle. Visit their website for movie listings.
7. "Something wicked this way comes." For fans of The Bard, the Charlotte Shakespeare Festival will be performing MacBeth at the Booth Playhouse in Founder's Hall, August 15-25. There is a $5 suggested donation, so give them a crisp $10 and feel like a patron of the arts.
8. Find your zen. Dharma Lounge offers free yoga classes on Tuesday nights at 6:30 p.m. Feed your inner bliss without emptying your wallet. A rotating roster of top area instructors and a DJ provide a unique date night option. Located at 1440 S. Tryon St. #105 in Charlotte. Call (704) 334-8336 or visit their website for more info.
9. Two-fer Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, admission to the Mint Museum Randolph and Mint Museum Uptown is free. Work up an appetite by perusing the F.O.O.D. (Food, Objects, Objectives, Design) exhibit at the Uptown location, and then sharpen your fashion sense at the Randolph location, which is highlighting the designs of Dior, Balmain, and Saint Laurent. Visit their website for more information.
10. Be a do-gooder. Impress your date by showcasing your humanitarian side. Find a volunteer opportunity at here and get to know each other while cleaning up a local park or sorting donations for a thrift store. Even if you don't make a love connection, it will be time well spent.
BONUS: Check sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Sure, they offer half-priced dinners at local eateries, but these sites also offer deals on activities like bowling, river tubing, and wine tours. Explore a new area of town or try your hand at a new skill.
This post has been amended to incorporate a recent change at the Mint Museum. Its free night is no longer Tuesday, as indicated in the original version of this story. Its free night is now on Wednesday.