Nowadays, is it more likely for you to swipe right with a disinfectant wipe on a table than your finger on Tinder? After all, even though bad boys or bad girls may be your thing, badly infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus should be no one’s thing. So, how do you date safely with the pandemic continuing. Or do you forsake dating, and stick with romantic dinners with statues constructed out of toilet paper rolls?
Jennifer Berman, MD, MS, former co-host of the CBS television show The Doctors and a specialist in female sexual medicine, thinks that completely abstaining from dating may be tough for many to do: ”We are hard wired to connect with other people. It is in our DNA to connect. Research has shown that the single most important factor for people who live the longest was connections to other people. families, friends, and community.”
Keep in mind that the take home message here is not “don’t worry about being single for long because you will die earlier.” Rather, what Berman emphasized is that social connections in general can help. Thus, non-romantic relationships can keep you alive in more ways than one too. Berman’s point was that simply not dating may be too tough to do for many people.
Plus, if you haven’t figured it out already, this pandemic is not a here today, gone tomorrow type of thing. “This isn’t going away,” emphasized Liana Chaouli, CEO and Founder of Image Therapists. “So you can either regress or adapt to the new situation.” All of this means that dating is not a binary, do-it-like-you’ve-always-been-doing-it versus don’t-do-it-all situation. In fact, maybe the whole pandemic thing will change dating for good.
So how do you adapt to the new normal if you want to keep on dating while doing the safety dance, in the words of that Men without Hats song? Well, here are 12 tips:
1. Be more selective and choose based on qualities that really matter.
These days the personal qualities that will allow you to get closer to someone have to be more stringent than “looks like a movie star”, “has a nice car or clothing or both”, “isn’t carrying an ax” , “appears to be human” or “said ‘hello’ back to me.” That’s because, as Berman said, the stakes are much higher. Before the pandemic, your pre-date preparation may have included questions like “is my hair out of place”, “what clothes should I wear”, or “how many knock-knock jokes is too many?” Nowadays, as Berman urged, you have to add, “am I going to die?” Such a question may have been part of your standard pre-date questions before the pandemic. If so, then you probably were not being selective enough with your date choices.
Of course, being selective doesn’t mean being too picky in the wrong way. It means knowing what is important to you and then checking to see if the other person meets those criteria. For example, why are you ruling people in and out based mainly on appearance when you keep saying that you want a smart and kind person?
The challenge is you may either not know what you really want or be very poor at adhering to your real criteria. Great personality and kind heart may be really high on your list but then suddenly those biceps, that chest, or those legs keep getting in the way. Or maybe the guy or gal reminds you of that person whom you couldn’t have in high school, who is the opposite of your parents, or who is that movie star.
In many ways, the pandemic and social distancing may be doing you a favor and forcing you to sit quietly and think about what you want, what you really, really want, in the words of the Spice Girls.
“Immediate emotions can be a distortion of reality,” Berman explained. “Perception can get lost in the bar with alcohol.” Because alcohol is so helpful with decision-making, right?
“With the extra time these day, people may be taking more care to find what they really want,” Berman added. “Maybe this is a path towards higher success in marriages.” When the divorce rate is no better than the odds of getting tails on a coin flip, how much worse could it really get?
2. Make it clear what you want.
Of course, it helps to tell other people what you really want. It’s not a great idea to walk into Costco and say, “give me what I want.” That may bring you a broom, 20 rolls of duct tape, a seven-pound tub of Nutella, a four-foot tall wine glass, or anything that happens to be on sale or on the “get rid of this” list. Or the sales folks may answer, “well, tell us what you want,” and “please, put on your face mask while doing so.”
Similarly, expressing to others what you are looking for can help spare wasted dating effort. If you are worried about how that may make you look, furget about it. Remember people have been fighting over toilet paper, attending work meetings without wearing pants, and not getting haircuts for months. This is not the time to be bashful, indirect, or a bit fishy. In this case, fishy means either being coy or getting catfished (i.e., lured in by someone pretending to be someone else), because the stakes and investment required are now higher.
