Health 

How to Safely Date, Virtually and In-Person, During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Experts weigh in on the risks — and surprising benefits — of finding love amidst a global health crisis.

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How to Safely Date, Virtually and In-Person, During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Experts weigh in on the risks — and surprising benefits — of finding love amidst a global health crisis.

In the face of a virus that can spread when two people simply breathe the same air, dating amidst the coronavirus pandemic seems counterintuitive and plain dangerous. While COVID-19 poses very real health hazards, its interpersonal consequences — namely, the need for quarantine and social-distancing — have left people around the world craving connection.

Humans are social creatures and our need for love, as well as sex, will always prevail. As bars, parties and other crowded social gatherings become red zones, singles formerly averse to online dating are turning to apps such as Bumble and Hinge for connection. In fact, Bumble saw a 16 percent global increase in messages sent during the last week of April, while Hinge reported a 30 percent surge in messages sent globally throughout March. In response to the pandemic, Hinge launched a video chat feature to help facilitate virtual dating, a safer alternative to in-person meet-ups. Use of Bumble’s video chat addition, which was introduced in 2019, rose 70 percent during the last week of March. “When physical connection is limited, humans will seek out other means to interact and engage,” a representative from Bumble notes.

More traditional methods of finding love are seeing a boom in popularity, too. Amy Van Doran, love coach and founder of matchmaking agency The Modern Love Club, says that demand for her expertise has increased. “It has not been chill; it’s been very busy,” she shares. The guru, whom Vogue dubbed “New York’s coolest matchmaker,” attributes the change to the sobering reality that, should a second wave of COVID-19 hit, few people want to endure another three months of strict quarantine alone. Van Doran, who boasts a rolodex of thousands of vetted singles and takes on a limited number of clients at a time, reveals that almost half of her charges matched within the first three months of the pandemic. “Now they’re in relationships,” she says.

Clearly, the pandemic hasn’t curbed anyone’s desire to date, both virtually and IRL. As the world adjusts to life amidst a pandemic, Van Doran’s clients are meeting up in-person after preliminary Zoom get togethers. One of her singles even got COVID-tested and flew from New York City to Austin to meet a potential match. The duo quarantined together for two weeks and are now “madly in love,” according to Van Doran.

If you’re looking to start a flirtation or turn a fling into something serious, doctors, love coaches and dating app experts share tips on how to safely date during the pandemic — as well as insight into why now may be an ideal time to find love.

Zoom dates don’t have to be awkward

Whether you prefer Zoom, FaceTime or Google Hangouts, video chat is the next best thing to physically meeting. Both Bumble and Hinge offer in-app video chat features, which have proven to be popular despite initial reticence to try them out. According to Logan Ury, Hinge’s director of relationship science, 70 percent of the app’s users were open to video dating yet very few had actually tried it as of the beginning of the pandemic. “They were afraid it would be awkward,” Ury explains.

Now, nearly half of all Hinge users have been on a video date (for the record, 81 percent found their virtual dates “not at all or only slightly” awkward). If this metric doesn’t ease your video dating anxiety, Van Doran has tips for making the experience more comfortable. The matchmaker suggests setting up a dedicated “dating spot” in your home, away from where you work. “Make sure that things are organized behind it, that the lighting is flattering on your face — almost like you are making a little movie set,” she recommends.

As for conversation points, try psychologist Arthur Aron’s series of questions that accelerate intimacy, popularized by 2015 New York Times article “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” And whatever you do, don’t complain about the pandemic on a first date. “That’s such a negative place to be dating from,” Van Doran cautions. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to admit that you’re feeling uncomfortable. “It’s okay to say that. It gives the other person the opportunity to say, ‘I’m feeling awkward too,’” she explains. “It’s weird; we’re all figuring it out together. Being socially generous with yourself and others can put things on the right track.”

In Van Doran’s opinion, video chatting can be a more effective method of gauging a potential partner than a traditional date. The expert urges singles to stay true to “what would make [them] fun at a party or across the dinner table,” adding that “so often, people are using dinner to fill in where their personalities should be.”

Set boundaries and for now, keep in-person dates outside

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that partners get a feel for each other’s boundaries — and explicitly define what they are and aren’t comfortable with — before physically meeting. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH), recommends doing this virtually via phone call or video chat before meeting in-person. New York-based matchmaker and love coach Lisa Ronis agrees, stressing the importance of asking pointed questions before going on an IRL date. “Ask who have they been seeing; do they wear a mask indoors and outdoors; who has entered their home recently,” she suggests, adding that children should also be a point of conversation. “Do they have kids? If so, have their kids attended camp [or] school?” she poses.

