Dating in a Pandemic
“You are not going to believe this. I met someone online,” he says.
It was my friend John calling me from Vancouver. He had signed his divorce papers a month ago and here he was, in the middle of the pandemic, doing what I as a single, successful, attractive woman had not been able to accomplish in 35 years of dating. And he had done it not once but twice.
I’ve done speed dating, online dating, blind dates, and even considered hiring a matchmaker. So when the pandemic hit, I was somewhat relieved to escape the constant questions people felt compelled to ask. “Are you dating anyone? Are you getting yourself out there?”
Dr. Fauci’s advise on avoiding the casual hook up on Tinder was music to my ears. For six glorious months, I woke up each morning without the worry of checking in to see who had swiped left or right. I, like millions of other isolated souls, took solace in rebuilding a garden, discovering new recipes or remodeling a room I never seemed to have time for. Walks were filled with meaningful conversations from 6 feet apart. Neighbors found new connections in their driveways. And I, for one, did not seem to miss the constant surge of wondering if I were good enough for an online swipe by a stranger I had never met.
Hearing those words from John were the last thing I had expected. They brought me back to that place of loneliness that I had not yet felt in a world shut behind closed doors. I had been given the invisible permission to forget my status as spinster. But now, the familiar face was staring back in the mirror, shaking her head in pity for me once again.
I thought she had disappeared for good but I gave into her eyes and rejoined the inevitable world of online dating again. After all, where does one go to meet new people when we have been ordered to stay inside. The initial thrill of seeing new faces pop into my Inbox woke up a feeling I had forgotten. Hope. So many new faces smiling back at me while I drank a glass of wine from the comfort of my couch. Perhaps I had missed out on some crazy new pandemic trend. I narrowed my search and began swiping left and then right. I was back in charge of my destiny and I embraced it with the energy found in my self imposed dating hibernation.
As I perused the profiles, I wondered if the Pandemic might be making people more thoughtful about what really mattered in their quests. I wondered if the pool of sex craved players would have been weeded out. I wondered if, in fact, the Pandemic wouldn’t afford us the excuse to get to know each-other a bit better before smacking lips and other body parts together in the elusive search for connection in a time when our world had grown so divisive.
Messages flooded my inbox and I gracefully responded to each. But the trends were no different than prior to the pandemic. Stilted one liner conversations began to emerge. Video chats revealed naked bodies wishing for you to do the same. And after weeks of vetting, flirting and online video chats, I took the chance at meeting one man IRL. The stakes are higher now and the chances of losing your inhibition after a few glasses of wine are even more in question. After-all, the death rate of COVID has a much higher risk factor than the undisclosed STD.
I stepped gingerly down the cobblestone street, clicking a pair of heels I hadn’t worn in seven months, feeling hopeful and excited about what hidden blessings a pandemic could bring.
I saw him standing in the street and we gingerly leaned our masked faces forward for a hug, knowing full well we just broke the social distance barrier recommended by the CDC. We sat across from each-other on an outdoor patio, awkwardly trying to find the pretense of connection found over email and text strings. He stutters over his words, I laugh a little too much. We talk about the weather, our jobs, none of the meaningful conversation that the distance had given us freedom to share when not staring across from each-other, exposed in our human skin.
We walk down the chilly promenade after dinner. I wonder if he will take my hand. But we both know that this casual gesture crosses into a territory that is more of a commitment, not so easily forgotten and dismissed. The touch of another person’s skin, connecting you to that person and whatever germs may exist, traveling invisibly across your intertwined fingers. Was it just me or was this too much of a risk?
He walks me to the car and I wonder in silence if the customary good night kiss should even be permitted. Pre-Covid, swapping spit even as an awkward concession gift would have been something I was willing to give. Now I had to wonder, is this someone I would consider quarantining with, or worse, risking my life for if that clearing of the throat over a misplaced swallow proved to be an indicator of a negative COVID test.
In the end, a mask-less hug was exchanged with our smiles facing outwards. And I returned home wondering if it was all really worth it? Are the hidden blessings of COVID about finding love where it might have never existed? Or is it about realizing that the life and love we have, surrounding us each and every day, is perhaps good enough or even better than what someone is no doubt dreaming up as the perfect Hallmark love story from COVID.
John urges me to stay open. To keep putting myself out there in hopes I too will get lucky like him. “It’s all a part of getting acclimated to ordinary dating life again,” he says. But I long for the days when my heart didn’t rise and fall with the ping of a text message. I sink back into my blankets, preparing for a fall when snuggling on the couch with my dog is the only unconditional love I will need.
I close out my profile on the dating app and take comfort again in the happy life I have found during COVID. As my neighbors surround me on the patio, watching outdoor movies and drinking copious amounts of wine, I erase those nagging doubts of loneliness. I wave good bye to that nagging girl in the mirror and once again look forward to the other hidden blessings of COVID.