For those interested in dating during the pandemic, offerings made available by various apps to make connecting online easier than ever may have felt like a godsend. For instance, Tinder allowed free access to its Passport feature, which allows users to connect with anyone on the platform globally; Bumble expanded its distance filters to allow for nationwide dating; and OkCupid added questions that allow users to share their feelings about dating during the pandemic.
But as the pandemic continues and lockdown requirements ease in various regions (despite death tolls from the virus continuing to rise), some people seem ready to meet in person again. Matchmakers report business is up and clients are ready for connection, and Bumble even introduced three new filters—virtual, socially distanced, or socially distanced with masks—for users to signal what kind of dates they’re comfortable with.
Still, the question remains of how to make in-person dating as safe as possible for those who are willing to consider it. Below, experts in both the dating and medical fields provide insights and tips to help you make the most empowered choices about dating in person during the pandemic.
Protocol for dating in person during the pandemic
While it’s unlikely that any in-person date amid the pandemic will be free of risk, it is possible to minimize risk. And the first step for lowering that risk, says Melissa Hobley, chief marketing officer at OkCupid, involves virtual dating first. “You’re able to get a quick idea if there might be some chemistry on that video chat,” she says. “This might accelerate getting to the real date or make you think twice about whether that person is a good fit for you.” The virtual date, then, can help you decide whether taking on any level of risk for an in-person meet-up is worth it.
“Prior to COVID, it may have been very reasonable to meet with a lot of dates in person. I think now we just have to be more selective.” —Sachin Nagrani, MD
Sachin Nagrani, MD, medical director of the home health-care service Heal, agrees that determining compatibility before meeting IRL is a medically healthy choice that helps to avoid taking on extra risk by reducing the number of unsuccessful meetups. “Prior to COVID, it may have been very reasonable to meet with a lot of dates in person,” he says. “I think now we just have to be more selective.”
Along those lines, while compatibility factors to weigh during the early stages of dating—like attraction, chemistry, and common interests—still stand, the pandemic adds an extra layer to take into consideration. Before moving forward with an in-person date, Kimberly Volk, a doctor of naturopathic medicine and an ICU nurse who has worked on COVID-19 cases, urges people to find out the “COVID etiquette” any potential date follows. “Do they mask? Where do they go? What’s their ease about going to crowded places? Do they even believe in COVID?” asks Dr. Volk.
In addition to asking about precautionary habits, Dr. Volk says daters can find out specific information about the other person’s exposure level by asking about their job, any recent travels, social tendencies, daily activities like going to the gym, and even dating habits. “Normally you might not care if you’re dating someone who is also dating multiple people,” says Dr. Volk. “But in COVID times, you have to think: How much contact did they have with that other person? Did they kiss the other person?”
Dr. Nagrani agrees and recommends having general conversations about life practices and dealing with the pandemic as opposed to direct questioning. Understanding the risks a person is willing to take, he says, can be just as illuminating in terms of COVID-19 safety and general compatibility. “There’s value in getting to know the person through how they’re approaching COVID,” he says. “If you’re not on the same page about it, it may mean that you’re not on the same page about a lot of things, and that may be a deal-breaker for one person or the other,” he says.
Getting ready for the first IRL date and beyond
Experts agree that the setting for a lower-risk, in-person first date should be outdoor, socially distanced, and with masks. And even if you live in an area where restaurants offer outdoor seating, Dr. Nagrani suggests holding off on this setup because daters will likely be in close proximity to one another and speak to each other without masks between bites and sips. Other options? Hobley’s favorite outdoor date ideas include picnics, stargazing, and exploring your neighborhood on a socially distant guided walking tour.
Beyond the potential for fun, though, first dates are ripe ground for awkward moments. To avoid the uncomfortable dance and possible rejection of going for a handshake or hug when your date wants to keep their distance, Dr. Nagrani stresses the importance of agreeing to some ground rules ahead of time. “I think it’s worthwhile to avoid physical contact on the first date as much as possible because that just increases risk,” he adds. “You’re sort of escalating from having done the phone call or video visit to in-person, so you can continue that progression over time.” In other words, keep your hands to yourself—for now—and let your date know that’s the plan.
If the date goes well and leads to additional dates, still exercise caution before choosing to remove masks around each other. Since allowing someone to enter your social bubble can impact the other people in your pod, Dr. Nagrani says you become responsible in a way for that person and their actions.
Precautions for handling casual sex
It’s true that not everyone in the dating world (especially the dating app world) is looking for long-term committed, monogamous love. And although neither Dr. Volk nor Dr. Nagrani recommend casual hookups right now, each say transparency about lifestyles and potential exposure is still key, as is honesty about what kind of risks you’re comfortable assuming. But Dr. Volk also offers some words of wisdom on the nitty gritty details.
Dr. Volk adds that when possible, you can take your date to your home, where you have more control of the environment. (You know how clean it is and who lives there.) After having sex, shower right away, do your laundry, and clean any surfaces the other person may have touched.
She also warns daters not to be lulled into a false sense of security because of a negative COVID-19 test result. “If it was negative three days ago, that doesn’t matter. I don’t know what you’ve been doing the last three days,” she says. “With STD testing, the person knows if they have been with someone since that test. With COVID testing, you don’t know. It’s breathing, not sex.”
And if all the precautions feel daunting and overwhelming, take a pause and consider what your priorities are right now. You might not be ready for in-person dates, and that’s okay. “Everybody’s thinking about what their comfort level is. That’s the hardest part,” says Dr. Volk. “If you get past that and you make it to the date, it’s probably going to be worth it because you’ve already vetted the person pretty well.”
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