Chaouli suggested, “Give other people standards to meet. For example, on a dating profile, you can say please send me an engaging note. Standards are like a filter system.”
She added, “Be a space for others to step into. Ask questions. Genuinely express some interest. Give direction.” After all, if Pop Tarts need to have instructions such as remove pastry from packaging, a lot of people could benefit from more direction when it comes to dating.
3. Have enough remote meetings first.
If you are the “jump into bed first, ask questions later” type of person, this is not your time. Instead, take the time and effort to really get to know the other person before getting physical. Berman thinks that this is actually a good thing in the long run: “it offers more emotional protection. If people become intimate and have sex too quickly, that distorts things.”
Video dating can be an effective way to learn about each other. Nowadays, if you meet someone online, it’s tough for that person to avoid meeting via video. Be suspicious if someone says, “oh, Tuesday through Saturday won’t work because I’ll be on the toilet those days.” Or, “I can’t meet because I’m having a bad hair day.” Heck, many of us are having a bad hair year.
At first glance, Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime may not seem like the most romantic of venues. “Hey, you are on mute”, “”I can just see the top of your head”, or “you are fading in and out” may not be on your Top 10 list of most alluring things to say. Well, perhaps, “hey, you are on mute, but what you are saying must be magical,” could work. Regardless, stripping an interaction down to its basics could actually be quite informative and beneficial. Can both of you maintain a conversation without the cover of distractions like alcohol or Meghan Trainor’s “All About the Bass” in the background?
4. Ask key questions early.
Don’t wait until you have already invested too much effort before asking important questions. If something is important to you, inquire about it early. It’s always better to know who someone really is as soon as you can. Before meeting in person, don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:
- Do you want to have children? What do you think about children? Do you believe the children are our future? Should you teach them well and let them lead the way? Will you show them all the beauty they possess inside?
- How long was your longest relationship? Why did it end? What exactly do you mean by “restraining order”?
- Do you ever want to get married? Have you ever been engaged or married? Are you married right now? Is that your spouse in the other Zoom window? Why is your spouse Zoom-bombing our conversation? How do I find the “Leave Meeting” button?
- What do you think about other races, ethnicities, genders, and other lifestyles? Where do you stand on important social issues? What is that hood that’s on the shelf in your background?
- What are your thoughts about money? Where does it rank on your priorities? Do you think money can buy happiness? Does pouring it on to your bed and rolling in it really give you that much joy?
- What do you want in life? Why is unlimited Nutella and hot dogs your goal? What is your dream job? What is the one thing that you want to accomplish in your life? Do you really think that Nutella should be part of your answer?
- What are you most proud of (besides getting a virtual date with me)? What are you afraid of, besides me and spiders?
- Describe your personality? Why do you think liking macaroni and cheese qualifies as a personality? Why do you keep saying YOLO?
- Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol? How much? Do you have any non-avocado-based addictions?
- What do you think about science? What conspiracy theories do you believe in and why?
- What do you think about the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic? Have you been infected? What do you think about social distancing, mask use, and other measures? Have you ever tried injecting disinfectants into yourself?
- What is your dating and sexual history? How many partners have you had? Why are you asking me to clarify whether I am referring to partners in one night versus partners over your lifetime? Actually, could you answer both questions and do so very slowly? What do you mean by more than one? Why do you think 526 is not a large number?
Get a sense of the other person’s risk levels and the precautions that he or she is taking. If the person believes that the pandemic is a hoax or is otherwise not taking precautions very seriously, you may want to put a halt to things unless you want to expose yourself to the virus.
