Photograph by Matthew Suárez
“Right now, it’s literally impossible to meet people outside of the apps. Even if you go to the brewery, you can’t talk to people that you didn’t go with. I would just feel so uncomfortable because not only would it be weird to talk to someone but you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable about your health. It feels — maybe it’s not — but it feels very impossible to meet somebody outside the apps right now.”
I go to my mobile app store, search for Hinge, and click install. When I open the dating app, it welcomes me and designates itself as “the app designed to be deleted.” I start by answering all the basic questions required to set up my profile — age, height, location. Then it gets into the deep stuff. Do you want children? What are your religious beliefs? What are your political beliefs? After that, I look for six photos to upload that don’t show me making a weird face. It takes me a while. Once my profile is complete, my phone starts lining up single men for my perusal. Within 10 minutes, I receive five likes from interested singles. Aside from batting eyes at strangers six feet away in the grocery store, this is the most action I’ve seen in months.
At month five of quarantine, my dating life has become stagnant. I had convinced myself now is not the time to be meeting someone. But as the months ticked by, I started to wonder if now could actually be the best time for dating. Perhaps there could be some perks to this situation. So I spoke to a few single ladies who shared their social distance dating stories.
Illustration by Audrey Isaacson
It was a cloudy Sunday afternoon when Teresa, a 31-year old who works in gaming marketing, met with the guy she matched with on Hinge. As a sports enthusiast, she was drawn to the picture of him holding a basketball. After messaging back and forth, they agreed to get together for a one-on-one game. She did her hair and makeup, dressing both sporty and cute. This would be her first date of the pandemic.
“I was excited. So often when you match, you talk for a bit, but there’s no action,” she said, opening up about her romantic encounter. “He and I met at the start of March and talked about hanging out that weekend. But it happened to be the weekend when everything shut down, all the restaurants, everything closed. So we met up at a park and played basketball. But it started raining,” she says with a shrug.
With nowhere else to go for cover, they awkwardly sat in his white BMW and talked for a while longer before ending the date. “We hugged, but that was our only physical connection. If circumstances were different, I probably would have hoped to get a kiss at the end of a first date if it went well.” He was exactly what she had expected based on his profile. “Really cute in person, easy to talk to, athletic... It was good, and that’s why I was bummed it didn’t get to play out.”
Teresa and basketball boy talked a few times on the phone after that, “but it started to get clear that nothing would open. And I didn’t know him that well, so I wasn’t comfortable with him coming to my house. So that really fizzled out and nothing happened there. It was a let-down in the sense that I was excited to meet this guy. The pandemic certainly stalled all options.”
Despite corona complications, Teresa has made more of an effort to date than she has in the past. “I’ve had an appetite for dating more now, since I turned 30. At the start of the year, I actually made goals for myself for 2020, things like, ‘I want to get a boyfriend.’ And I think the problem was I wasn’t actively pursuing it.”
The lockdown served as a blow to her newfound mindset in favor of meeting someone. “I prefer to meet people through friends. Online dating is not my main avenue, but it is the easiest thing right now. It’s a good balance of getting to know them without getting their life’s story. You get pictures, you get little snippets of interest, and a good conversation starter. My main priority is religion — I’m Christian — so I filter it by faith.... The one non-negotiable for me is faith. And I’d like to say height, but I’m getting a little bit more flexible,” says the 5’10” dark-haired beauty. “I had a checklist of qualities I was looking for, and they tended to be physical.”
She admits that hasn’t been working for her, and credits a friend for helping change her perspective. “That was me in the start of quarantine. I’ve definitely been more focused on the internal stuff, which I think is working in my favor.
“One thing that makes it awkward with online dating is I don’t see a desire to talk on the phone with someone. I think that’s a more personal thing for when you know someone better. But I think that phone calls reveal a lot more. Texting can hide a lot of the insecurities and awkwardness.”
Two days before our conversation, Teresa went on a date with someone she met serendipitously through church. She lowers her voice and flashes a big grin “It’s going really well, actually.” Twisting her torso, she points to a vase full of flowers. “I’ve been volunteering every Saturday at my church, passing out food. Two weeks ago, he came and volunteered.” They sparked up a conversation, which led to his inviting Teresa kayaking with a couple of friends. The following Saturday, “he came by and we had our first official date, where he cooked me dinner. It wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic, because this food bank that my church created was a direct response to people needing food. So it was a direct correlation, in a good way.”
Teresa didn’t let social distancing stop her from pursuing a relationship with Mr. Kayak. “I think I felt more comfortable hanging out in person, because I knew him a little before, so he wasn’t like a stranger. And I’m grateful I had a space for us to get to know each other one-on-one.”
