Is it Safe to Date Again? Doctors Weigh In
Plus, relationships experts predict how the pandemic will affect hookup culture.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has placed many people’s love lives at a standstill for months. Even for adventurous virtual daters, the loss of IRL connections has them craving face-to-face interactions. So now, as some cities and states start to lift social distancing restrictions, many people are eagerly re-entering the dating world at full force. But even though restaurants are opening their doors and bars are pouring cocktails again, doctors and relationship experts suggest singles tiptoe back into dating with caution—and, in some cases, while wearing face masks.
“Depending on health, personal comfort, environment, and government regulations, wearing a face mask on dates can be advisable,” Dr. Carla Manly tells HelloGiggles. “That said, if successive dates with the same person are taking place, it may feel safe and appropriate not to wear a mask if the setting feels conducive to going mask-free.”
Wearing a face mask on a first date can feel weird; not only does it hide nearly half of your face, but if you're keeping a safe distance from your date, it can make it hard to hear each other, too. Despite these issues, a recent survey conducted on dating app GOATdate's Instagram polled 185 people and found that 66% are fine with wearing face masks on dates. Plus, pointing out the weirdness of the situation can be a good ice-breaker.
“If you feel awkward, you can start the date by acknowledging the bizarreness of the moment, which will give you something to connect on,” Logan Ury, Hinge Labs’ director of relationship science, tells HelloGiggles. “Then, focus on the real opportunity of the date: having fun and getting to know each other.”
Pre-date jitters are totally normal, but if you're feeling extra anxious before going on a socially distant date (which Dr. Manly says is natural during this stressful time), share your concerns with your partner. "A quick, thorough discussion about boundaries and personal preferences can set a foundation for moving forward in ways that feel right to each person," she explains. Open communication will start the date off on the right foot and ensure that both of you are comfortable.
And while physical contact on a first date is always up for debate regardless of the social climate, it's especially important to figure out where you stand on that subject now. For some people, immediate touching—even just hand-holding—is and has always been a turn-off on a first date. Others, however, feel the need to explore their physical chemistry right off the bat when meeting someone new.
But since contracting the coronavirus is still very much a risk right now, touching—and especially kissing—should generally be avoided on early dates.
According to the New York City Department of Health, coronavirus spreads through particles in the saliva, mucus, or breath of people with COVID-19, and in some cases, people with the virus don't even show symptoms. "If respiratory droplets come into contact with skin, the virus can be spread if the person touches their eyes, nose, or mouth," explains Dr. Manly. "As the virus can spread through saliva, the risk of kissing and other sexual activities can be significant"—even if you or your date don't think you're sick.
And because COVID-19 is a brand-new virus, there's little research to prove if it's sexually transmitted. One study in China did find traces of the virus in the semen of patients who had recovered from it, but more research still needs to be done. Regardless, any close human contact has the potential to spread COVID-19, so when it comes to making a move, think hard about the risk factor first. "Are you willing to potentially get sick from a kiss? [...] That should be singles' mindset," says Heather Hopkins, CEO and founder of GOATdate.
Pre-pandemic, many people enjoyed frequent casual hookups with different partners. Now, though, the lingering dangers of the coronavirus will likely lead to singles being more cautious about their actions and pickier about who they're intimate with. Not only are risk factors playing into the probable decline in hookup culture, but during isolation, many people have also taken time to mull over their previous dating patterns. Given this extra reflection time, some of them have reevaluated what they want out of their love lives, according to Ury.
"Before the pandemic, many online daters tended to jump to physical intimacy with their matches very quickly, often before they’d developed a deeper emotional connection," Ury says. But over the past few months, single people have been forced to change their typical dating habits since meeting in person was off the table. According to surveys Ury has conducted, many have become more focused on getting to know each other through virtual dates rather than deciding to hook up right away—and some of them want to stick to this slower pace of dating, even when they go back to IRL dates.
Recent surveys conducted by dating app Hily echo this idea. The app asked users to share what they wanted out of relationships, and the shift in answers from before to during quarantine was significant. "Before the lockdown, 40% of our users wanted only casual relationships," Helen Virt, Hily's head of business development, tells HelloGiggles. "However, during the lockdown, 23% of them said they have changed their mind and now want only a permanent partner."
Quarantine has seemingly caused many single people to see the value in serious partnerships and question if they want more than the casual relationships they opted for pre-pandemic. And along with changing intentions heading into dates, the dates themselves may now be less focused on activities and more focused on both people really getting to know each other, some relationship experts predict.
"Pre-quarantine, there was this idea that dates had to be costly dinners, events, or activities, which has really been ingrained in our culture," Hopkins explains. Now, she believes, "our current circumstances have caused singles to go back to the basics: a walk at the beach, picnics at parks, drinks on patios or by fires. These options are more casual and conversation-focused, which is what a first date is all about."
As Hopkins notes, outdoor dates are definitely on the rise, and they're also the safest option for people interested in dating right now. But no matter which route you go, stay true to your personal boundaries and comfort level when re-entering the dating world.
"If you choose to go on dates right now, avoid any pressure from others to engage in activities that don’t feel appropriate to you," Dr. Manly says. "If you’re dating someone who doesn’t respect your needs and preferences, it’s important to take note that this person might lack empathy and understanding in other ways."
If IRL dates still feel out of your current comfort zone, virtual dating is always an option, and it could lead to more meaningful connections when you do eventually meet face to face.