For Missy Derr, dating during the pandemic quarantine has been weird. “It’s more stressful meeting on FaceTime than at a coffee shop. I know I have a missing piece in my life, not having someone, but at what cost? I’m a hopeless romantic, and maybe trying to find someone during the pandemic might improve my life — or wreak havoc.”
A few blocks away Sarah Abawi credits the pandemic with finding love — or at least fast-tracking it — and then losing it. She had friends who always wanted to fix her up with a man who lived in Dallas, but the timing was never right. Just before the virus hit, both were single, and he was coming to Atlanta from Dallas to meet their mutual friends and her. When his trip was canceled, they starting Facetiming, and for several weeks, he was quarantined in her in-town home. “If it weren’t for the pandemic, we’d be in two cities but now we have the flexibility to work from home — my home.”
Dating Has Changed
Admittedly dating is hard — period, but the quarantine has drastically altered the dating landscape. For one, people don’t feel as comfortable going into crowded shoulder-to-shoulder bars or clubs. How about those subtle —or not so subtle — flirtatious signs? They are much harder to detect over Zoom.
“Those dating cues are missing. You’d [typically] touch the guy’s arm or do a quick hug. … [Do] you say goodbye with an elbow tap? I did that with one date. With a mask you can’t really see him smile,” says Janet Schultz, a 57-year-old who came out of a long-term relationship. To make matters worse, the six-foot distance rule presents additional challenges. “Some of the men I’ve dated are in their ’60s, and they have hearing issues. With social distancing, they can’t hear what you’re saying!”
Online chats are only so effective. “A lot of times they don’t look like they do in real life,” says Robert Hainer, a photographer who was married for 20 years until 2016. “When you meet someone in person, their voice is different, and you can tell from body language and mannerisms if it’s going well. You can’t get that energy through a Zoom chat.”
In addition, the conversations and actual dates are a bit off. “You go on Bumble and start a conversation with a woman and they ask nothing about you. All they want to know is how you’re handling the pandemic,” he says. “What else can I say? I’m sitting with a mask on trying not to have a conversation that’s depressing.”
Hainer actually did connect with a woman online, and figuring out where to meet became a bit difficult. Both wanted to be safe and not around people so they took a hike in the woods. “Normally, I would never ask a woman whom I never met to meet for a private walk in the woods, and she would probably not agree to do that either. But now it’s one of the safer options.”
Schultz also took a hike with a man she met recently online. “That is more of a third date than first. He suggested getting take-out and sitting outside on the patio. That, in another time, would be a no-brainer, and for some people that still might be fine today, but not for me. Even the walk was difficult. There were a lot of people on bikes and walking that came close to me and, it’s hard to know someone and share things when you’re walking six feet apart.”
Such challenges, in the long run, might be for the good, says Karla Moore, president of Midtown’s NineGPS Matchmaker & Dating Coach.
“In the environment we’re in, singles are going to be forced to pump their brakes and chill. This has put a monkey wrench in our desire to find someone and how we interact with people.”
Without being able to interact in the usual manner, singles are going to have to commit to “know someone in a genuine way,” she says. “When you go through a dating app or website, you get the superficial information, picture, age, occupation, education, and then you drill down and maybe have a phone call or text.”
Moore says that the dating timetable will be slowed down. People will need to be tested before being intimate — even kissing. Much like with AIDS years ago. “You have to have two people of the mindset that they are compatible, have a desire to invest in a future relationship, get tested [for HIV], commit to wearing masks and gloves, and give it a shot.”
That’s exactly what happened with Alaina Macke, 30, a graphic designer who had two dates with a man she met on Tinder. “ [Things] were very casual, and then we went into quarantine. We spent three weeks video chatting and watching every movie together. In a way, it brought us closer,” she says. “You go on dates, and you can get so wrapped up in the environment that you forget to communicate or know someone honestly. We started cooking together, painting together. After three weeks, we hadn’t left our apartments and felt we were physically OK and met. Quarantine has been great, and we both fell in love.”
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Macke admitted that both she and her beau, 34, realized they were making a commitment by meeting and actually talked about the first kiss, especially since Macke is a high risk with an asthmatic lung. “It went through both of our heads. I told him that if I get it I could die. I wanted to be smart. We both decided that the other was worth dying for potentially.”
They cautiously decided to see each other on Saturday and report back if either experienced symptoms. They have since added a Wednesday date night. “We’re good at two nights a week. I actually don’t think we would be at this stage had we gone on the usual dates. This quarantine definitely amped up the emotions.”
Abawi, 37, had a similar situation, although it had the added benefit of mutual friends. “I’ve put a lot of effort into dating. I’ve been trying to find someone, and it took a lot of therapy and great friends to get me through the dating scene,” she says. The pandemic just heightened her desire. “It takes something like this to realize that life is short, and I don’t want to die alone. I’ve used a matchmaker, dating services, friends, blind dates, going to a gym. I put myself out there. I actually had COVID-19 — I’m fine now — but I thought that, if it really got bad, I didn’t want to take Uber to the hospital.”
So, she and the Dallas friend started to FaceTime for hours. They’d drink wine together, eat dinner, grocery shop. She helped him learn to cook. “It was virtual dating. I didn’t even dress up. He’s never seen me with makeup.” Still, things were progressing enough so that he flew to Atlanta. “He decided it was just as safe as going to a grocery store.” She said the Airbnb he rented was “nasty,” so he stayed at her place in the second bedroom. “Dating is a risk. He was nervous; I was nervous. But, we’re both 37 with similar goals. We both had the conversation about not wasting time; we didn’t want to be penpals. We’re taking precautions.”
Deer is a nationally ranked real estate agent with Engel & Volkers and admittedly married to her job. “Even my clients tell me I need to date, so I’ve been on the usual apps.” She and Abawi found that many of the men they previously dated have circled back around. “I think people are lowering their standards; maybe they’re bored. If it wasn’t going to happen before quarantine, it’s not happening during it.”
Schultz is slowing dipping her toe into online quarantine dating. She’s exchanged messages and had phone calls, which went well. She had a virtual date on Zoom and then the walk.”There are challenges and pluses. We’re all off our game. If I were younger, I’d push pause on dating, but at my age, who knows?”
She does feel that casual dating will decline. “You’re not going to go on a date just to have a date. You have to decide is this person worth catching a virus for, and if not, drop them. You have to make an educated decision of the risks and benefits. I think we need, now more than ever, to pay attention to our actual needs and what deal breakers are. That may be the silver lining. We’ll all be more real and efficient.”
For Abawi, her quarantine love story didn’t quite have the happy ending she was expecting. The couple took a trip to the beach and realized that living and working together during the quarantine brought on some “strains and annoyances” that weren’t previously addressed, she wrote in an email.
After trying to decide if they were broken up or on a break, they are “100 percent done,” she wrote. Adding, “So, that’s the thing with COVID dating. It can push you to move quickly in a relationship — for better or worse.”
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