We’re now nine sexually frustrated weeks into lockdown and dating feels like even more of a crazed reality show than it did at the beginning. Suddenly there are two options for meeting that guy you’re chatting to on Bumble: keep getting drunk together through a screen; or take things to the next level and meet in person, but — note the cruel plot twist — you have to stay at least two metres away at all times. Did you really think the puppeteers would let you hold hands that easily? Of course not! The next test is seeing how you resist the pulls of attraction in the outside world. From contact-free greetings to putting an end to that quaran-romance, these are the new rules of lockdown dating 3.0.
The latest restrictions aren’t all bad news: now, at least you can make sure he’s real and, crucially, check he’s just as good-looking when it’s not through the lens of a tactically placed webcam. Plus, the weather’s picking up again and a walk in the park sounds romantic, as long as you’re not expecting to hold hands.
“It was a lot less awkward than video dating,” says financial consultant William Zurawel, 27, who enjoyed a distanced dog-walk first date in Battersea Park last week. “The combination of having a puppy and nice weather definitely helped.” Others are opting for distanced picnics (no sharing a blanket, please) and doorstep drinks, while one singlemuslim.com couple didn’t even leave their cars. “We arranged to meet at a public car park and lowered our windows,” says Sadhia of her date with Idris. “We’re now engaged.”
“It just feels really unnatural not to be able to hug hello or goodbye,” says Third Space Pilates instructor Eve Powell, 25, who’s meeting her date for a walk in Battersea Park on Saturday. Zurawel agrees the awkwardness is real: “We basically just did the most awkward kind of wave-smile to-and-fro thing,” he says of his recent dog-walk date. “It was a lot less romantic than I thought it would be with a large unruly puppy.”
The key is to approach the situation with humour, recommends eHarmony’s relationship expert Rachael Lloyd. Address the elephant in the room — distancing will naturally be at the forefront of your minds — and find other ways to use emotion: smiling and eye contact can be more powerful than you think.
“We’ll probably be kicked out of the park anyway,” says Powell, so schedule your walking-date an hour or so before closing if you need an easy-out, and look on the bright side, says Badoo’s marketing director Natasha Briefel. “There’ll be no wondering if you need to go in for a handshake, hug or kiss” at the start, and you don’t have to worry about that first-date kiss dilemma when saying goodbye. Video call-style waves and canine kisses will have to do for now.
Online is just fine
The big new question facing singles in lockdown: can I still video-date? You’ve got used to FaceTime flirting now and — whisper it — it’s actually kind of easier (and cheaper). Suddenly you can meet four different potential love interests in one night and don’t even have to leave your room. The expert opinion is, thankfully, to keep calm and carry on. Bumble marketing director Naomi Walkland predicts a rise in video “pre-dates” — users choosing to use video calling to get to know their dates before meeting in real-life — and dating app Match is launching a new video function next week to meet the continuing surge in demand.
“Video-dating slows things right now and allows you to really consider what it is you’re looking for in a relationship,” says the app’s dating expert Hayley Quinn. “While how you feel when you’re physically with someone is very important, a lot of relationship check boxes can be ticked off via how someone communicates with you, so use this time to see if what you have is genuine.” You might never get this chance again.
When pandemic passion dies
Breaking up is never easy, and somehow, it feels even harder in lockdown. Is it cruel to end things over FaceTime? Or more cruel to string things out? “Surveillance and intermittent distancing may need to be maintained into 2022,” one Harvard epidemiologist suggested this week, so we’re hardly left with much choice: virtual break-ups are the only way. “If things aren’t going that well virtually, then chances are that it won’t stand the test of time in reality,” notes Quinn.
The expert advice? Treat virtual break-ups as you would those in real life: “Be honest, but do your best to avoid an argument; be prepared for follow-up questions; and use kind, honest language,” says Briefel. She also suggests being wary of using lockdown as an excuse, unless it is. You don’t want to leave the other person with false hope you might get back together when things return to normal.
“Beware the dreaded pandem-ex,” warns Lloyd. According to digital marketing agency AGY47, we’re 25 times more likely to dream of an ex during lockdown, so the good news is those flashbacks to last year’s relationship aren’t as unusual as you might have feared. “We’re living in an incredibly uncertain time, which means there may be points where we crave something familiar, like an ex, to stabilise ourselves,” reasons Quinn.
Stats show that one in five Brits has been contacted by a former love interest during lockdown, so be on your guard: the key is not to act on impulse, says Briefel.
“We have a habit of forgetting the negatives [of a relationship], so try and remember the reasons why they’re in your past,” and take a few days to think before sending any impulse WhatsApps. “If you simply want to check that your ex is OK, that’s fine,” she continues. “Just ensure you’re not sending any mixed signals by getting back in touch, keep contact short and sweet,” and focus on making new connections.
That contact-free park date could be the best contact you make all year.