Are you experiencing fear of dating again?

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We're sure you don't need a reminder, but it's officially been over a year since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic started. For many singles, it's been that long since they've gone on a date (what is flirting?). But with COVID-19 vaccines rolling out and warmer weather making outdoor dates an option again, it might be time to rip off the Band-Aid on IRL dating if you're feeling the itch.

However, before you jump into dating full-time, remember that you're not fully in the clear yet when it comes to the virus, and you should still be taking safety precautions if you and your date are not vaccinated. "Make sure you and your date are both healthy and do not have any COVID-19 symptoms," UCLA and Mayo Clinic-trained physician Dr. Bita Nasseri tells HelloGiggles. "As excited as we all are as we transition back into our lives, we need to continue to be safe and considerate of others' well-being—therefore, avoid crowded spaces, larger venues, and sharing food and drinks." 

Although many singles turned to video dating during the pandemic, we all know it's not the same. Sure, you're still making conversation with a stranger, but there's no placing your hand on their arm while laughing and the lower half of your body is still in quarantine mode (aka, sweatpants and fuzzy socks). So, it's no surprise if you're feeling nervous to dive back into the dating world at full force.

Our FODA is real, but so is our desire to get back out there. So, to help us overcome FODA, we talked to relationship experts who offered their advice for calming those butterflies and regaining confidence in the tricky world of dating. Below, find seven tips for how to jump into dating IRL post-pandemic.

1. Set goals and expectations.

Like any habit, it's hard to go cold turkey on dating and then jump back in, full speed ahead. Dating experts recommend starting off slow but setting concrete goals for yourself to get the ball rolling. "Set a goal like one date per week or three messages per day [if you're on apps]," chief dating expert for Match Rachel DeAlto tells HelloGiggles. "Also, keep expectations low and hopes high to avoid disappointment."

Dating coach for The League and author of Dating Sucks But You Don't Connell Barrett seconds this low-stakes mindset. "Remind yourself that it's a huge success just to be on a real-life date after this seemingly endless pandemic," Barrett points out. "Once the date starts, you've succeeded, no matter how it goes."

2. Break the ice.

Everyone is nervous on a first date, but especially now when many singles have been out of practice for months. Know that you're likely both rusty—and maybe even need to break the ice by admitting you have nerves. "Maybe text them the day of your date, tossing in a joke to break the tension," Barrett advises. "Say something like, 'I'm excited (and a bit nervous) to meet up—with a real, actual human! I feel like I just broke up with Zoom, lol.'"

Ury agrees, noting, "This confession will help you relax and maybe even connect with your date more quickly if they express their own nervousness."

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3. Have go-to talking points.

It's happened to all of us: A date is going smoothly when all of a sudden, the conversation slows and it's deafeningly silent. Avoid this awkward lull by having go-to subjects to bring up. "Give yourself one or two 'back-pocket' topics," Barrett tells HelloGiggles. "These are things you can ask your date about just in case you get stuck in your head. If you know they love skiing or studied abroad, be ready to ask about it. This gives you a conversational safety net and relaxes you."

Ury has another tactic for remedying those tongue-tied moments on a date: "Get out of your own head and focus on the other person," she says. "Make an effort to be interested instead of interesting. This will take some of the pressure off of you to perform, and it's also a great way to ensure your date has a good time."

4. Remember the dos and don'ts of flirting.

When you've only been interacting with your family and close friends (or maybe just your dog) for the past year, it's easy to forget what it's like to try to impress another human being. Flirting can be a slippery slope, but once you're back in the swing of it, it's damn fun. For example, do: make eye contact and smile. Don't: talk about your ex or look at your phone. "Those are big dating faux pas," matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking Susan Trombetti tells HelloGiggles. Check out a full list of first date dos and don'ts here.

5. Utilize your pandemic experience.

Speaking of flirting, experts say it's best to focus on lighthearted, positive topics on a first date. "It's fine to mention the pandemic, but don't dwell too long on serious topics," Barrett recommends. "It's a date—you're there to connect, flirt, have fun, and put your best, real self out there."

However, we've all experienced an insane year, so you don't need to totally avoid pandemic talk. "A great way to discuss the pandemic is to share a cool project you pursued in your downtime," Barrett continues. "Maybe on lockdown, you learned to bake, took up Spanish, or read classic books. Brag a little and ask your date how they spent the time. This lets you talk about passions, not the pandemic itself."

Plus, communicating more over the phone and our screens this past year has made us all sit back and really hear each other out, so take advantage of this new skill. "Chances are, all those online meetings over the last year made you a better listener, and listening is a dating superpower," Barrett points out. "That will serve you well on dates because you can give the other person the present of your presence."

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6. Be upfront about COVID-19.

It's important to openly communicate your views on vaccination and social distancing with dates—and the majority of singles value this honest approach. According to Ury, a recent Hinge survey found that 79% of users said it's important to agree on pandemic safety habits with a match before going on a date. Although it can feel awkward to bring up these topics at first, Barrett says singles should see the conversation as a positive.

"The COVID conversation is nothing to fear—it's an opportunity to show concern for the other person," he says. "It shows that you're responsible and empathetic, two attractive traits that can elevate you in your date's eyes."

"Before your IRL date, share your situation—sort of the way you would have 'the STD talk' before sex," Barrett explains. "When you bring it up, be clear and conversational, using matter of fact language. Don't interrogate them, but instead, go first. This gives them the green light to reciprocate."

DeAlto recommends two things when talking about COVID with a date: be unapologetic and empathetic. "If you have an opinion that affects your health about how you want to proceed dating-wise, be unapologetic about it," she says. "You're entitled to whatever position you choose for your own health. However, understand that you may not have the same opinion as to the person you are looking to date. Try to see it from their perspective and create an opportunity to meet that makes everyone feel safe."

7. Continue to focus on yourself.

At the end of the day, remember that you've grown a lot over the past year—and you are the most important person in your life. "Even when you begin to focus on dating again, it's important to continue to make yourself a priority," DeAlto emphasizes. "Do things that make you happy on a regular basis."

Good luck out there, daters! The first time back in the game is always the hardest, so go easy on yourself.