Throughout my career as a dating writer I’ve penned countless articles about how to navigate the trials and tribulations of being in a situationship, from a guide to navigating your emotions through each milestone to a primer on flawlessly executing the DTR talk. But I have to admit how to keep a situationship alive while devoid of in-person contact is something that never crossed my mind until now.
And yet it’s a very real, very timely issue. Sophia, 27, is “quietly freaking out that the isolation will cause things to end prematurely” with someone she went on two dates with pre-coronavirus. Julia, 25, had been on more than 10 dates with a guy before this all went down. “Now I feel like we’re in a super weird lull of not knowing how to act or move forward,” she laments.
Stay-at-home orders mark the temporary end of a lot of things — going out to eat, spending IRL time with friends, and going to work among them — but, if you give the following tips a shot, it doesn’t have to mark the end of your situationship.
1. Let your guard down.
Nothing about an international pandemic is normal, so don’t feel the need to pretend everything is fine. “At this point, everyone has some level of anxiety,” says New York-based psychologist Niloo Dardashti, Psy.D. “Be more OK with being vulnerable with the person that you’re [seeing]. That means showing them the things that you are worried about and being there for each other in a way that you wouldn’t be if it wasn’t an international crisis time.”
Leaning on each other (virtually) can create a close bond that may not have formed under normal circumstances. “Everybody is experiencing this, so the chances are that if you’re a little bit vulnerable with the other person, they might let down their guard, too,” says Dardashti. “If that goes both ways, it can really cultivate connection.”
2. Stay in the moment.
As a textbook over-thinker, I know how easy it is to fall down a what-are-we rabbit hole while in a situationship. But this probably isn’t the time to make any decisions about your future (or lack thereof) as a couple. With all of the other stressors out in the world right now, “you don’t want to put that undue pressure on someone,” says Dardashti.
If keeping quiet feels totally wrong, at least initiate the conversation by framing things in a positive light. For example, rather than saying, ‘‘I’m anxious that I’m going to lose you after this,” say, “I’m really feeling good with you,” and see where the discussion goes from there.
3. Swap IRL dates for phone calls and FaceTimes.
If you were going on dates pre-quarantine, it’s important to maintain that rhythm while in isolation, says Dardashti. “What would you normally be doing with that person? You might be going out to dinner. So, you can have dinner together via FaceTime. Is it a great replacement? No. Is it something? Yes. Something is better than nothing. You want to cultivate the experience of having consistent interaction.”
Some other distanced date ideas? Cyber dating expert Julie Spira recommends watching a show together via Netflix Party, then hopping on the phone to recap with each other. If you’re both big music fans, look into which of your favorite artists are offering virtual concerts and tune in from your respective homes. Let loose by playing an online game against each other — and maybe call them to gloat after you win.
4. Don’t rely too much on texting.
“Texting someone is easy,” says Dardashti. “Taking the time to sit down, call someone, and be fully present is very different than texting, which you can do while you’re doing 8,000 other things.”
That said, you can use texting as a supplement to your FaceTime and phone dates. “Texting is a good complement to ‘seeing’ each other,” says Dardashti. And at this point, phone calls and video chats are a replacement for meeting up in person. Let’s say the two of you are catching a live concert on IG. Definitely plan on talking on the phone to recap afterward. You can also send texts with some of your favorite songs from that artist early in the day to build hype, suggests Spira.
5. Establish some regularity.
During normal times, if the two of you stopped interacting, it would suggest things are fizzling out. A digital situationship is no different in that you need to be in touch somewhat regularly. “I think at least every other day if not daily interaction of some sort is important,” says Dardashti. “Don’t just assume that connection will continue whenever this thing ends. You have to cultivate a relationship for it to grow.”
A simple rule of thumb here is to lean on how you would communicate any other time. Would you be going on one date a week? Then try to schedule one FaceTime date once a week. Would you be texting every day? Then text every day.
6. Ask meaningful questions.
Yes, you can do this without making someone feel like they’re on a job interview. “From asking for two truths and a lie to what the most exciting night of their life was, as long as the questions are not related to the pandemic, it will help you get to know each other on a more intimate but non-physical basis,” says Spira. You can also get a better idea of the other person’s sense of humor, not to mention prompt some very weird stories, by playing a rousing game of “would you rather?”
7. Send a thoughtful gift.
Key word: thoughtful. “Not just roses or a teddy bear,” Dardashti warns. Really listen to what the person you’re talking to expresses during your conversations, and pick a present based on what they’ve told you.
This gift doesn’t have to be anything huge — just a small show of support. A great, inexpensive way to express that you care is to have one of their favorite foods delivered to their place. Let’s say they’re from Philadelphia, and they’ve mentioned feeling homesick. Look up the best Philly cheesesteak spot near them. Don’t have their address? Send a virtual gift card to the restaurant you found so they can use it for a delivery order. In the description for the gift card, write something like, “treat yourself to a little taste of home.”
Does it compare to spending time together in person? Unlikely. But, like Dardashti says, it’s something. And now, more than ever, it’s important to cling to what we’ve got.