Cuffing season hits different in 2020.
From park dates to matching COVID-19 tests to building out a quaranteam, pandemic dating makes the already complicated matter of trying to find an intimate partner feel insurmountable.
But what is it actually like to be a single person looking for love or at least someone to make out with during a pandemic when you’re supposed to avoid physical touch?
BuzzFeed News spoke to eight people about their pandemic dating experiences, who agreed to spill their full, unvarnished secrets as long as we didn’t publish their full names. They told us stories about falling in love over FaceTime, desperately texting exes — and the fear of perhaps killing your parents. These accounts have been edited for clarity and length.
Zoë, 27, New York City
In March, I began to quarantine with my parents in the Catskills.
I tried some FaceTime dates, something I had never done before. I didn’t have to worry about getting dressed up, spending money. It was kind of like a trial date.
Dating while living with your parents in quarantine, nothing is a secret. My mom likes to pop her head in during dates. I had to make boundaries: If I’m down in the basement and you know I’m on a date, don’t come down; don’t ask me about how it went.
It was probably about three FaceTime dates before I met the person I am currently with. We’ve been dating for almost four months now. He is in Connecticut, quarantining with his parents, so we bonded over the fact that we are essentially living with our parents again.
After a month, we went for a hike where he lives to see if our chemistry translated in person or if the COVID-19 anxiety would ruin things. We kept our masks on, we physically distanced, we didn’t touch or anything. Happily, we connected just as well in person.
So then we had to figure out how to meet up and spend time together. We met up about a month later at his vacation house. It involved a lot of talking and planning that wouldn’t have occurred normally — “what precautions are you taking,” “are you going out to restaurants or public spaces,” “we need to get a COVID test,” etc.
There was a lot of talking with parents — where we would be going, what we would be doing. It was all laid out on the table. It was worth it. Mom wants the full details. About everything. She’s my best friend, but some things I don’t necessarily want to tell her.
We’ve only met twice. We talk every day. The fact that we are only able to talk over FaceTime, it’s enhanced and deepened our relationship. You get to know someone; it’s intellectually stimulating. Now that I’ve experienced a relationship like this one, I realize how important it is to connect with someone and have conversations before taking things further. But I think it’s important to address that there are needs that aren’t necessarily being met.
We are trying to meet up in person again. Right now we’re just taking it day by day.
Christian, 34, San Francisco
I went down to Orange County for the July 4 weekend. There’s an ex, a guy I saw a few times — he literally just texted and was like, “I see you’re in town,” because he can see where I am through Grindr. He was like, ‘My mom has left the house and I’m here by myself and you’re down the street, so what’s up?’ So I went over.
We went through the motions: ‘So have you been careful?’ Yeah yeah yeah, just take your clothes off. We’re here, we’re doing it, your mom’s not here, I have to go back.
And then I felt really guilty. I’m with my parents! I’m chiding them for breaking the rules, and I had hooked up with this guy and was now potentially super-spreading to my family. That night, the party included 10 people from my extended family. They’ve all been quarantining together in a pod.
The day before, a few of them came over to say hi, and they weren’t wearing masks inside. I was being such a bitch about it — “Why aren’t you wearing masks? You hang out with grandma, and she’s 98 years old!” — and the next day I go up and hook up with this guy down the street.
I hung out next to the BBQ with a mask on the entire night, in the corner of the backyard. Thankfully it was fine.
Last weekend I went on a date. He’s a doctor. He looked so tired. We’re well into the pandemic. There’s a lot of testing going on; I just assumed as a doctor he would also be getting tested all the time — but when I asked him, and I told him I get tested all the time on site, he looked at me surprised and said, “You know, I haven’t been asked once to be tested.”
There are plans for a second date, and I kind of want to be like, are you sure you’re COVID-19–free? It makes me feel a little weird. I’m a scientist working in a lab. If I got a positive test, the entire department would have to be shut down for two weeks.
Desireé, 29, Washington, DC
Boredom and living alone began to wear on me, so I downloaded the apps and started swiping. We matched on Bumble in late May.
Whereas normally we would talk for a bit and then go on a date within a week or two, we spent nearly two months texting nonstop, exchanging very detailed voice notes and going on virtual dates before we decided to meet. We discussed COVID-19 protocol and decided to get tested before we did a socially distanced meetup. I never thought that I would have to feel a swab scratching the surface of my brain to meet a woman, but these are new times.