If you think that such questions may make the Zoom or phone date too much like an interview, weave the questions into your conversation or make them more flirty. Throw in words like “hunky”, “hot”, and “avocado.” For example, say “tell me about your hunky, hunky, hot personality.” Or “yum avocados, are they ripe enough? How long have they been sitting there? Longer than your longest relationship?” With some creativity, you can turn anything into foreplay.
“In some ways, this is like going back to the days of love letters,” said Berman. “All of the foreplay is done virtually. It gives you more information and more time before meeting.”
5. If you decide to meet in person, establish a ‘contract’ beforehand.
Say the virtual meetings have gone well and you’ve mutually decided that it’s time to meet in person. Before this meeting occurs, set some ground rules on how you will interact. It can be very problematic if you go into the first meeting with very different expectations. After all, if you are thinking “stay at least six feet apart at all times” and the other person is thinking “have wild unbridled sex,” things may be quite awkward when you finally do meet.
Berman called setting these ground rules establishing a “contract with the other person.” Now this doesn’t mean a signed formal agreement or specification of compensation if the date doesn’t work out as planned (e.g., 14 tubs of macaroni-and-cheese will be delivered if the in-person meeting does not lead anywhere). Rather, it’s establishing mutual boundaries before any closer engagement occurs, such as agreeing upon:
- A safe meeting place, one with appropriate space to maintain social distancing, ventilation, cleaning procedures, and access to soap and sinks.
- Maintaining social distancing throughout the meeting and ways to do this.
- When and what kind of face coverings to wear.
- Ensuring each other that you are symptom-free.
- Whether, when, and how to get tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus
- Quarantining or at least remaining in a safe bubble for two weeks before meeting
Sure, establishing agreements before meeting may not seem like rom-com material. But then again how realistic are rom-coms? Holding up a boom box over your head outside a person’s house could get you arrested. Billionaire corporate raiders probably don’t sweep prostitutes off their feet every day. If you and your potential date can’t get on the same page about basic precautions then maybe you two aren’t right for each other.
6. Choose a date location where you can socially distance.
When it comes to Covid-19 coronavirus risk, remember the key factors are the length of time that you are exposed to the virus and the amount of virus that’s present. Assume that the other person may be infected, and choose a venue that can reduce both the amount and time that you are exposed.
Outside is better than inside. Well-ventilated is better than not. Emptier is better than packed. Of course, this doesn’t mean choose an alleyway, a vacant lot, or a cargo ship to meet. Balance danger from the virus with danger from everything else. Be creative when choosing a venue. Sure, lunch, dinner, a movie, or a show are the traditional venues. But maybe a walk in the park will make it easier to maintain social distancing.
7. Use safe transportation to and from the date location.
Remember the journey matters too. Choose a venue and a path to and from the venue that will avoid crowded locations and use relatively safe means of transportation. These days cabs and ride-shares bring of the risk of being in a small, enclosed space with potentially infected people such as the driver or previous passengers. Public transportation may be more spacious and ventilated. However, check to make sure that trains or buses aren’t too packed and are adequately cleaned. Of course, walking, biking, or driving yourself gives you more control over your transportation environment. However, be careful with valet services. Remember that Seinfeld episode where a parking valet left a stink in the car? Well, that’s not all that someone can leave in your car.
8. Maintain social distancing and other precautions during the date.
Some people may try to initiate physical contact to establish a “bond” with you. But strong bonds can form before physical contact occurs. Berman pointed to the Netflix series “Love is Blind” as highlighting this phenomenon. As seen in the following trailer, the show has people get to know each other while in “pods” without seeing each other:
OK, it should be clear that reality shows aren’t quite “reality.” People may be acting in the series because they know that they are being filmed. Nevertheless, the show does have a point. Strong bonds can form while staying at least one Denzel apart. (Denzel Washington is about six feet tall.)
Note that face mask use will not compensate for the lack of social distancing. Don’t nuzzle or kiss while wearing face coverings. That can cross-contaminate and reduce of the effectiveness of each others’ face coverings. Plus, doing so is really kissing the face covering rather than the person. If you want to get romantic with a piece of fabric or some cotton or polypropylene, you can always do so at home by yourself.
