Take your date to the grocery store
If you treat grocery shopping like a chore, all you will notice are the bruised apples, long lines, grim yellow lighting, and bitter chill of the frozen aisle.
But a grocery store is only as tedious as you make it. Disneyland also has long lines and a hellscape parking lot, but you probably don't treat your visit like a chore — you go in wide-eyed and open to the magic.
Think about it. Your grocery store is a place made up of fresh fruit, birthday balloons, Skittles, live lobsters, flower arrangements, and hot-n-ready fried chicken. It's kind of the perfect place for a date.
Breaking the imagined rules
The first grocery store date I ever went on, I was 3rd wheeling my grandparents. After we hit every free sample station in Costco, we checked out, and followed the spotlit billboard of an 8-foot hot dog, our North Star to the cafeteria.
"This is Pop Pop's and my favorite date spot," my grandma told me and my siblings as we parked our cart beside two plastic, white picnic tables. There, with several of their grandkids, Bob and Ellen sat under an indoor Kirkland-red umbrella and shared a chocolate and vanilla swirl ice cream cup. My siblings and I overflowed onto the neighboring table, enjoying our own ice creams and making the table a little stickier.
I remember watching my grandparents and trying to imagine them in their local Costco, getting ice cream with no kids around. In my mind, ice cream was mostly for kids. Dating was for hot 30-year-old actors who played high schoolers on TV. They were breaking both those imagined rules.
Their date ended with them helping us clean up our mess. I left Costco that day still knowing very little about dating. But I held onto that inclination that a date could be something simple and still surprising.
Bringing excitement to something ordinary
I knew my girlfriend was a keeper when we ended up at a Safeway on our third date. We just needed a place to meet up before going on a hike, but Safeway turned into the main event. We wandered around for over an hour and left with a rainbow slice of cake to share.
Thus began a long tradition of ranking grocery store cakes. Grocery stores became a go-to spot for a snack at the end of a night out, an air conditioned break from the summer heat, and a not-so-quick pit stop during trips. Nothing beats a spontaneous parking lot picnic.
If you're thinking that a grocery store date sounds like a Mr. Krabs move, that's fair. Maybe my girlfriend and I define a date too broadly. We also enjoy dressing fancy at a restaurant with white tablecloths, candle lighting, and menus full of French words that we have to look up on our phones. But an elegant ambiance can sometimes get in the way of getting to know someone, especially on those early dates. You might find yourself spending more energy trying to match the setting than being yourself, since your restaurant self is tucked in and buttoned up.
You can learn a lot about someone from what they add to the shopping cart. Does your date consider a protein bar to be a treat? Do they opt for the generic cookies or scoff at anything below the Milano shelf? Do they pair an energy drink with a can of spray cheese? This information can save you a lot of time sifting through potential partners.
And of course, restaurants come with the unavoidable awkwardness of deciding who will pay. Self-checkout makes paying for the date feel less like a test. Scan and go. And if you're nervous about letting a stranger into your home, the grocery store serves as a neutral ground that is almost as intimate as hanging out in your kitchen.
But the most important information that you can glean from a grocery store date is whether this person is willing to bring their energy and excitement to something very ordinary.
When we met, I had never been to Whole Foods and my girlfriend had never been to Wegmans, so we'd blindly debated about which one was better. Pinning grocery stores against each other like Pokémon cards is a stupid thing to do in any context, but especially when we only had half the facts. So we had to settle the score.
The day we went to Wegmans, their forest of a plant section took over the sidewalk and almost spilt into the street. I knew I was about to win.
My girlfriend walked through the automatic doors already holding two plants on her hips. Once we got a cart, she became even harder to keep up with, doing laps around the bakery and fresh herbs section. We explored the wine cellar and cheesemonger display like we just landed in Paris.
After we wandered around and learned the store's layout well enough to give directions, we checked out. I bought her the plants, and we ate our cake and kombucha sitting on the curb by her car. The orange and pink sunset slipped low behind the strip mall's dark blue silhouette. With her head on my shoulder, she told me this was the best date she'd ever been on. We laughed because she was half joking, but only half.
So when you get the chance, pull off the road into any old Kroger parking lot. Give someone a tour of your local Trader Joe's like you're showing off your private art collection in the Tuscan countryside. A red umbrella inside a crowded Costco warehouse can be your tropical getaway if it makes you slow down and take a seat. Do romantic things in regular places. Because what could be more wonderful than regular love?
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