Raise your hand if you think dating is hard. Now keep your hand up if you think dating virtually during a pandemic is ten times harder. I have a feeling all of you reading this right now have your hand up. While it is true that dating is hard, and adding a pandemic into the mix isn’t exactly a recipe for simplicity, it doesn’t mean that endeavoring to connect with another human being at this time is futile. Having a new set of guidelines and boundaries may be exactly what you need to find success where you struggled in the past.
Perhaps you have tried to meet someone online in the past and given up; now may be the time to be active online again. With the “new normal” of pandemic restrictions, you may have been feeling like you have control over very few things in your life. You may feel like your independence and autonomy have been greatly restricted. Giving yourself permission to try out online dating can bring back some normalcy and control into your life.
If you have been online dating throughout the pandemic, you may want to take stock of how adaptable you’ve been to new safety protocols and social rules. Have you been viewing them from a place of restriction? Or have you found that they have brought out creativity and effort you may not have tapped into or received from the other person in the past?
Anyone who is looking online for a partner has decided to do so for a reason. Whether the planet is in a state of emergency or not, it is always important to revisit our motivation to seek a partner. If our answer is: “well, I’m just bored,” or “I can’t love myself when I’m single,” those are different subjects for a different day. Assuming we are bringing our best selves (not our perfect selves) to the table, having done emotional work to understand our “baggage” and ready to find a connection with another human who is bringing his/her/their best self to meet us, it is safe to say that we are invested in the outcome.
So if this mission has been contemplated and deemed necessary enough to begin, what might stop you from attending to your dating life during a pandemic? And what perspective can you take to overcome some of these hurdles?
1) The physical distance/having to remain online feels problematic!
If you or someone close to you are at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19, or you’re simply trying your best to limit your bubble, you might think there is no point in trying to meet anyone online because you won’t feel safe meeting in person anytime soon. Of course, meeting on an app is a very different format from meeting at the grocery store. You can’t hear a tone of voice or see facial expressions in a text message. The person you are speaking to maybe a better conversationalist with time to consider responses, as opposed to in person. Thankfully, a lot of dating apps have adapted their technology to accommodate the pandemic. In the past, you might have to give your phone number or email to someone to make a phone call or have a video chat; most apps have added those features since we all went into lockdown last year. Being able to hear a person’s voice on the phone or have a video call with them helps build connection and intimacy. Yes, it will probably be awkward, to begin with. But meeting a new person is often awkward, even in person!
Being forced to have video dates might be a small boost from the universe for people who have social anxiety. You can set your camera up in such a way that you can secretly wear your cozy pajama bottoms! You can sit in a comfy chair or your bed. You can even control the lighting; you can light your favorite candle, you can have your favorite coffee mug in hand. All of these things can help to create a much more inviting and reassuring mood than venturing out in public, perhaps to somewhere you’ve never been before and meeting a total stranger.
While it is true that chemistry can only really be fully explored and understood face to face, that doesn’t mean that a solid foundation cannot be built online. Removing physical intimacy from the equation until there is enough of a relationship to make the meeting feel “worth it” could help create an emotional and mental intimacy that is sometimes rushed past in in-person dating situations. For women, especially, the subtext of a health concern may be much-needed mental support for them being more firm in their boundaries regarding physical intimacy. While we know that discomfort is enough of a reason to decline or to slow down, it can be difficult to express in normal circumstances. It can feel like asking too much or being difficult, even though we know that the way we feel is valid. If the person you are speaking to isn’t particularly concerned that there is a contagious virus at large in society, perhaps this is an indicator of that person’s capacity to respect other aspects of physical health and safety.
2) Dating is exhausting
Here is the hard truth: you are not wrong. Swiping right a million times to get a match, then seeing if that match will talk to you, then seeing if that first conversation is even halfway decent, then seeing if it leads to a date... It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
But, as we saw above, the new rules of society have made way for some excellent changes to dating protocols that can make the process feel fresh and new. Firstly, it has brought many people into the online market who might not have been there in the past. Where someone might have previously met people at the bar or the gym, that person is now forced to seek partnership online. Secondly, the stakes involved in meeting a new person in the context of a pandemic are higher, and that has weeded out some of the people who might have misrepresented their intentions in the past. A lot more people in the online space are willing to be patient and nurture a connection from a distance. The pandemic has weeded them out; what a strange yet helpful side effect! Thirdly, an almost-year of lockdown has changed peoples’ hearts and minds. Someone who might have swiped left to you a year ago might have done so because he/she/they were looking for casual fun, whereas your profile stated you were looking for long-term. That person may have spent time in isolation during the lockdown, watching cute couples on TikTok, and had an awakening of values and priorities that are now much more in line with yours.
If you have been dating for a long time with little to no success, you might be mentally exhausted by the process. If that is the case, allowing yourself a break from dating might not be such a bad idea. Set a timeline for yourself and vow to invest that energy elsewhere: “I will take a three-month dating hiatus, and in that time, I will read that pile of books I bought but haven’t even touched!” or “I’m taking a break from dating, and in that time, I’m going to take an art class.” Invest in yourself for a while, step back from the situation. Allow yourself to reflect on what you learned in that time, evaluate some patterns that might have been holding you back, and just really miss the process of actively pursuing a romantic connection in your life. You might find yourself reaching for your app when you are bored and realize that your past intentions when you logged on weren’t in line with your ultimate goals. You might learn something new about yourself that you are excited to bring back into the dating game. You might just get a little distance and benefit from the emotional space your dating vacation has created. But always set the intention to return to the process when your break time is over.
