My unexpected pandemic romance | The Independent | #tinder | #pof

Time moved slowly during lockdown in Philadelphia. It reminded me of the lazy summer days of my childhood, back home in Brazil, minus the fun. Bored in the new confinement reality, I put up a profile on Bumble. Seriously? My last Tinder boyfriend had just ghosted me six months into a promising relationship. What was I thinking?

Jimi, also in his forties, had great pictures. I scrutinized one at a time. In one, a Siberian husky dog cozied up with him in bed, two pairs of light blue eyes staring into the camera; in another, Jimi was working in the kitchen; in the third, on a vacation with friends. Jimi towered over everyone standing next to him, his sleeveless T-shirt revealing long slender arms fully covered in tattoos. “I’m a lot of fun and have my life together. I love traveling. Message me if interested.”

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I sent Jimi a note.  He replied right back.

Images of delicious dishes populated my phone throughout the day. “How many orders will it take to sell forty pounds of wings?” I asked, staring at the precisely cut pierogies and ravioli. A head chef in a nearby town, Jimi stayed open for deliveries when the pandemic mandate closed his restaurant.

“I’m ready to get my butt kicked again. It’s a busy Friday night, babe!” His raspy voice sounded badass and intense. I smiled quietly on the other end of the line. “I just got another five orders. It’s ten minutes before closing! My back hurts and my feet are numb. OMG!” Jimi had run the kitchen by himself once again. I envisioned his culinary feats as heroic. I felt lively talking to him and started daydreaming about love.

Out of work, I started my days with a thirty-minute yoga practice. It helped me curb potential anxiety episodes and gave me some energy.  I now had the time for self-care.  I could no longer blame packed subway trains, neurotic schedules, or endless work meetings. I was starting to like the slow quarantine lifestyle. I dreamt of meeting Jimi in person and having our first kiss. I was locked between four walls except for the occasional trips to buy food or to get some exercise. In the lockdown universe, Jimi was my perfect boyfriend.

The following Sunday was Jimi’s day off.  I kept checking my phone, looking for his daily morning message. Instead, I received an aloof reply later: “Gone fishing.” My thoughts raced, and a heavy pressure radiated from my head down to my neck. I felt let down.  

On a whim, I decided it was over.  “Baby, why are you being difficult?” he replied, then: “Are you okay?” My eyes got misty as I read the last one: “I don’t want to lose this opportunity. I think you may be the person I’ve been looking for my entire life.” Suddenly, I realized my feelings were disproportionate, the drama unfolding far too premature. It dawned on me that I had not yet met this man in person. I had lost my grip on reality. 

It took weeks before we graduated from texts to calls. Jimi disliked talking on the phone, let alone video-dating. “Are you willing to take some risks and meet me at the park?” he asked.  I agreed, so long as we kept a social distance.

“I read somewhere this is called vintage dating,” I reassured him.  “This is an opportunity to build a true connection before any physical touching happens.” We talked for hours that evening. We discussed what each of us needed to feel connected. Jimi told me he loves the lake. I suggested buying a place up there.  I wondered about an urban farm and Jimi revealed he has a green thumb. We envisioned a future full of vegetables in our backyard.

I asked Jimi if he thought we would survive the lockdown. “Everything will work out,” he assured me. Although we met through modern technology, the slow courtship was creating a real bond between us. 

Last Sunday, Jimi ended up in the emergency room with a second broken rib and a sprained ankle.  We planned to meet as soon as he is healthy again.  Maybe Jimi will agree to a virtual date if the confinement lasts longer. The new normal of coronavirus is full of changes.

This pandemic has caused a massive loss of human life. It is a tragedy. Yet, it also revived an old-school type of romance that perhaps would not have emerged otherwise. I have learned that staying grounded will help me survive these challenges — including my newly-found pandemic romance.

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