We’ve reached that weird part of pandemic life we’re calling the trough of quarantine. We’ve all gotten so used to this way of living that it’s starting to seem normal, but after so many days running together in a row, we’re also really starting to salivate at, say, the prospect of hopping on a flight overseas right about now.
To complicate things a bit, we’re watching our single friends wade or perhaps deep-dive into the pool of dating, and it seems complicated. Dating was already confusing enough without the added hiccup of, oh, a virus sweeping the globe, so we got in touch with one of our favorite relationship experts, Esther Boykin, LMFT, the CEO of Group Therapy Associates.
As you make your way back to Hinge, Raya, Bumble, Tinder, or whatever, Boykin’s here to toss you an inner tube and answer your most burning questions about the dos and don’ts of dating in quarantine.
Should I be hitting the apps?
In a word, yes. “I’ve always said that apps are a great place for meeting new people that you might not meet in your normal day-to-day travels,” Boykin says. “Now that we’re limited in our social outings, apps serve as an even more important opportunity to connect with people.”
You don’t have to stop at Hinge or whatever, though. You could try a new app you haven’t sampled before, or even slide into some DMs. “I also feel it’s a great time to try new apps and even venture into the DMs of folks you follow or are tangentially acquainted with on social media,” Boykin adds. “Meeting people online doesn’t need to be creepy.”
What should I keep in mind as I date on apps in quarantine?
First off, be real. “Be honest with yourself about your intentions and desires right now,” Boykin says. She suggests that you ask yourself two questions before getting down to the important business of swiping left and right:
“Are you looking for a variety of new people to get to know, or hoping to narrow down that special someone right now? Is dating during quarantine partially about soothing your sense of loneliness and isolation?”
It’s fine if the answer to the second one is yes. “It’s OK to be seeking social connection for the sake of interaction and not necessarily in hopes of finding a long-term relationship, just be honest,” she says. “On the flip side, don’t judge others who may be wanting casual connection or choose to have long phone or text courtship.”
Really, whatever works—as long as you’re being genuine with yourself and others. “The key is to be transparent about your desires and ask questions to assess what others are looking for,” she says. “That lets you match and chat with people who are starting from similar perspectives or goals.”
Should the first date be virtual?
In these times, Boykin says a virtual first date is always a good idea. “Whether you consider it the first date or not, during this pandemic I highly recommend FaceTime or some other video chat first.” This way, you can screen your potential date before going to the effort of putting on shoes—and if there’s no spark, you can skip an in-person hang.
“Much like having coffee or a drink before committing to dinner or a long night of activities together, you want to start with the low-commitment meeting first,” she says. “There’s an element of mitigating risks when it comes to dating right now. Why risk exposure if you aren’t even sure you like each other’s faces or can engage in pleasant conversation together?”
What should the first IRL date look like?
“I strongly encourage people to do things with lower risk of spreading COVID-19—outdoor venues, go for a walk,” Boykin says. “If you both enjoy sports, try hitting golf balls at the driving range.”
Boykin says the aim is still the same, even though the rules have changed. “First-date goals are the same now as they’ve always been—determine if there’s enough chemistry and interest to schedule a second date,” she says. “So any activity that allows you to see each other and talk is a good choice. And with a bit of creativity, you can do that in environments that have lower risk.”
Should I be wearing a (cute) mask?
If you’re meeting outside, that’s up to you—and your date. “The mask question is personal and a good time to check out each other’s communication and boundary-setting skills,” Boykin says.
“Some people are comfortable being six or more feet apart with no mask, some absolutely want masks worn at all times, and some still don’t want to wear them at all,” she says. “The latter is not advisable, but that’s for a different discussion.”
Whatever you choose, this is a conversation to have before you meet up. “The point is that you need to clearly discuss before the date what is comfortable and safe for you, and so does your date,” Boykin says. “This may be an awkward conversation, and it will likely give at least a glimpse of some of your core values, both of which are helpful in dating.”
Are people looking for different things now, after four months of quarantine?
“Some people, definitely,” Boykin says. “People who may not have been interested in casual connections might find that they are just longing for physical touch and social interaction, and a casual dating partner is the right fit.”
There’s also a lot of introspection going on right now. “The isolation of quarantine can make us both more introspective about our relationship goals, and it can also make us lonely and horny,” she says. “Self-reflection is big for many of us right now.”
You might be thinking more about what went down in your past relationships and what you want more of in the future. “The time to slow down and lack of social distractions means that we have an opportunity to think about our relationships, past and present, with a bit more clarity,” Boykin says.
“That self-reflection can make it easier to determine exactly what we long for in our intimate connections and what our blocks are,” she says. “The key right now is to get clear on what’s driving your current dating desires with a sense of openness and self-compassion.”
Once you’re clear, just be sure to pass this clarity along to your dates. “There’s no wrong answer, as long as you communicate those goals to potential partners before you get too far down the emotional and/or sexual road with them,” Boykin says.
Let’s talk about sex: Any words of wisdom here?
“To be honest, many people are more intentional about being safe as it relates to quarantine than they are about STIs,” Boykin says. “Follow the same rules you should when it comes to STIs: Ask questions, be honest, use appropriate protection.”
Before you jump into bed, it’s totally legit to ask your romantic interest to get a COVID test. “Similar to STIs, it’s more than OK to ask a new partner to get tested for COVID if you have concern,” she says. “The ideal sexual partner is invested in your comfort and sense of safety, and this is just one more way that they can express that.”
What if I was dating before, but I’m feeling hesitant to date in quarantine?
“Go slow, but go,” Boykin says. “Dating is like a skill, and we need to keep the muscle memory.”
Even if you’re not planning to meet anyone out in the world, Boykin suggests you keep the party going online. “You can date exclusively through phone, email, video chat, or text for a long time if that helps manage the trepidation,” she says.
“Think of it as a modern take on Victorian-era courting,” Boykin says. “It may not be a fit for everyone, but there are other people out there who share your hesitation to be back in person or who are wondering how to navigate this quarantine-era dating scene,” she says. “Find them and connect.”
Be honest about your fears on the apps, and you’ll attract similarly timid folks. “Maybe you’ll find love, or friendship, or something in between,” Boykin says. “We’re social creatures, and our need for human connection is hardwired, so it’s important to find creative ways to keep reaching out and connecting.”
Any last words of wisdom?
“Embrace the possibilities for creativity and experimentation in dating right now,” Boykin says. “I’ve always believed that we place far too many rules and expectations on what dating is supposed to look like.”
In other words, have fun. “This is a great time to make your own rules, try different approaches to connection, and see what happens,” she says. Amen to that.
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