9. Use your other senses and the date to confirm or dispel impressions.
You know that cheesy Owen Wilson line in the movie The Wedding Crashers: “You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.” OK, the words cheesy and Owen Wilson line may be redundant. Nevertheless, during dating, you may be using just a fraction of your senses and maybe the wrong fraction. And no, lust is not a sense.
Remember dating is a process, a marathon not a sprint, unless the other person wants to race you. The purpose of the first in-person meeting is to confirm what you have figured out during the remote meetings. Don’t view it as the all-or-nothing situation where you have to make your move, whatever that move happens to be. It may seem like social distancing is keeping you from learning about the other person. But does it really? Again, maybe eliminating the extraneous stuff will help you better understand what the other person is like.
“Most people have silenced their intuition because they’ve abdicated their intuition to their cognition,” said Chaouli. “If you are quiet enough to listen, you can get a sense of who’s right and who’s wrong. Listen to that quiet inner voice.”
10. Determine when and how you want to bubble.
Who knows? Maybe “I really want to bubble with you,” could become one of the romantic things that you can say. In this case, bubble doesn’t mean bubble bath. Rather, it means going into a social bubble together. A social bubble can allow you to hug, hold hands, kiss, and then hold a One Direction statue together, which is the natural progressive escalation of physical contact between two people. A social bubble is where you agree to limit closer contact to just those within the social bubble. The bubble should be small enough for this to be feasible. A bubble of 5,000 of your best friends will not work. Everyone in the bubble has to agree to maintain strict infection prevention and control measures, especially when venturing to the outside world.
11. Plan for sex.
Planning for sex doesn’t mean sending an Outlook or Google calendar invitation that says “Sex 7 pm EST to 7:05 pm EST” and asks the respondent to click “Yes, No, or Maybe.” Instead, it means that you should decide how much trust should be earned before getting down, bumping uglies, or parking the Plymouth in the garage, so to speak. There are problems with sex coming too early. Let me rephrase that. There are problems with having sex too early in a relationship. “You start making excuses for behaviors that would normally be unacceptable,” Berman explained. “You think with the lusty sexually charged part of your brain, rather than your more rational parts. It’s the primitive brain overtaking to frontal cortex. Instead, you need a balance between the two.”
Planning also means making appropriate preparations. My previous articles in Forbes have already covered how to have safer sex during the pandemic. Ideally, you’ve already been in a committed social bubble with the other person for a while. This will allow you to be more physically intimate.
12. Enforce a mutual check-in system.
Once you agree to bubble with someone, you’ve got to maintain it as long as you want to stay in physical contact. As you know, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors can change over time. Couples can drift apart. Again, these days, the stakes are higher. Add “did you sing in a choir with that other person” and other behaviors to “did you have sex with that other person” as signs of “infidelity.” Remember the other person’s risky behaviors can in turn put you and others at risk. Therefore, you’ll need some way of making sure that both of you are staying faithful to being safe. This doesn’t mean track the other person in a creepy, highly suspicious way that involves elaborate costumes, GPS devices, and hidden cameras. Rather, regularly openly talk about what you are doing to stay safe and whether you are still on the same page.
This brings up a final point. Talk openly about things, even seemingly sensitive topics like fears, potential exposures, and sex. Good communication is key to all relationships. Relationships, whether professional, personal, or amorous, fall apart when at least one person fails to give the other person a heads up about any significant changes while the problem can still be solved. Berman expressed concerns about, “things becoming too ‘Puritanical’ that don’t allow open discussions about relationships and sex.”
Dating is part of life. So there needs to be more discussions and recommendations on how to do it more safely during this SARS-CoV2 pandemic. After all, if you believe that things will soon “return to normal” as they were before the pandemic, you may be dating yourself in more ways than one.