If I were a perfect social-distancer, I would have stayed home. But I wouldn’t have Sam.
Romantic Intrigue VS Conflict
As a single person at the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t envy my friends living with long-term partners. They reported quickly growing weary of being around each other constantly. In the trade-off between loneliness and conflict, I was happy with my choice. (Well, technically, it was my ex-boyfriend’s choice, if we’re being precise.) But as time continued to pass, isolation settled in, and I began to crave romantic intrigue.
Initially, I hadn’t planned on making any major life changes during the pandemic. I could keep my life on hold for a few months, I thought. But four months in, it didn’t seem like COVID-19 would be under control anytime soon. I began to accept that if I wanted a partner in the near future, I’d have to start dating. I re-downloaded a few dating apps for the first time in five months.
Men Were More Responsive
While the pandemic couldn’t change the quality of the men on the app, it did make the conversations easier. Instead of searching for topics that would hopefully elucidate our compatibility, my matches and I now had an all-encompassing shared experience to discuss. I tried to steer the early dialogue away from the magnitude of our global predicament, and we were able to find common ground over topics such as how we were keeping ourselves busy at home. The men were more responsive, likely because the shutdowns had left all of us with few obligations, clinging to any social connection we could find. If it took a global pandemic to get a guy to respond to my messages, so be it.
The new world of dating had so many positives, nearly every match I spoke with suggested a date, typically via video-dating. Video-dates are cost-free and come with almost no risk of wasting an evening—it’s much easier to politely end a video-date after only 45 minutes than it would be an in-person date. The only time commitment I made outside of the call itself was the five minutes it took to apply mascara, and I often scheduled two dates in a night to maximize my lashes.
I felt more in control on video-dates because I could choose how my dates saw me. Initially, I feared that the ability to see myself would be distracting. Instead, I was better able to concentrate on what my dates were saying, as I didn’t self-consciously wonder if anything was stuck in my teeth or if my arms were held at an unflattering angle. The men seemed looser too. Previously, the unwritten rule of first dates had been to never say the word date, but the virtual dating experience was so unusual that we were quick to openly debrief. I felt really vulnerable admitting to strangers that I was worried about my FaceTime dating skills, but we were all equally inexperienced, and many of them shared my insecurities.
Video-dating had its downsides. Some men seemed to think that they didn’t owe women the same amount of respect virtually as they did in the real world, which was already a relatively low bar. One man didn’t show up to our date and never explained why. Another asked immediately if I’d be comfortable having sex during the pandemic. Yet another drunkenly called me in a towel and tried to flash his genitals. Fortunately, I could hang up and blame the Wi-Fi. Overall, though, because of the convenience and safety—COVID-19 is not the only risk women face when dating in person—I might recommend that daters always start with a video-date, even when the threat of the coronavirus has diminished.
Flirting With My Mask On
After a successful video-date with someone, I’d schedule a masked and socially distant date. I felt stiffer and more awkward in a mask—I hadn’t realized how crucial a smile was until I tried to flirt without one. And when one man talked only about himself for two hours, I couldn’t deliver my most withering “Your words—they bore me” glare (the frown is crucial).
My dates and I had to navigate each other’s rules for this new normal. I’d had similar conversations with close friends, who were divided over how much contact was acceptable, but it was significantly more challenging with guys I barely knew. My desire to seem “fun” and “chill” on dates was incompatible with expressing my social-distancing boundaries. I seemed to offend one date by asking him to stand farther away from me. I apologized, as I’m often too quick to do, and then felt ashamed—I should be prioritizing safety.
After a few misses, I caught a good one. Sam and I video-dated for hours. He came over for a socially distanced date on my lawn, during which I called a doctor friend to ask about the safety of him using my bathroom. Sam patiently held his bladder during the call, and I gave him the okay. Near the end of May, we went on our third in-person date, and he brought up sex. He seemed to think it would be fun, and I agreed. But we got COVID-19 tests first.
A Deeper Critique of Character
I suspected we were defaulting to monogamy, but I didn’t want to assume. I asked Sam if he was sleeping with anyone else. He seemed taken aback, and I understood his reaction. I was really asking not only whether we were exclusive, but whether he was exposing me to additional risks of contracting the virus. What was once a question I’d use to gauge whether a relationship was casual had become a deeper critique of his character. In a world in which going to the grocery store can kill you, is there even such a thing as “casual” dating or “casual” sex? Is anything casual anymore?
Click HERE to read the full article published on The Atlantic.