With parts of the U.S. beginning to open up, many of us who are unattached are jonesing to meet someone new in person. But there’s a lot to consider before you take that leap. In the era of COVID-19, dating comes with a whole new set of questions.
1. First things first: Should I stop dating?
Just because there are restrictions still in place in many parts of the country doesn’t mean dating is off the table. “I would not end nor stop dating…Social connection is imperative,” says sex and relationship therapist, Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW.
Anju Goel, M.D., MPH, agrees. “It’s fine to be dating right now as long as it is modified to be done virtually,” she says.
Even so, not everyone will feel comfortable. For 18-year-old Mia, a high-school senior from New Hampshire, a relationship is not worth the risk. “If I were to date someone, it would be really hard for me to keep my distance. I would be really scared for my own health.”
Whether or not you want to date right now is a personal decision, but no matter your choice, it’s important to find a way to stay connected to other humans. “I would really recommend you reach out to your support network virtually and try to connect with people regularly, at least once a day,” Goel advises.
2. Is IRL maybe OK, if I’m careful?
Going on an IRL first date is an option if you live in a place without a stay-at-home order and even then it’s important to do so with caution, says Goel.
Not sure what’s currently open and allowed in your area? The New York Times is keeping a tally on all 50 states. Every state is easing restrictions: Golf courses, beaches, and even restaurants could be open for business.
But that doesn’t mean meeting up in a crowded bar is a great idea right now, even if it’s legally an option. (While my home of Los Angeles is seriously tempting me by opening up restaurants with outdoor seating, I’m much more inclined to risk my health to protest than to brunch.)
So, if you do decide to meet up, practice physical distancing, especially if you are just getting to know the other person.
3. Is physical touch off the table?
According to Goel, COVID-19 may be transferred through kissing and even hugging. “We do think that virus particles could be on the body or on the clothing. [During a hug, someone] could get those particles onto their hands, and they could then touch their nose or eyes and therefore absorb the particles into their body and get sick. The risk is much lower than kissing or breathing in the same air, but it is possible.”
But that hasn’t stopped some people. Denise, 30, who lives in Los Angeles, found the decision to get together with a new prospect during the pandemic essential. “Whenever we decide to meet up, we wait a couple of weeks of total isolation before doing so. It’s just to be on the safe side, but I know it’s still risky.”
She’s not the only one trying this method. But it’s wise to be selective about who you let into your quarantine bubble.
4. What physical boundaries make me comfortable?
If you are able to meet up with someone, establish your boundaries about physical contact ahead of time so there’s no miscommunication or even hurt feelings. “I know many people who feel they will turn off a dating partner by saying ‘no.’ Boundaries and the word ‘no’ are totally fine,” Kort says. Don’t be afraid to let your match know that you need to be 6 feet apart when you finally hit the sand for that beach date.
5. Should I wait longer to meet someone IRL?
For 29-year-old Ashley, from Boston, the pandemic forced her to look at old dating habits and light them ablaze. “Before I would talk to someone for like a day and then meet up. It definitely was exhausting. Now I’m getting to know people more and finding that going slow isn’t so bad after all.”
According to Kort, Ashley isn’t the only one taking her time. “People are slowing down, especially sexually. People, out of fear or anxiety, are taking more time to get to know each other,” he says. As far Kort is concerned, this change has its benefits. “I like the idea of texting and video chatting for the first few weeks as a general practice. Talking is essential during dating.”
6. Why am I thinking about dating differently?
Priorities have shifted for many of us who went into the pandemic single. I truly loved being single, but it only took a few weeks of isolation for me to realize the benefits of having something consistent. And I’m not alone. 22-year-old Adonte from Maryland made the decision to get boo’d up during quarantine after semesters of singledom. “This time really makes you think about having a good support system rather than just ‘I want to date someone because they look good or have money.’ [This global crisis] has shown you need to have someone who’s really going to be there for you.”
Mia says that now that she’s had some extra time to think, her plans for dating have changed completely. “Before COVID I really wanted to be in a relationship. But now that COVID is here, I’ve had time to think about my life and what I want to do. Why date when I can just do my own thing?”
7. What happens next?
There’s also anxiety over what’s real and what’s not. Ashley finds herself wondering if people are interested in her or if they’re just lonely. And Adonte worries that people may go back to their old ways when things go back to normal. “Once everything else opens back up and you can go to the club, are you still going to have the same commitment [to the relationship] as you do now?” she asks.
It’s a totally valid concern. We’ve seen what dating is like during the pandemic, but what we don’t know is if things will slowly shift back to how they were before: limited courtship, ghosts aplenty, and no FaceTiming with matches. Or has COVID-19 changed dating norms forever?