The most transformative moment of the pandemic was when we first saw each other. I will never forget what it felt like. All the nerves of a first date combined with this uncanny feeling of familiarity because we spent so much time communicating before our first meeting.
We met, masks on, as she sat in her car in the parking lot of my apartment complex. She brought me some thoughtful gifts, which I opened from outside the car, masks still on our faces. The gifts reflected information that she’d gathered from all of our time in conversation: a milkshake from my favorite place one and a half hours away, my favorite album on vinyl, flowers to celebrate a work-related achievement, and a cute note about how we were not going to touch that day — ha.
I desperately wanted to see her smile in person. We decided she would get out of the car and I would stand 6 or more feet away, and we would briefly drop our masks to see each other’s faces. Watching her face light up to finally see mine and feeling my reaction to seeing hers flooded me with feelings that I still cannot quite articulate. It was dizzying and soothing and electrifying all at once.
Finally, since my COVID-19 test came back negative (she was still waiting on her results but had previously tested negative), I got into the car with her. We immediately and instinctively reached for each other’s hands while a Spotify playlist we created together played in the background. It was like a scene in a movie.
That first meeting encapsulates our relationship. I am completely enraptured with her, comfortable with her, and even though only a few months have passed, I know her well, and it feels as though I have known her for much, much longer. It is like we are waiting on time to catch up to us.
Riley, 34, New York City
When the pandemic first hit New York City and I found myself quarantining in my studio apartment alone — while other friends were bunkered down in big apartments with outdoor space, cute new quarantine puppies, tiny babies, and husbands to do the dishes — I thought, Well, I must have made a lot of wrong decisions to end up here.
I didn’t physically touch another human being for over two months. That time confirmed to me that while I love lots of aspects of my life alone, I definitely want a partner.
Socially distanced dating felt like a return to the Victorian era, where we stroll around the grounds and make small talk to see if our futures are compatible. But I also think it is a good way of weeding out people — if you can’t entertain me from 6 feet away, then I don’t want to make out with you. Plus, the moment you both take your masks off is surprisingly sexy, a little face reveal.
One dude, who was Italian and obsessed with cooking, didn’t want to wear a mask regularly. He was a scientist and argued that it wasn’t an airborne illness. I didn’t want that kind of pandemic energy. I enjoyed socially distanced park dates with another guy because he had a very cute dog I got to pet, but I liked the dog better than him.
The third man, J, and I clicked instantly. Our conversation immediately went straight to the real shit — his mom had been hospitalized for weeks with COVID-19 and had recently recovered. By the end of the date, we were sitting knee to knee.
We lived near each other. I got on with his roommates. We all took similar precautions. He seemed like a great person to form a quarantine pod with. We had a fun summer together. Sharing a meal at home and watching dumb TV together felt extra special after months of solitude. Once I cried watching him wash my dishes because it was just such a relief to be taken care of.
But the relationship never really got off the ground. There was no huge spark, just a small one. We both admitted that in normal times we probably would have started dating other people, but right now this felt better than being alone or trying to find someone new mid-pandemic.
After dating for three months, I realized I did want big love and I’d rather be going through lockdown 2.0 alone than settling just because of this awful virus. So I broke it off a few weeks ago. I’ve started booking FaceTime dates with new people.
J is coming over tonight, though. I just want to cuddle someone while watching a movie, and he feels safer than a new person right now.
Idean, 29, Los Angeles
I broke up with a long-term relationship pretty much just before the pandemic, around the end of February. Then it was like: I need that rebound.
I downloaded all the dating apps and started reaching out to everyone — but at that time you would match with people but never go on dates. So I ended up talking to one of my exes. Like, it’s a pandemic. What am I going to do? Let me just hit her up. We hadn’t talked for three or four years.
She’s in Arizona. We said, “Let’s catch up; come for a weekend.” She stayed and quarantined at my place for two months. It was just comfort. This was during super lockdown time. There’s nowhere to go. There’s nothing to do. We’re stuck in the house.
It ended up being a horrible decision. You can’t be stuck in a house after not seeing your ex for a long time. Just the same arguments would come back. We had dated for three years. We didn’t really want to date each other, but it was just getting serious because we were stuck together.
She went back to Arizona. We ended up blocking each other after an argument.
Emily, 31, Washington, DC
I spent four weeks going through the process from Zoom dating to socially distant dating to isolating for 14 days in order to safely date without distancing, only to discover the worst lack of physical chemistry I have ever experienced. The Zoom sex was better than the in-person sex, which was terrible.