3) I am too busy
If there is anything the pandemic has changed, it is how our day-to-day lives are organized. Whether it’s the ongoing mental note to always have a clean mask on hand when out in public; or the toll it can take on our energy to be vigilant about keeping our distance from others; or how many stops we can make when running errands now that many businesses limit the number of customers allowed inside at a time. Some of us may have been laid off from one job that covered our expenses and is now juggling three. Some of us are single parents who are now working from home while expected to educate our children.
I get it. It seems impossible to make a ton of time for dating. But the truth is that you don’t need to make a ton of time for dating! If you can carve out some time you can be consistent with, you have time to date. Even if you say to yourself that you will check your apps for half an hour before you brush your teeth and get ready for bed every evening, that is still a little bit of time. Of course, you will have to communicate with the people you are talking to, that your time is limited. Perhaps some people will want to be building a relationship with someone who has a ton of free time. Well, then that was not the person for you, anyway! The fact of the matter is that you will always have other priorities and obligations if you are a single parent. Will you still make an effort to include your partner? Of course. But suppose someone cannot accept that working full time from home while educating your children takes time and energy. In that case, this person will probably be unable to accept the litany of inconvenient incidents that can and will arise in the future.
This isn’t to say that you can just say, “Hey, I’m pretty busy,” and then drop communication for weeks at a time. But again, communicating to a person where you stand should go a long way in establishing a consistent and developing relationship. And the truth is that no matter how busy we are, we always find a way to make time for the things that matter. As relationships grow, you may find yourself more invested in carving out moments throughout the day to send a quick message or a funny meme.
Being busy is also a great way to figure out who is willing to plan and set aside time for you if you are in a position to leave the kids with someone for an hour or two with enough notice. Anyone who is looking to establish and grow a meaningful relationship should be willing and able to pick a date and time within a couple of weeks and reserve that space for you, whether you want to meet to go for a walk or whether you just know that your aunt is taking the kids that day. You’ll be able to have a phone call in total privacy.
So why not wait until the pandemic is over?
Yes, dating is tough, and the pandemic makes it more challenging. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. And it doesn’t mean that you should postpone your life. Think about it. If dating is something you consider a priority in your life, you owe it to yourself to make time for it! While the life you live these days has probably changed in a litany of ways, you still need to live it! Have you put other important aspects of your life on hold? Maybe you have. Perhaps now is a good time to consider your overall goals and plans, including dating, and brainstorm and prioritize. You deserve to pursue the life you desire.
If having a relationship is a significant value in your life, it may require immense effort and sacrifice. Perhaps you are busy, but you could streamline some of your time to make more room for dating. Maybe you’re spending a lot of time online, but you’re not conscious of your efforts. Remembering why you started and what you are looking for is a great way to stay focused and build something worth having. This is true of dating during a pandemic or not, and true of any and every endeavor we make as human beings.
How to keep on dating, even during a pandemic:
1) Keep the faith:
It is easy to feel discouraged and have urges to postpone dating. But at the time of writing this blog, the pandemic has been going on for over ten months here in Los Angeles. With the numbers high, it doesn’t look like it will be over soon. Reframe dating during the pandemic as a new opportunity to clarify what you are looking for, establish your boundaries, use your imagination, and respect your time and needs. Keep a journal or a note on your phone of what you are seeking, what you want to make sure you communicate, and why you know you deserve a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Recruit a friend or family member to encourage you when you are wavering or struggling. Nurture your relationship with yourself, and watch how that frees in your relationships with others.
2) Figure out your boundaries:
This is a great time to explore and commit to your boundaries!
You can’t act like it is business as usual. Meeting someone online and having virtual coffee dates might not be what we are used to doing. This is our temporary normal, even if it may last for several more months. So go ahead and decide what you expect this experience to be for you and honor your decisions! Would you instead keep it via text and a phone call before you meet with someone via video call? When you meet them via video call, which room would you like to be in? Yes, we discussed using a room or location as a source of comfort, but we also need to consider privacy. Our homes are often private places, and we don’t invite someone over until we feel comfortable. If you decide to have a video date with someone, that person will have a glimpse of your house; they might see more than you want them to if you happen to sit on the couch or near a window with landmarks in the background. You might also ask yourself, “When will I feel ready to meet him/her/them at a park or for a hike?” This doesn’t mean that you have to decide when you’ll be comfortable, and then you aren’t allowed to change your mind. It means that you are conscious of your comfort as you progress in this venture.
3) Be flexible:
Every day is a new experience during this pandemic. Being flexible and being present may be your best shot at enjoying this journey. Brainstorming and considering obstacles and boundaries is important to work to do, but holding on to ideas that you find aren’t serving you won’t be beneficial. Open your mind to the idea that your partner could be someone or somewhere you never expected! With several apps allowing their version of a travel mode, you have the potential to meet people outside of your city or even your state. Options are limitless. Let go of the pressure that it has to be perfect. Have compassion for yourself and others; this is a stressful time for many people, and we all need a little bit of grace. Meet yourself where you are and see where this journey takes you.
Dating isn’t easy, but we can’t live without love. Love is one of the foundational components of life that we humans need, as important as air, food, water, or shelter.
While there are many different types and expressions of love, it is entirely valid to seek and nurture romantic love as a part of a satisfying life experience. If you have decided that dating is a top priority for you, no person nor global emergency can or should tell you any different. Approach your search as an adventure to find something that adds value to your life and use all of the online connection modes to your advantage!
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, EMBRACING imperfections to create a gentler place for CALM in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns include Anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way.