Talking About COVID-19 Before a Date Might Be Awkward, But It’s Necessary
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has completely rewired our love lives.
Reduced travel means long-distance couples struggle to see each other, quarantining means live-in couples may see too much for each other, and the no-strings-attached casual hookup may feel like a thing of the past.
But has any aspect of dating been hit as hard as the tried-and-true first date?
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Gone are the days where you could casually go to the movies with a crush or hit up a bar with an online dating match, and these days, you’d be lucky to get within 6 feet of your date, let alone a good night kiss.
But just because it’s a pandemic doesn’t mean that people’s romantic feelings have disappeared. If you’re willing and able to take certain precautions, there’s no reason you can’t have a burgeoning love life during this unprecedented time.
In order to find out how to navigate COVID-19 precautions with a potential date, AskMen spoke to a dating coach and a medical doctor. Here’s what they had to say:
Taking COVID-19 Precautions When Out on a First Date
Many go-to first date options are no longer viable because they’re closed — either permanently, temporarily, or just, as many restaurants are, offer takeout and delivery rather than dine-in options.
Beyond that, though, considering where to spend your date is of non-trivial importance, since coronavirus transmission appears to vary significantly in different physical situations.
“Emerging research indicates that COVID-19 is more likely to spread indoors in poorly ventilated settings,” says One Medical provider and regional medical director Natasha Bhuyan, MD. “Doing something outside can minimize this risk.”
Meaning the good old-fashioned walk-in-the-park first date, once thought to be the province of guys without the financial wherewithal to treat the other person to a drink or a meal, is now just what the doctor ordered… literally.
Another important factor that you might have heard something about this on the news is mask usage.
“The COVID-19 virus can be transmitted via droplets with the potential for airborne transmission as well in certain circumstances,” notes Bhuyan. “Wearing a mask can limit this potential.”
You might not have expected to wear a mask on a first date — at least, outside of a Halloween party — but times have changed. So long as we’re staying six feet away from people outside our households and wearing masks around them, your date should be treated with the same caution, both to protect you from contracting or spreading coronavirus.
And, as Bhuyan notes, there’s an analogy to be made with sexually transmitted infections here.
“Just like with STIs, the most important thing is to know your partner’s status and risk factors,” she says. “Are they an essential worker who often comes into contact with lots of people? Or have then been out and about at bars and restaurants? That risk profile is very different from someone who works from home and has very limited physical contact with others. Additionally, have they had a recent negative COVID-19 PCR swab?”
You might not have experience doing this, but it’s good practice to talk about STIs with someone before you sleep with them. That could be asking them when the last time they were tested was, for instance, or whether they have any symptoms.
The same applies for going on a first date during a pandemic. There’s no way you can guarantee that you won’t get infected, but you can significantly cut down on unnecessary risks by taking a smart approach.
“Meeting up with anyone outside of your typical bubble will pose some level of risk,” states Bhuyan. “However, if you determine someone is sufficiently low risk, you might choose to meet up with them. But be aware that you may still contract COVID-19, especially given there is still asymptomatic transmission.”
Given everything, it’s also best to rearrange your mental timeline when it comes to physical intimacy. If you’re someone who used to shoot for a first date kiss or hookup, trying to use the same playbook during the pandemic could result in two things: a COVID-19 transmission or someone who takes the risks more seriously shutting you down right there and then.
This may feel odd with the breakneck pace of dating in the past few years, but the new move looks like it’s taking things slow and waiting until you’re reasonably sure both partners are coronavirus-free before getting intimate.
Finally, if you’re going on dates right now and you don’t live alone, you need to be conscious of the impact your choices have on the people who live with you.
“If you live with roommates, you should notify them anytime you bring someone to your home who is not part of your standard social bubble,” says Bhuyan, since nobody wants to catch COVID-19 from their roommate’s hot date.
Discussing Specific COVID-19 Precautions With Your Date
While we can promise these precautions are all well and good, they’re not exactly sexy.
It can be tough if you’re trying to come across as a hunky catch (or worse, a devil-may-care bad boy) to still maintain an aura of desirability while acting like a faithful CDC employee. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to strike the right note between careful and alluring.
As Bhuyan notes, COVID-19 discussions don’t just map closely with STI discussions, they also hold a similarity to broader discussions of sexual consent. It’s a question of making clear all the participants are comfortable with before proceeding.
“Feel comfortable asking your partner their COVID-19 status, just like you would ask about their STI status,” she suggests. “When was the last time they were tested? What high-risk exposure may they have had since then?”
Connell Barrett, dating coach for The League and the founder of Dating Transformation, insists that there’s no need to be shy about this topic, despite the underlying awkwardness you might feel.
“Talking about virus precautions is nothing to fear,” he says. “In fact, it’s an opportunity to show concern for the other person. It shows that you’re responsible and empathetic, two attractive traits that can elevate your status in your date’s eyes.”
Barrett explains that you probably don’t want to lead with COVID-related precautions, but that they’re something you can bring up when it’s been established that there’s a connection between you.
“Once you both agree to a date IRL, segue into discussing coronavirus precautions,” he suggests. “Make it part of ironing out first date logistics. After all, whether you get two glasses of wine at a bar or go for a socially distant walk will depend on how the two of you feel about safety measures. You need to know where you both stand in order to set up the date.”
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Similar to the way that consent questions can be phrased like dirty talk, COVID-19 questions can also take the form of flirtation. As Barrett points out, injecting a little humor can help you discuss specifics without making the conversation feel too stiff.
“You might say,
‘Great, drinks it is. I have a sexy new Haz-Mat suit that you’ll love.’
As for how to discuss precautions, be clear and conversational, using matter-of-fact language. You won’t sound too businesslike as long as you’re being yourself and conversational.
Barrett advocates for sharing over interrogating as a tactic for bringing up feelings around COVID-19 safety.
If you lead off and share how you feel, he says, “this gives them the green light to reciprocate.”
“You might say,
‘Oh, just so you know, I recently tested negative for COVID-19, and I’ve been a beast about wearing a mask and social distancing. But I’m up for breaking the six-foot barrier on a date. How about you?’”
By taking that kind of approach, he notes, “You’ve given them useful information, and they’ll reply in-kind so that you can both see if you’re on the same page.”
And if you’re not on the same page? Well, that’s understandable. When meeting someone new, there are an infinite number of different ways you might not be a great fit for each other. Some are more important than others, but when it comes to matters of potential life and death like COVID-19 safety, it’s better to bow out gracefully than to try to push to make things work.
If your would-be date is pressuring you to step out of your comfort zone, for instance, what does that say about how the rest of a relationship with them would pan out?
“Make sure that you know and respect the other person’s feelings about masks, distancing, indoor/outdoor seating, etc,” says Barrett. “It’s not just good for your health — it’s a good dating strategy. “I recently asked a woman out for first-date drinks. To help me plan, I texted her,
‘Do you prefer indoor seating, outdoor, or are you cool with either?’
She replied, ‘It’s nice to be asked! Thanks for checking!’ and told me what she was comfortable with. It’s amazing how far genuine empathy will take you in the dating game.”
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