When I got to his apartment, he had no books and no paintings. He also only listened to happy music. I asked him if he ever listened to sad music, and he was like, “Nope.” I was like, “Really? Not even when something traumatic happened to you?” And he was like, “I don’t think anything traumatic has ever happened to me.”
I went over there two more times after that just because he lived close by and I didn’t feel like going through the dating/quarantine process again, but holy shit he was the most boring person.
In June I finally found a dude to hook up with consistently, whom I knew I could tolerate for a while. But then he hooked up with another girl without telling me, and only told me because she came down with COVID symptoms. He was like, “Oh yeah, before we meet up on Sunday, I need to tell you I hooked up with this girl and she has COVID symptoms. I don’t know if that changes the calculus for Sunday.” I was like, bitch, excuse me? Yes, it changes the calculus.
I just broke up with a guy who I really liked. We had a whirlwind COVID romance, even went on a little trip together (just a couple hours away to Charlottesville to hike). But the way COVID intensifies things, plus the rush to find someone to hunker down with before the winter, I think maybe just caused us to rush because it clearly wasn’t right.
Ashley, 34, Boston
I didn’t go on any of the dating apps during quarantine. Truthfully I didn’t want to talk to a guy on a video chat and have him try to show me his penis or something. Ideally they wouldn’t do that if you’re meeting out in public.
Personally I prefer we meet outside for drinks. Everyone has such a different opinion and comfort level with COVID, and it’s become so politicized. Meeting up with someone, I would normally give them a hug. Now I try to check beforehand: “What is your personal comfort level?”
I have sat indoors twice ‘cause it was raining. On one of the indoor dates — he was a nice guy, I just didn’t feel the physical attraction there — we had a couple of drinks, and he walked me to my car. I said, “Thank you. Nice to meet you. Hope you have a good night.” And he said, “Yeah you too,” leaned right in, and started going for the makeout session.
I froze in the moment. I wasn’t expecting that. I started having what I call COVID panic attacks. Just: Uh oh. Am I going to get COVID from this? Is he going to give it to me? Is he going to get it from me? I had to use my arm to wedge in between us.
The next morning, he messaged to say he had a great time, and I replied saying, “I just wanted to let you know this threw me off a lot. It made me feel super uncomfortable, especially with COVID.” He was taken aback and apologized.
Jacob, 18, New York City
When quarantine started, I was a senior in high school. I was just at my childhood home in Kentucky from March until the beginning of August. I met my current boyfriend on Twitter two months into quarantine, through mutuals. One day, Gibson DM’d me: “You’re going to college in the city; I’m from Hoboken across the water.”
We added each other on Snapchat. It happened honestly, like, abnormally quick. Charli XCX, her album came out on the 15th of May, and there was a Zoom release party. We were talking about music and how it affects us. I think it took three days after that to say, This is a thing. I love you so much.
I was expecting, coming up here to New York, to be a whore for the first time in my life. Well, with COVID and everything, I was like, shit, that can’t happen. I’m content with not doing that if I have him.
Being gay in the South, you have to keep that on lock sometimes. I had one serious boyfriend, but with Kentucky, I really don’t see anyone who is fit for me. I grew up knowing I was different from the norm. I hadn’t reconciled with that fact for so long. From March to June, I could really only go around and walk in the woods and think about what home meant to me. It was really beneficial, being able to accept the fact that I’m not solely where I came from.
We met three months to the day after we started talking. I had never been to New York. The first time I was up here was when I moved in. I had cultural whiplash — my mum leaves; I go and meet my boyfriend of three months. It was so much all at once, so overwhelming in a good way.
Our first date we went on a walk uptown. It’s kind of cheesy; there’s a [Taylor Swift] song called “Cornelia Street,” so we had lunch on Cornelia Street and then went to the park.
You see all these couples sitting on park benches just making out. He can’t go to my dorm; I can’t go to his dorm. We’ve really been only able to meet up in public. All of these strangers are going to be third-wheeling us. You have to reconcile with that. He lives in Hoboken. I’ve been twice, the only times we have been alone in six months.
At the same time, it really helped me develop a stronger connection with him. We’re really working to make it out of this. The fact that something this good was able to come out of a period that is so hectic and confusing, it’s flowers growing through the concrete. ?
This story is part of BuzzFeed News’ Hopes Week series, about how people are thinking about the present and future during this chaotic moment in time. Read more here.