Two weeks ago, Ellie Reed, 19, of Oxfordshire, England, drove about 10 miles to the home of her boyfriend, Jordan Cadman, where their Domino’s Pizza delivery would soon arrive — a pepperoni and sweet corn pie for her, and a Texas BBQ pie for him. Then, in separate cars, the couple drove another five miles to a canal, parked about six feet from one another, rolled down their windows and ate together, yet apart.
In one week, the couple had gone from hanging out every day for the last two years to physically distancing themselves for the unforeseeable future because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Cadman, a 20-year-old risk assessment assistant manager, has asthma, which might put him at a higher risk of having more severe symptoms or complications of Covid-19 if infected.
“It was hard not to give him a hug,” said Ms. Reed, a student at Oxford Brookes University. “But I know it’s a matter of possibly keeping him alive.”
With the coronavirus outbreak forcing the closures of restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, and other businesses and public spaces worldwide, pizza in a parking lot is just one of the many ways in which couples have reimagined dating in the time of social distancing.
The idea of going out on a date with your partner might seem insignificant compared with the pandemic at hand. But Dr. Racine Henry, a marriage and family therapist who operates both virtually and in person throughout New York, said scheduling and committing to dates during this new normal is critical to maintaining a healthy relationship.
“Similar to normal life, when we were purposeful about having date nights to break up routine, this is the same thing,” Dr. Henry said. Social distancing can also lead to monotony, she said, resulting in a range of emotions from frustration to anger to apathy.
“Whether you’re socially distant or not, you still want to remind yourself why you’re together and recreate those good vibes and memories as much as possible,” Dr. Henry said. “That may mean silencing your phone, creating a certain mood, and being intentional and purposeful about making time for romance and reconnection.”
Wondering where to start? Here are four adaptable date ideas inspired by real couples currently practicing social distancing around the world.
A Fancy Dinner In
Although grocery shopping has become a major source of anxiety and stress for some people during the coronavirus outbreak, once home, preparing a meal with your partner can provide a sweet reprieve.
Before Oakland, Calif., enforced a stay-at-home mandate throughout the city where Jenn and Max Scoville live, they bought meat and broth hoping to recreate their favorite meal, shabu-shabu, a Japanese hotpot dish, at home.
The couple recently decided to have a shabu-shabu dinner date night at home by dressing up. Mr. Scoville, 33, now working remotely as a host and producer for IGN, a video game and entertainment media website, wore a button-up shirt and Ms. Scoville, 31, a dentist whose office has since closed, wore a black dress and did her hair and makeup, false lashes included.
“Dressing up helps make it feel different from every other night you guys are cooking for each other,” Ms. Scoville said, adding that her outfit was “a step up from” the Backstreet Boys T-shirt she had been wearing for the last three days.
Dr. Henry, who promotes the psychotherapeutic benefits of cooking in her cookbook “A Palate For Love,” emphasized the transformative effects of cooking and eating with purpose. “It’s the most universal way of expressing and receiving love,” she said.
Cooking amateurs can also use this time to learn a new skill set and experiment with new cuisines while strengthening their bond, said Avital Ungar, the founder of the culinary experience company Avital Tours, which hosts events in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Ms. Ungar recently pivoted the focus of her company from in-person restaurant tours to virtual cooking and mixology lessons led by chefs and bartenders.
“As couples play with flavor and tweak recipes, there’s an opportunity for creativity and experimentation,” Ms. Ungar said. “And once they sit down to eat together, the food itself becomes a catalyst for deep and meaningful conversation.”
A Night at the Virtual Museum
In 2013, Soomin Dancyger, 32, and Lilly Dancyger, 31, of Manhattan had their first date at the Museum of Modern Art and vowed to celebrate every future anniversary at a different museum in New York. This month, the married couple of five years kept up tradition while also following the city’s stay-at-home orders, thanks to virtual tours being offered by museums worldwide. No longer restricted to travel time or cost, they agreed on a night at the Louvre in Paris via an hourlong YouTube video.
