So, when are you getting married then?” He starts to hum the Wedding March.
“Well Grandpa, I’m single, in lockdown and we are in the middle of a pandemic, so… probably not soon.”
“You will be like Din Joe. We always asked him when he was going to get married. Then when he was old, we asked him why he never got married.”
After I left the confines of my lockdown life in Cork, poor Din Joe’s story ringing in my head, I was forced to reconsider diving back into online dating, despite the obvious barriers I would encounter. Like most singletons, Covid was a bit of a blow to my dating life. But then there was also the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) last year, which meant I removed myself from the dating world, while I focused on juggling my various health issues.
Telling a potential suitor you have MS means never being able to untell them. But at a time when Covid is the “kiss of death” for at-risk singletons, you inevitably have to reveal intimate details about yourself – details you would never normally have had to disclose pre-first date.
MS is a progressive neurological disorder. My overactive immune system is slowly attacking the layer protecting my nerves, which can result in sensory, cognitive and mobility issues. As it is often an invisible illness, I am lucky I look healthy. I have to be extremely careful, though, as my medication is an immunosuppressant, so my ability to fight off infections is compromised. This means attitudes to Covid-19 safety form the basis of any future prospects.
Dating for me means socially distanced walks in between doctor’s appointments. It has meant not really knowing how to move beyond date two or three, and assessing my date’s risk factors, from work environments to common sense. I decided early on that I probably couldn’t date anyone with flatmates because their bubbles were constantly shifting. I also found myself judging my dates by their use of hand sanitizer and mask compliance; something I never thought would be a consideration when choosing a future partner.
A “carefree cop” only got one date after touching the pedestrian crossing button, and subsequently his mouth; the “hygienic hurler” fared better after sanitising the sliothar and hurley. It’s a strange time for trust and it brings up questions about other people’s value systems.
Covid courtships are predictably harder with a chronic illness but it’s no walk in the park for my other single friends, either. Unlike the Dutch government’s advice to find a lockdown “seksbuddy”, Irish singletons were left to their own virtual devices. Now, as we enter “cuffing season”, I am reminded of 2am at Coppers, Dublin’s most prestigious nightclub for degenerate partygoers. The evenings are getting darker and those left standing are scrambling to find someone to kiss before the lights go off. Except now the public health advice is to stay away from indoor gatherings and face licking. Although, I did see a clip recently with two people kissing passionately… while wearing masks. If that doesn’t sum up the horrors of Covid dating, I’m not sure what can.
The hazards of contact tracing have added an extra layer of anxiety, as a friend of mine discovered when a man she had been on a date with called to tell her he had Covid. Thus ending their short-lived courtship. Perhaps requiring a Covid test will become as commonplace as an STI test, should dating progress further than two metres.
Life is about human connection but going online is the only way to meet anyone these days. The lacklustre feeling of sifting through strangers can lead to seeking validation-by-numbers. Yet Covid has provided a platform in which things tend to move faster with one person rather than slowly with many. The rigorous swiping, dimmed by the reality that casual dating isn’t what it once was, means there has been a shift towards seeking genuine connection. Dates have changed, too, outdoor walks now de rigueur. Alcohol-spurred dates pre-Covid, which often blunted the edges creating a false sense of connection, have given way to more meaningful dates spent getting to know one another.
Initially, I worried about revealing my MS, but it has meant being more upfront from the start, which can be both freeing and daunting. Illness is often viewed as a burden and the person I am with will inevitably have to curtail their life somewhat for me while Covid looms. I was overwhelmed by how open the few men I met were and I have made some lovely friends because of socially distanced dates.
So, to anyone who is worried about putting themselves out there, you would be surprised by how receptive people are. There is a bravery in being vulnerable and it can be incredibly empowering. Everyone has a loved one they want to protect, whether it’s their granny or a friend like me. I think it has made people more empathetic, as well as more conscious of health and hygiene.
As this lock-out has forced us all to spend more time in the frosty weather, I inevitably looked like Pingu the Penguin when I met “the jockey” for our first date a while back. We engaged in wintry, caffeinated walks, butterflies fizzing as we briefly brushed arms.
“Hang on,” he said when I initially reassured him that I wouldn’t mention him in this article. “So, this is a story about your dating life but I’m not in it?”
“Well,” I replied, “you can be my dot, dot, dot.”