I’m 32, I’m single, I’ve never been married — and on some level, I enjoy dating.
The thrill of connecting with another person over something as mundane as a stroll in the park — and the suspense of seeing whether that mutual curiosity sustains or fizzles out — is one of those things that makes me feel most alive. And as something of an introvert, dating forces me to be fully “on” and engaged with the world.
The pandemic, of course, seemed to put an indefinite moratorium on dating. Who wants to risk respiratory distress, heart damage, nerve inflammation, and maybe even death for the possibility of sharing junior high school horror stories and making out in a park? I don’t. So, for the first few months of the pandemic, I embraced a headier existence of reading ancient books like “Jude The Obscure,” going for solitary hikes in state woodlands and sipping dark beers alone.
But by July, the enormity of how long this pandemic could last began to set in. Going for more than a year without dating began to feel like allowing my core muscles to atrophy. Deprived of daily opportunities to engage with strangers, my conversational skills in general were already in decline. How would it feel to go on a date after months and months of social distancing? What would you even talk about?
Increasingly, friends who were also navigating pandemic-era singledom began nudging me toward a short term “solution” that I had dreaded, ever since the onset of the pandemic: the Zoom date.
[T]he prospect of going into 2021 and regressing into a puddle of Thoreau-esque solitude and celibacy was unthinkable.
My hang up with Zoom, FaceTime and other video conferencing tools is that they can give you wildly unrealistic expectations for what can actually be achieved in a video call. The intimacy and rhythm of a real-life discussion, where you’re in the same room together, is simply not achievable with this technology. There are micro-delays (due to poor internet signals) that cause verbal pileups. You can read the other person’s face, sure, but you miss out on body language and gestures that convey things beyond what’s being spoken. And sometimes, you just look terrible; video chat aesthetics are unpredictable.
So imagine going on a date with all of these factors at the forefront.
I loathed the idea of dating via Zoom. But the prospect of going into 2021 and regressing into a puddle of Thoreau-esque solitude and celibacy was unthinkable. So, after matching with a few women on Bumble and OkCupid and enjoying a pleasant exchange of bon mots in the direct messaging arena, I popped a question with full-body shudders: Shall we take this to video sometime soon?
Things escalated. Call times and video apps were agreed upon. Outfits were chosen. (Makeup was also applied, I’m told.) Rooms that would allow auditory privacy were commandeered. And as I went into my first Zoom date, I told myself, “This is going to be awkward. So … let’s just do it.”
And then, in spite of all the misgivings, a really nice “date” ensued. We talked about our shelter in place situations, what we’d been for work before the pandemic blew up our lives, what we were comfortable with, so far as mid-pandemic dating goes, and crucially, why we “matched” in the first place. I say “crucially” here because there’s actually an unlikely virtue and catharsis to going on a date via Zoom: video dating forces you to be very communicative about why you’re both spending your evenings chatting with each other, and whether you’d like to do it again. Speaking plainly is key to overcoming Zoom dating’s awkwardness.
You’re forced to savor the present and contemplate each escalation more thoughtfully.
On my first Zoom date, my date and I vocally confirmed, quite bluntly, that we found each other funny, interesting and hot. A date with potential.
But of course, being blunt about mutual attraction doesn’t mean surging forward with lightning speed. Because you can’t, during a pandemic. And that’s another perk of Zoom dating. You’re forced to savor the present and contemplate each escalation more thoughtfully.
That, above all, might be the greatest virtue of the Zoom date: the way it reveals how you and the other person can make the most of a bleak situation. I sometimes joke that a second date should conclude at an Arby’s at 11 p.m. If you and your date can have fun together in a dismal place, that says something about your compatibility and resilience. It’s looking like Zoom is the Arby’s of 2020 — and it turns out there’s much to be discovered and savored.
If two people can “walk in” with modest expectations, a sense of humor and a clear picture of what they’re looking for, they might just end up enjoying themselves.
Isn’t that what we’d usually strive for, taking a deep breath as we enter the usual bar or coffee shop?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dig up my old seafoam green Icelandic sweater and take it to the local dry cleaner. Fall is approaching — a new challenge, or opportunity, for looking your best through a laptop camera lens.
Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.