One small detail she laments is having to wear a mask on the first date. “It sucked, because I love wearing lipstick. And I can’t wear lipstick when I wear a mask. I suck at makeup and my go-to is a good lipstick, that’s my fave makeup product. But if you put lipstick and a mask on, it gets all over. So that’s just one totally pathetic frustration. Unfortunately, I couldn’t rock my full makeup look that I would want.”
She dishes about another unexpected nuance. “During the pandemic, I’ve had three former flames reach out to me.” She sounds staggered by this, since they all came within a week or two. She suspects it was around the time that everyone started accepting their quarantine fate. “I had to laugh. Everyone’s getting very thirsty, aren’t they?”
Wagging a finger of warning, she says, “There’s better things out there! Don’t go back to the exes.”
Some of us are joining the online dating scene for the first time, including 29-year-old Kaitlin, who works in finance. “I was in a relationship for a little under two years and we broke up, right before covid happened. So this is my first time I’ve ever actually done online dating. So that’s been interesting,” she says with a chuckle.
When scrolling through profiles, Kaitlin looks for “somebody that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. I think you can tell when people have these curated profiles, especially with guys when they have glamor shots. Who are you?” She grimaces with disgust. “So someone who can have fun, make light of the fact that we’re on dating apps, you know? Lighthearted, seems like they would be fun, easy to talk to. Most of the people seem like genuinely normal humans. I wouldn’t say there’s ever red flags where I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I almost prefer people that aren’t good at online dating and don’t have this glamorous, shiny profile. Nobody should be good at this.”
Kaitlin relies solely on the internet to make romantic connections. “Right now, it’s literally impossible to meet people outside of the apps. Even if you go to the brewery, you can’t talk to people that you didn’t go with. I would just feel so uncomfortable, because not only would it be weird to talk to someone, but you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable about your health. It feels — maybe it’s not — but it feels very impossible to meet somebody outside the apps right now.”
At the beginning of covid, she was most active, since it was just after she ended her previous relationship. “I was freaking out, as everyone was. I was like, ‘We’re in lockdown, I’m going to be single forever!’” She feigns dramatics. “That’s when I did FaceTime dates. Those are weird. It’s just super uncomfortable — even just getting set up, like the internet’s not working, things are freezing...”
But as the world began to re-open, she started to get a better handle on dating during a pandemic. “I went on a first date at a park, and it felt like everyone else there was on first dates from dating apps. It was just all these couples. That’s all people are really doing is going to parks, which is not bad. Seems like the dating world has figured it out.
“I feel like all the dates I’ve been on, none of them have been terrible. We’re all out here just trying to figure it out.”
Kaitlin took me through one of her better outdoor meet-ups. “He asked what my park of choice was, and if I wanted to go on a date. We biked to meet at the park and brought a bottle of wine, and beer, and had music set up.” Quarantine or not, this sounded like all the makings of a good time. “We had a couple drinks and then biked to an ice cream shop a couple miles away, got some ice cream (he paid), and then went to a different park and there was actually live music. So we hung out there, had some ice cream, it got dark and then we went home,” she says, summing it up. “That was for sure the best first date I’ve been on. He was very outgoing, easy to talk to. We went on a second date... but then he went home to somewhere in the South. So that was the end of that. But it was fun. Positive experience.
“And that’s what’s cool — I’m sure if covid didn’t happen, we would have gone to a bar. So it does force people to get a little more creative and do some more interesting things.”
On another in-person date, she met up “at 6 am before work one day. And he brought coffee and cookies and we just walked around. But that was nice too. Same thing — you would never do that” if not for the pandemic.
“The thing about park dates,” she cautions, “is that there’s no distractions. It’s just you and this person. So it can be hard. You have to just be ready to talk about anything. It kind of feels like when you go into an interview, you know? You’re like ‘I’ve got to be on. I have to be ready to talk to this person and carry this conversation.’ But it’s also really nice, because you really get to know that person. It feels very old-school, like the 14th century. There’s something cool about it, that we’ve gone back to this pure, old-school setting. It’s just this very wholesome feeling.”
I asked Kaitlin about the physical factor of dating in these times. “It’s so funny, I feel like every date, nobody knows — do you hug? You’re not going to shake hands.” She pantomimes a rigid handshake. “Most people, once they’ve agreed to commit to a date, they’re ok with being close. We’re not sitting six feet apart, we’re touching. We’re not wearing masks with each other, but we are when we go places.”
