Earlier this year, as Australia’s first nation-wide lockdown began, I found myself curious about what it might look like to pursue a ‘Zoom date’.
Restrictions, although difficult, are necessary — and it seemed best to treat them not as road-blocks, but instead as challenges.
A challenge is something to be overcome, and so the question became: How can I continue to date in the middle of a pandemic?
It was through this bizarre, uniquely 2020 combination of elements that I, a Melburnian, found myself on a video call with Wilson, a stranger living in Sydney.
The (online) first date
Preparations for an online first date are complicated, and the digital setting makes it both intimate and impersonal.
There is much thought put into where you will decide to take the video call: Is the bedroom, perhaps one’s most personal and private space, showing too much too soon?
If in the bedroom, where do you place the camera? Which of my walls will provide a backdrop which best articulates me as a person?
Alongside this virtual ‘intimacy’, there is also something flattening about interacting with someone through the confines of a laptop screen.
Will this ‘flattening’ make it hard to read the other person? How do you work at rapport when you can’t play off of physical, non-verbal cues?
Dating during the coronavirus pandemic
Dating during this period isn’t straightforward because life right now isn’t straightforward, writes Cassandra Steeth.
There is no one approach
Ultimately, I decided the best approach to these questions was a simple one: there is no approach.
Despite being online, a date is not a game. If someone makes judgements about me because of my bedroom, or we cannot find rapport despite being ‘face-to-face’ on our laptop screens, then chances are things wouldn’t last — regardless of whether we dated in-person or online.
The key to a successful Zoom date was to forget that it was one.
With that in mind I sat myself down, opened my laptop, and introduced myself to Wilson. To our surprise, the first date went well.
Well enough that by the time we hopped off our hours-long video call, we had already planned another.
How do you create shared moments together when apart?
From that night forward we continued to date. At first a call a week, then two, then more.
Dating during a lockdown is an interesting proposition, lacking in the shared experiences that you come to expect in the real-world. Online and isolated, you must instead actively work to create these shared experiences.
Rather than view this as an impediment, this in many ways became a gift.
By our third date, Wilson and I had already organised a ‘biscuit-swap’, where both of us cooked a batch of cookies for the other and sent them across the border (Wilson’s were predictably much better than my own).
Only a week or two later we had started an ‘album club’, each of us recommending a favourite record which we could then discuss during a weekend call.
The limitations of dating mid-lockdown, instead of inhibiting our ability to connect, allowed each new date to become an exercise in thoughtfulness and creativity.
These shared experiences brought us closer together, and eventually it seemed only logical to take the next step: a lockdown relationship.
Benefits of virtual dating
Some people are seeing the benefits to dating virtually before meeting in person.
When you can’t give hugs, give gifts
The lockdown relationship feels distinctly different to in-person dating.
There is a newfound sense of security in being able to confidently call the person on the other end of the line your ‘partner’, but the distance also makes it difficult to share in the many intimate, unique pleasures you generally associate with a relationship.
Like in-person dating, keeping it fresh involves both creativity and commitment.
Although physical touch is something I personally value in a relationship, I found myself starting to enjoy the act of gift-giving.
In some ways, sending surprises in the mail, like books, some food, or even a ‘joke’ present based on an offhand comment, is as close to physical touch as you can get when separated by a closed border.
There was something nice about knowing I could make my affections quote-unquote ‘real’ through the tangible, physical gifts which I would send Wilson’s way (always with a note attached, which in and of itself becomes a new way of communicating, an intimate act which requires thought, attention and detail).
If there was ever a time to be a cheesy romantic, it’s now
You begin to develop new ‘love languages’, looking past what you can’t do, finding new things that you can.
Walking through the street (mask on, of course), listening to whatever song your partner has said made them think of you begins to feel like quality time.
And, contrary to what I had believed, it is possible to have a healthy, ‘socially-distanced sex-life’ (as always, involving mutual creativity and openness).
Verbal affirmation can also become more important than it otherwise might be. If you cannot display how you feel towards the other through touch, then the way you use your words take on new meaning.
In which case: be cheesy! Be romantic!
Although the uncertainty of restrictions alongside continued border closures can be draining — particularly when all you’d like to do is just see your partner — this only ever feels like a challenge, never a roadblock.
Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, make the most of what you can
If there is one thing I’ve taken away from this experience, it’s probably a very simple one: do not focus on what you can’t do, and instead, make the most of what you can.
My relationship with Wilson has never felt lacking, despite the traditional elements it may lack.
If you cannot date in the ways you are used to, then have fun and create new shared experiences.
If you find yourself in a ‘lockdown relationship’, then assess the ways in which you can be together, and work with your partner to create new love languages, uniquely suited to your situation.
If the person on the other side of the screen is worth it, it’ll never feel like work.
Luke McCarthy is a writer and filmmaker based in Naarm (Melbourne) covering culture and politics.
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