Dating can be complicated. On any normal day, depending on another person for open communication, physical intimacy and mutual effort is no easy feat. Dating in a pandemic, however, comes with its own set of challenges.
This is the new minefield that Myisha Battle is navigating.
Alongside predictions of both a pandemic baby and divorce boom, the San Francisco-based sex and dating coach has been fielding questions from her clients about how their dating and sex lives have changed and how will continue to adapt.
“A global health crisis highlights to people the state of the world and can cause a lot of introspection about what we want for our futures,” Battle said. “That might include having someone in our lives forever, deciding that the person we wanted in our lives forever is no longer a good match or bringing new life into the world.”
And, naturally, online dating has surged during the past five months, though it looks a bit different than before.
“The classic kind of online dating model is you chat for a little bit, maybe exchange numbers and text, and then set up a date within the next week or two,” Battle said. “Now, I think some people are choosing to stay in that virtual space a bit longer than they normally would.”
Battle said right now is a unique time to be dating because “there are no rules,” as people are pioneering a new virtual dating scene.
“We are very far from being able to go out to a bar, meet someone and go home with them,” Battle said. “I don’t know that we have an old normal in our future.”
So, what comes next? Here’s what Battle has to say about virtual dating, eroticized face masks and why you probably shouldn’t ask someone to go camping on the first date.
On how people’s dating priorities have shifted
I noticed at the beginning of shelter-in-place that my dating clients either fell into one of two categories. The first was sort of overwhelmed and an inability to see how they would navigate dating, given the circumstances. There was this stress and anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen with the pandemic. Dating became deprioritized, or people didn’t believe that there could be a date that they could actually enjoy, given the fact that they would need to wear a mask and stay socially distant. It was a big shift for some of my clients.
I also had new clients coming to me wanting to double down on trying to find a partner because this is all so lonely. A lot of what I’m working on with these clients now is asking, “How are you doing your vetting before you go on a date? And if you go on a date, what does it look like? What does it feel like? How do you maintain your level of comfort and boundaries while still getting to know this person?”
On couples’ new focus during the pandemic
For individuals who are already partnered, this has been a time where you cannot hide from some of the issues that were easily pushed aside when we had busier lives. Couples in particular are looking for all kinds of resources to help them understand how to relate better, how to have better sex and how to make each other more of a priority.
On the new parameters of a first date
Everyone has had to rework their idea of what a first date is. It looks and feels a lot different than before, but I think that the opportunities for connection are still very much there. First dates aren’t an in-person affair anymore. A lot of my clients are choosing to go on FaceTime or Zoom dates even many times before they actually meet someone in person. And then once they are comfortable, they will go on walks or hikes or picnics. I have a client who really wants to go kayaking.
I know someone who was propositioned to go on a camping date. That’s kind of the opposite of going slow, right? You usually go on a camping date after you’ve known someone for a while. I think people are getting really creative about how they can spend the time but also maintain safe boundaries and distances.
But, that’s not the case for everybody. Some people are taking far greater risks and not really pacing themselves with this.
On virtual dating
There was probably a lot of virtual dating already going on, but we weren’t really paying that much attention to people who were just like, “Hey, like, let’s just FaceTime for a minute and chat.” I think people find a certain level of comfort with that.
It’s actually a great way to screen candidates and see whether or not they are going to be and act in a respectful way toward you. I’ve also had clients say that this has been an opportunity for them to work on their consent language. There’s a lot of pre-negotiation that has to happen before you meet someone now. I think that will carry over.
If someone is not considerate of the boundaries that you want to enforce in the way that you want to get to know them, then they’re not hearing your boundary and respecting it. That’s a good sort of litmus test to whether or not they’re going to respect your boundaries on an actual physical date, which is so important.
On college hookup culture
The classic space for that to happen on college campuses is no longer there. But I do think that people who aren’t thinking about the risk as much are still going out and hooking up. There are people that are like, “You’re cute; I’m going to make out with you.” That’s just human nature and I think it will occur, regardless of what public health crisis is happening in the world. My hope is that that is a minority view.
On why a vaccine won’t bring back traditional dating
If we are to get a vaccine, there’s always going to be people who won’t take it. That’s another level of vetting that will be involved in dating.
Can you show me the receipt of whether or not you have the coronavirus? Do you have an antibodies test you can show me? Have you taken a vaccine? When did you take it? I think these are all going to be a more common discussion amongst potential partners. It will be necessary to have a conversation, because with a total stranger, you don’t know their level of exposure and you don’t know their situation. They might frequently visit a family member who is high risk. It’s really important to make sure that we’re all taking care of each other and asking the right questions of each other, regardless of whether there’s a vaccine or not.
It’s hard for straight people to have that as a vetting criteria. However, in the gay community, levels of risk assessment have been part of the dating process for quite some time. On dating sites, it’s common for gay men in particular to disclose their HIV status within their profile. We can learn from that and decide we do want to know whether or not this person poses a potential risk to our health and safety.
On the new view of risk assessment in dating
You don’t know someone else’s behaviors and who in their community they might be exposing themselves to. People will say, “I tested negative for the virus” or “positive for the antibodies” and “I received a vaccine.” That could be your process for saying, “OK, this is somebody that I feel comfortable with.” If somebody does not check all your boxes, then depending on how you assess your risk, you might ask further questions like, “Are you living with anyone currently?” “How often are you going on dates?”
But I don’t think people should be completely disqualified from the dating pool.
On how porn will change
I have all kinds of thoughts and theories about how people will eroticize the mask. There are videos where both people are wearing a mask, and I’m sure they are getting creative. There’s an interesting opportunity to roleplay with the type of masks, make it fun and keep it weird.
Ananya Panchal is a Chronicle staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org