Love in the time of COVID-19

Social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic certainly isn't making dating any easier. Here's an expert perspective on how to find romance amid pandemic pandemonium

As a matchmaker and dating coach, I trade in people getting close – but with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, now may not be the best time for that.

Still, short of everyone collectively shrugging and foregoing any new forms of romantic connection, dating is going to continue. As a wise man once said: “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Since a lot of us are dealing with our feelings of impending doom through humour, there have been some truly excellent takes about dating in these trying times.

Author and advice columnist Beth McColl has called for “fraught and passionate long-distance romance” and a return to pining. Writer and actor Kaitlyn McQuin posited that straight guys on dating apps are going to have to start putting in work: “We bout to get Jane Austen up in here. Now, write me a poem.”

A number of dating apps have posted warnings in light of COVID-19 reminding people about social distancing – but as things have progressed, even that feels inappropriate now in Toronto. In general, risk awareness and clear communication are important when it comes to things like STIs and other issues of disclosure, but we’re working to flatten the curve, and thinking of only yourself and your partner (and even those closest to you) isn’t enough.

Bars, restaurants, and cafes have closed to sit-in diners, but people are still finding ways to meet up. Pithy Grindr handles about COVID-19 are de rigueur, and a lot of people are using this “finding a friend for the end of the world” energy to drum up casual sex.

I get it – fear can be a powerful aphrodisiac – but ultimately, it’s off-putting at best and catastrophically dangerous to everyone at worst.

Sonia Grossi, a Toronto-based leadership coach and workshop facilitator, isn’t feeling it either: “I removed all dating apps a few weeks ago,” she says. “All men were doing was sending me half-naked pictures, saying they needed someone to cuddle and desperately wanting to meet up.” Pandemic or not, that’s not a great look.

A lot of people are thinking twice about anyone who is into meeting in person right now – and it’s telling when people are overly cavalier about health and safety.

Local comedian Bo Makri puts it into perspective: “I personally am setting a boundary for myself that right now is not the time – and if it’s a worthwhile connection, it will survive a few weeks of absence. I have had situations where I’ve had crushes on people who are being really defiant about self-distancing and isolation, and to be honest, it’s a real turnoff.”

A week ago, I met with other dating professionals at the Global Love Conference in New York City. Nothing was on the agenda about COVID-19, but we spoke about it at length over lunch, sitting far closer together than is now advised (it was a different time and I’ve been in full-blown social isolation since my return). A lot of the formal talks focused on what’s next for the dating world.

As luck would have it, video is the future of dating! Several online dating platforms are rolling out video chat as an option. Some services are already focused on video, including recently launched online speed dating company FirstDate. Co-founder Tyler Greenberg is feeling the momentum: “User sign-ups have been skyrocketing and people have been coming back.”

It’s a fortuitous time to launch a business capitalizing on socializing from home, but you can also video date on any platform. Fellow Toronto matchmaker and coach Terran Shea of Mutual Match is seeing her clients pivot that way: “We are continuing the matching process for our clients but we are recommending phone and video chats. If you do the video call right, it can feel like an in-person date. Set the mood, dim the lights, adjust that screen so it’s at a flattering angle, and pour that glass. You can even share a meal together.” (See sidebar below for more tips on having online dates.)

What about sexy time? Makri brought up the potential: “I definitely would video chat a bit more with dates and people I have crushes on or other casual partners and try to maintain those relationships in the absence of physical contact, and maybe even see if we are compatible for video or cybersex.” 

I’m all about sex of any kind on dates (just make sure you’re both on the same page before you initiate anything) but it is important to be aware of the different risks of sexting and cam sex. (Don’t take screenshots or screen record.)

Most ordinary advice stands up even in these extraordinary circumstances: Communicate boundaries, discuss expectations, think twice before texting your ex.

Use common sense to the best of your ability – but, if you can, allow yourself to get swept up in something lovely in these uncertain times.

More tips for a successful online date:

• Pick a time and stick to it. Treat it like a “real” date.

• Make sure your background looks good. Tidy up. It’s a little window into your life that a date might not otherwise have until a bit later, and people will be taking it into consideration.

• Try a few different platforms and see what works. Instagram and Facebook both have video chat options. There’s FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and Google Duo. See what you like.

• Test your audio and video first and use that time to make sure you don’t have anything on your face or in your teeth.

• Participate in whatever ritual gets you amped up for a date. Like to primp? Do it. Want a pump-up jam? Turn it on and dance around. Wear your most fun and impractical outfit if you want – it’s not like you have to run in those heels!

Claire AH is a matchmaker, dating coach and owner of Friend Of A Friend Matchmaking.

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