Offering a digital conversation starter on boundaries, Bumble rolled out Virtual Dating Badges allowing users to indicate what types of dates they’re comfortable with: virtual, socially distanced or socially distanced with a mask. “Globally, we saw that nearly 1 million people on Bumble added the Virtual Dating Badge to their profiles,” a representative from the app said. “We’re thinking of our users and how we can provide them the safest, most comfortable options for connecting.”

“One of my clients, their first date was to go get COVID tested together, which I think is really efficient and kind of punk in a way.” — Amy Van Doran

If you’re considering going on an in-person date, take an honest measure of your risk level for both contracting and spreading the virus. Dr. Andrew Goodman, associate director of medicine at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, says those with underlying medical conditions should avoiding IRL meetings with anyone outside of their household. In addition, those living with someone at a higher risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 should stay at home.

If you do end up going on an in-person date, Dr. Goodman recommends partners touch base on what may seem to be obvious beforehand. “Make sure that everyone who is meeting is feeling well, and has been feeling well for the past 14 days,” he says. “Consider getting COVID viral testing in the days before meeting,” he adds. As always, wear a face mask. If you decide to remove it, stay outdoors and at least six feet away from your date as per social distancing recommendations. Being mindful of alcohol consumption, a recommended safety precaution pre-coronavirus, is especially important now; as people imbibe, they tend to let their guard down and may relax the health precautions they take.

If you’re not comfortable drinking or dining outside, try a date in the park, a scenic walk or even a bike ride. “One of my clients, their first date was to go get COVID tested together, which I think is really efficient and kind of punk in a way,” Van Doran shares.

Practice (extra) safe sex

When the NYC DOHMH issued a guide to having safe sex during the pandemic back in March, the internet went wild over its graphic language. Saturday Night Live even aired a segment riffing on the guidelines, specifically, its reference to rimming. All jokes aside, the guide offers practicable steps to help reduce transmission of COVID-19 during sex. People won’t stop having sex because of the pandemic (abstinence-only sex education never worked, anyway), so educating yourself and your partner on safer ways to get intimate is an important step to take before moving forward.

Dr. Goodman commends the city’s safer sex guide, and reminds couples that COVID-19 seems to enter the body primarily through the nose, mouth and eyes. “Protecting those body parts is important,” he says, suggesting that partners avoid kissing and oral sex for now. “If you choose to use your mouth, consider condoms or a dental dam,” he adds.

Dr. Daskalakis encourages couples to “try other forms of sex, like virtual sex, or positions that don’t involve face to face contact. Masturbate together and try physical barriers to prevent close contact,” he explains. If you’re having sex with more than one partner, limit that number to a small, consistent group. “Finally, it’s important to wash up before and after sex,” Dr. Daskalakis advises.

Finding a partner during the pandemic may be easier than you think

Similar to Van Doran, Ronis is also experiencing an increase in business. “Summer is a time when things tend to slow down a bit, but it’s been busy since the lockdown in March,” she remarks. Whether it’s the loneliness of quarantine or something more morbid (the pandemic has certainly heightened our awareness of mortality, perhaps jump-starting a desire to find love), both matchmakers agree that the best time to find a partner is here and now.

“It is, in a certain way, one of the best times in recent history for people to fall in love,” Van Doran reflects. “People are getting real and valuing partnership in a way they weren’t before,” she says, referencing the fact that, in light of the pandemic, couples must have serious conversations about their health and boundaries before they even consider kissing. In Van Doran’s opinion, the necessity for total honesty is helping singles find the right partner, faster. “All of love and dating is a negotiation,” she notes. “The first test now is [whether] you can negotiate [coronavirus] safely. If the answer is no, you know right off the bat it’s not going to be a great match for you,” she explains.

“Almost half of Hinge users reported developing new healthy dating habits since March.” — Logan Ury

Drawing on data collected from Hinge users, Ury also believes that “there’s never been a better time to date.” The behavioral scientist reports that “almost half of Hinge users reported developing new healthy dating habits since March, such as thinking more about who they’re really looking for and spending less time chasing after someone who is not interested in them.” It’s reasonable to infer that the loneliness of quarantine — and people’s subsequent realization that time with loved ones is precious — may be a driving force behind their newfound attitudes.

Similarly, Bumble reports that “people are spending more time getting to know each other online before meeting up in real life.” Instead of exchanging a few messages and grabbing a drink, it seems singles are interacting with more intention. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this change will lead to a higher rate of successful relationships in the long term.

If any silver lining is to be gleaned from the health crisis, it’s that the pandemic may help people avoid wasting time on those who don’t see eye-to-eye on foundational values such as health and safety. In turn, singles may experience a higher success rate when it comes to dating, both via apps and matchmakers. “If dating and being in love is something you want to do, I wouldn’t delay doing that,” Van Doran advocates. “No one’s an expert on how to date during COVID. If you can be forgiving of yourself and others while we clumsily negotiate this thing, I think it brings out a lot of humanity.”

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