She hesitates to answer whether or not she enjoys dating. “I don’t mind being single in a non-covid environment. Online dating, I don’t like.” She steers toward the silver lining, “I’m grateful for it, to be honest. If we didn’t have online dating and we couldn’t go to bars, we’d be screwed, how would we meet anyone? I would much rather meet someone in the wild. But if we don’t have an option, I’m glad it is an option.”
“I think my advice would be, just don’t take it too seriously. It sucks, but do it. It’s fun. Nobody’s happy with the world we’re living in, but make lemonade out of lemons.”
For others, the pandemic has propelled the relationship forward. Ava, a 37-year-old who works in pharmaceutical sales, has been with her beau Alex since the start of quarantine. She was instantly attracted by his online profile. “We had a lot in common based on the answers we both provided, so I was like, ‘Well let me see what’s up with this guy.’ This was a little pre-covid. We started dating in March, we were talking in February. So we started dating and then things just shut down.”
After several dates, they figured out a way to keep things going and got into a groove. “We had to do date night at my place. He planned Friday date night, and I planned Saturday date night. The very first one, he wanted to introduce me to his culture, which is Colombian. He brought all this food from his favorite restaurant — it was awesome. And then we played Jenga. And Saturday, I cooked Filipino food. I don’t really cook for people, so I really was testing stuff out with him,” she explains. “From then on, every Friday and Saturday was date night, and we had a theme.”
She reflects on the course of their relationship. “If things happened a little differently I don’t think I’d be dating Alex. I met him during a time when I was about to move... I was applying internally for higher positions and they had an opportunity in San Francisco. He and I had just started dating during that time. My first date was during the interview process. I was telling a friend, ‘He’s so cool; I don’t know what I’m going to do if I get this position.’ If I’d ended up getting it, I would have moved,” she says, thinking back to what might have been. “But because of covid, they pulled the position and started doing massive layoffs.”
Career woman Ava is always busy in meetings and taking calls. It left her with little time and energy to focus on meeting someone, but then the pandemic caused a shift in her lifestyle. “I was that busy. All I knew was what I did. It’s not like I had any other inkling what existed outside of that norm. So when this happened, I had so much time. I was like, ‘This is what I’ve been missing out on?!’”
It was because Ava’s life slowed down that things between her and Alex moved faster. “It happened so fast, we just started spending the whole weekend together some weeks. I think it just forced us to talk more. That’s the biggest thing in any relationship is communication. And everyone says that, but I think that we got to know each other on another level.”
Since their first date went so well, she felt more comfortable continuing to see him after the shutdowns. “Our first date was way long, a good long date. So I think we got to know each other a good amount during that time and then it got progressively deeper. We both opened up to one another very quickly.”
With everything closed, Ava explains, “We have nothing to do but talk.”
She says that normally, she might break in between at-home date nights by going out to the bars with friends, but since that’s not an option, they’ve shared much more one-on-one time.
Both Ava and Alex had also been talking to other people at the time they met. With increasing covid concerns, they were quick to agree on being exclusive. “He was respectful, and we were on the same page. I told him, ‘If we do this, it means we’re only going to be dating each other.’ I didn’t want this weird limbo, especially during this time. It’s already weird to have that conversation, but I think at this point in my life, I decided I can’t be shy about this. I just need to put it out there, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But it ended up working.”
If covid hadn’t happened, “I almost feel like there would be more opportunities for both of us to be dating outside of ‘us’. Even though we felt a strong chemistry and connection right off the bat, we would have been entertaining dating other people. It opens more opportunities. Because everybody always says, ‘Don’t put your eggs all in one basket.’”
Ava also feels like their relationship developed under more traditional circumstances. “My parents would talk about that — ‘Guys need to court you,’ and I was like, ‘What the hell is courting?’ Then you figure out, ‘Ok, this is what it is.’”
The consistency of having someone in her life has been refreshing and comforting, Ava reveals. “It helps that it was during covid. I think about all the stuff that happened, with the job loss and everything else... How he’s been there for me during the layoff, because that was a nightmare for me. We had a date that night, and I was devastated when I got the call.”
Ava was used to processing her feelings alone and picking herself up. “So I texted him to cancel and he said no, he’d rather be there during this time than not at all.”
He ended up bringing over a bottle of tequila and tacos to make her feel better. “It made me almost forget that that happened. He’s just very caring.”
Wanting to end on a mushy note, I ask about their first date that started it all. “I’ve gone on a lot of first dates. So I wanted to go in with absolutely no expectations. When I first saw him, I got really nervous, and I normally don’t get nervous. He was really good looking. It was the weirdest feeling. It just hit me like a ton of bricks, I think I was stuttering for a little bit. That never happens to me.”