Lockdown began just like the moment in musical chairs when the music stops. Those in families were frozen in them; those with flatmates were stuck with them; those in relationships had to decide whether to move in together or stay apart for the duration; and those living alone and single suddenly found themselves facing an indefinite period of not being touched – by anyone, in any way.
For people in the last category, the mind boggled. It was immediately clear that the road back to the old ways – intimacy on tap, a quest for love determined by our own rhythms and needs, not those of a global pandemic – would be hopelessly long and littered with military-style blockades. Those of us who thought nothing of physical contact with strangers before have, of course, been terrified into rethinking so much as a handshake.
At least that was how it felt here. Other countries, such as Denmark, took a different tack. “Sex is good. Sex is healthy,” Soren Brostrom, director general of the Danish Health Authority, said in April. “We are sexual beings, and of course you can have sex in this situation.” He included casual sex in this; the mere thought of which would have been enough to make most of my female friends here faint from anxiety.
But finally, as we head towards June, our resolve is cracking. In the last week or so, after months of solitude, singles’ patience has begun to fray and a new, riskier leaf is being slowly but surely turned over. In the UK, it began with the Professor Neil Ferguson revelations earlier this month: if the UK’s top epidemiological modeller (as was) was seeing his married lover in the peak of the pandemic, then surely we all could start seeing ours?
Most of us weren’t gutsy – or foolish – enough to do so. But over the past week, it’s clear that singletons can wait no longer.
The sun is out, the birds (and bees) are singing, and every park in Britain – or, certainly, at least London – has filled with people on only very slightly socially distanced dates. “So, how long have you lived here?” and “How many siblings do you have?” and other such date-like lines are ringing across the grass as two people get to grips with the new romantic reality on either side of a splayed bicycle.
The more cautious have been waiting in hope of advances in testing technology. Rather than risk romance in the park (and possibly later in the bedroom), my generally sensible friends have been holding out for a test more accurate than the daily-changing R rate.
While those much-vaunted fingerprick tests for the virus still seem a way off, the romantic earth shook last week with news of new antibody tests going on sale. For £69, you can now get one from Superdrug. This is somewhat expensive, but the possibility of demonstrating immunity, at least for a time, means these new kits have been leapt on by the touch-starved. Despite the uncertainty about whether the virus offers any immunity at all to those who have recovered from it, in the absence of any other assurance, an antibody test is the best we have.
In New York, where there is altogether more Covid caution combined with a far more aggressive dating scene, the antibody test has entered the romantic arena with particular panache. As the New York Post put it, “They’re single and have the paperwork to mingle”, reporting that “singles […] are boasting about their coronavirus antibody test results when they’re out on the prowl.”
Some are even adding the results to their dating profiles. Others demand to know about a potential partner’s “corona status” before entertaining them as a prospect.
Maureen Nelson, a matchmaker on Long Island, said: “About a week and a half ago, my clients started asking questions like: ‘Maureen, this person that you matched me with, do you think they’ve had the coronavirus?’ We’re asking people if they’re comfortable sharing if they’ve had it, and if they’d like to know if the person they’re matching has had it.”
Predictably, in the badlands of app-world, the rise of ‘antibody flaunting’ has exposed some fairly predictable gender differences. Men are the ones flaunting, women considering warily, with reports of the fairer sex being regaled by men with earnest but untrustworthy assurances of their immunity.