“I have chronic pain, so I always end up reaching my physical limit earlier than either of us would otherwise stop,” Ms. Dancyger, a freelance writer and editor, said in an email. “But that’s not an issue when you’re watching from the couch.”
“Plus, admission was free and shoes were optional,” Mr. Dancyger added.
Before the pandemic, special date nights always meant getting “dressed up” and going out somewhere. This unique anniversary date has shifted Mr. Dancyger’s perspective. “If you don’t go anywhere, you can still have the same sentiment and make it an occasion,” he said.
Mr. Dancyger is the head of operations for Gracefully, a gourmet food market with three Manhattan locations. He continues to work and interact with both colleagues and shoppers full-time. He also has a newfound appreciation for time spent with his wife at home.
“It feels really surreal going outside every day,” he said. “To step outside and have New York City be as quiet as Christmas morning every single day is very strange. It’s like a wasteland. But then I come back into the apartment and it’s nice and warm and life feels pretty normal, which just makes it feel like a movie.”
From Monopoly, the classic family game night staple, to Heads Up, the mobile game app, both physical and virtual games offer partners an opportunity to focus on a designated set of rules, scenarios, and even a different universe outside of their current reality.
The recent release of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” the latest in Nintendo’s popular video game series, could not have come at a better time for many couples. Jade Keely Raven, a 22-year-old freelance fashion stylist of Brisbane, Australia, and Darcy Worthington, a 22 year-old actor who lives on the Gold Coast of Australia, are both out of work and with limited funds to visit each other, so the couple meet in the new video game, exploring virtual landscapes of their own design.
“We end up just talking on the phone for hours while we visited each other’s islands and traded items,” Ms. Raven said. “It offers us a way to do something together when we can’t physically be together.”
Jennifer Montoya, 30, a photographer from Portland, Ore., has been social distancing with her husband, Brian Montoya, 28, a hospital nurse. The couple said that between long hours at work and the intensity of the news cycle right now, Mr. Montoya’s life has been overwhelmed with talk of Covid-19.
To add some fun back into their lives, Ms. Montoya planned a surprise dinner followed by rounds of mini-golf in their backyard on a course she created solely with household items, like old Halloween decorations and rowing oars. “I didn’t know I needed a break like that until I was surprised with it,” Mr. Montoya said.
With a little effort and planning you can turn your at-home workouts, accessible fitness methods and even learning choreography into an enjoyable indoor date.
“I’ve always thought it would cool to be able to break out into a full routine when an ‘NSync song drops like Monica and Ross on ‘Friends,’” said Denver Mattos, 33, a Warner Brothers Studio tour guide in Burbank, Calif. Mr. Mattos, who is currently on paid leave, figured this was the perfect time to learn some choreography and recently asked out his wife, Kelsey Hainlen Mattos, 31, to a dance lesson.
“Kind of like any other date we might go on, we set a time and a plan, and stuck to it,” he said.
Kelli Fisher and Tana Gilmore, the founders of Fisher Gilmore Matchmaking, an agency whose matchmaking services include date planning, underlined the importance of partners’ scheduling their dates, whether they be virtual FaceTime chats or dance lessons like, Mr. Mattos’s.
“Blocking off time on the calendar in the near future is a fun way to stay positive when there’s no clear end in sight,” Ms. Fisher said. “ It serves as encouragement because even if you have to stay at home for a month, you can still point to a date like the light at the end of the tunnel.”
As for Ms. Mattos, an actress who works in recruitment at Mosaic Research (and an ‘NSync super fan), she said yes to her husband’s dance date. They learned a routine to the band’s 2001 hit record “Pop.” (Ms. Mattos’s Twitter handle is her maiden name, Kelsey Hainlen.)
“It ended up being so hard and so fun, something we probably never would have done normally,” she said. “Mixing it up and trying new things while social distancing will keep us sane. It’s also a scary time, so doing something that made us laugh was great.”