Four perspectives on healthy dating during COVID-19

Young gay male couple on beach

Out Health

I can’t imagine what it’s like to date in a world of hookup apps, let alone during a world-wide pandemic. I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I never really dated. Back then, you either got together, or you didn’t. But now, with COVID-19 in the mix, dating can’t be easy to even think about. Back in June, NYC Health put out some guidelines with the expected precautions regarding meeting people in person and the customary means in dealing with anything one could catch from having sex. With the current respiratory-spread virus, unlike with most STDs, it appears you can easily give it to those in your household, on the bus, or in your vicinity.

According to the NYC Health document, Safer Sex and COVID-19, one should know how COVID-19 can spread. We still have a lot to learn about COVID-19 and sex. Have sex only with people close to you. You are your safest sex partner. If you do have sex with others outside of your household, have as few partners as possible and pick partners you trust. Talk about COVID-19 risk factors, just as you would discuss PrEP, condoms, and other safer sex topics.”

They go on to suggest, “Go with a consistent sex partner… Video dates, sexting, subscription-based fan platforms, sexy ‘Zoom parties’ or chat rooms may be options for you. Make it a little kinky. Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact. Masturbate together and use physical distance and face coverings to reduce the risk.”

I talked with a lot of my friends who do date, from California to Portugal, as to whether they were following these guidelines and what is different now than it would be without COVID. What they all have in common is more of a concern of spreading the virus to others than of catching it themselves. Many feel the need to spend more time than they normally would getting to know people online and over the phone to determine if they share similar values and to take precautions before considering a meetup in person. I have synthesized their responses into four composite people, each with an interesting perspective and history in this idea of dating.

I find I’m having a conversation over a couple of weeks before agreeing that meeting in person was worth the risk. It’s been somewhat normal, just less frequent. There are about five people in my bubble that I meet. I treat this like any other STD. You know there’s a risk and you do everything in your power to reduce it. I think it’s interesting that sex still supersedes the risk of exposure. It’s like when you can’t have something. Then you want it more. But, when I’m given that green light, it will be “Katy, bar the door.”

I’m normally such a hugger. I hate that touch has to be so calculated now. Fear will subside with science and knowledge. If I do welcome someone into my space, there has to be a degree of vetting. I have a friend I usually get together with who doesn’t mask. There’s no way we’re going to get together right now. I think mask sex can work if you really want it to. But for the small group, I see now, I’m too much into kissing, so It’s worth the risk.

Things are drastically different. I find that most people who just want to hook up have moved off Tinder because the people there are too serious like I am. There’s now a long period of mental stimulation I seek before we ever talk about getting physical. And since this started, I went on only one in-person date.

I’m building equity now for post-pandemic meetings. I’m asking different questions now. I see people wearing masks in profile pictures. I used to worry about meeting an ax murderer. Now I worry about meeting an ax murderer with COVID. Plus, I live with my elderly parents. I can wait. It’s not worth the risk to them. But, boy, am I going to enjoy physical contact when I can safely have it.

I did have a scare in having contact with someone who tested positive. I work in an office. I told my boss, who didn’t let me tell anyone out of fear of getting shut down. So, I quit. I can practice restraint. If I were to go on a date, even distanced, I’d be too tempted. I’ll stay home and work on loving myself. The pandemic is a good excuse not to go out. The world is full of lies. I will take a long time getting to know someone before I meet them. It’s been good to learn things about other people. We can discover who really cares about us. We see who the real person is.

I can tell a funny story of meeting that one person during the pandemic. As we know, masks are needed. We had a date at a coffee shop. I was wearing a mask. Time flew and the person never came, so I sent a text saying that I was at a table waiting. They texted me saying the same. I looked around and I couldn’t find them. So, I said I was going outside to meet. I found out they were sitting at the table right behind me. We laughed a lot.

My community and family are close. We were hit hard early on. People became sick and died in my own home. I didn’t get it, though. I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to. After the first five months, my life went pretty much back to normal. I’m meeting up about the same now as I used to. You want me to wear a mask. I’ll wear a mask. You don’t care, then I won’t.

I did stop going to parties and bars. I just lost interest. Why be around that many people who don’t seem to care? I probably won’t go back to it. I do go through more preparations before meeting someone than I used to. Mostly for their safety, not mine. I would love to have just one person to meet up with regularly, where we trust each other. But I haven’t found that.

I did four months of lockdown. I stopped going out. I didn’t meet anyone in person. I had met someone online before the pandemic. We had been talking for about a year. We probably would never have met in person without COVID. We had matched several times on dating apps. We did the Facetime thing. I’m in New Jersey. They are in the city. It’s hard. But I started a new job in the city. I’m working remotely for now, but I did go in once to meet my co-workers.

My friend and I matched again on an app. So, we met in person, had dinner, and ended up in the apartment and we went to Florida together to meet family members. If this pandemic didn’t happen, we would have stayed stuck in the same pattern and probably wouldn’t ever have gotten together. We were forced into an immediate intimacy. One month into a “relationship,” and we are together in a hotel in Miami. It’s so much more domestic than I ever would have been before. Forced togetherness. I took a chance. I took a plane. I went to a hotel. I met someone.

The bottom line is care about others, wear a mask, be creative, but be safe.