January and February are typically the busiest time of year for people looking for love, according to dating services. This year is no different, but the industry has been reporting an uptick in people seeking relationships since the nationwide lockdown in March 2020.
“Humans are built to be social, so when the ability to connect is taken away, we get lonely and seek out companionship,” says Kelly Thomack, LPC, Behavioral Health Consultant Lead at Partnership Community Health Center, a partner of Be Safe Wisconsin. “With the help of technology, we now are able to meet people virtually using different social media platforms.”
Many people are meeting through online dating services too. Thomack adds, “Those who connect on a deeper emotional level find they have the most success. Due to the hardships of COVID, people are opening up more about their struggles and their reasons for online dating.”
So, what’s the safest approach – from texting to in-person meetups – to realize romance in a pandemic? More experts from Partnership Community Health Center share some advice.
PRIMARY PANDEMIC PRECAUTIONARY PRACTICES
“Dating can and is being done safely, but if you are not comfortable with it that is okay too,” says Brittany Goodrich-Braun, MD, family medicine specialist.
Yes, dating these days is more about fear of infection rather than the fear of rejection.
“The safest thing is to stay home and remain socially distanced from those that do not live inside your home, but this is not always practical or feasible,” Dr. Goodrich-Braun adds.
She suggests getting to know a person from your “safe place” – your home – by reaching out online or through texting and talking on the phone. She says a good place to start is to talk about the mitigation measures you are taking and ask about the other person’s pandemic practices.
- Are they wearing a mask when they go out?
- Are they staying socially distanced?
- Are they washing their hands frequently?
- Are they traveling for work or pleasure?
- How many people are they hanging out with in person?
“Make sure you are on the same page with your love interest and that their beliefs and practices surrounding the pandemic align with yours,” she advises.
She says people in high-risk groups – those over age 60 or with certain medical conditions – especially should keep this advice in mind when dating. “Everyone should continue to follow all public health guidelines to protect themselves,” she adds. Those basic guidelines include wearing a mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance when around people not in your household.
TALKING, TEXTING & TYPING
Anthropologists and sociologists report people are naturally connecting mostly remotely since they are spending more time at home. One online dating service reveals people are spending 30 percent more time on its app engaged in message exchanges seeking deeper connection.
Susan Haydar, PhD, clinical psychologist and Integrated Behavioral Health Director, says she has seen this trend in her practice, as well as among family and friends on the dating scene. “More of the focus has been on connection and companionship not just physical interaction. For example, my elderly patients have found dating sites while they are home, and they are sharing that it has been a fun way to interact.”
Dr. Haydar says these more focused interactions also reinforce having conversations about safety by phone, text messaging or email.
Counselors say if sparks start flying through traditional remote connections, it is safe for couples to choose to use video chat services such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to go to the “next level” in the relationship.
“Visual cues are very important in understanding the other person and how they react or respond to what is being said and in the confines of their personal space,” Thomack notes. “Visual cues, even background information, can determine interests or behaviors that may be missed when only using basic communication systems like texting and email.”
These video chats are a good place to stay in a pandemic. “Some couples are willing to wait longer to meet in person because of the pending circumstances and risks,” Thomack notes. “Also, they may be hypersensitive to meeting certain emotional needs in which they are currently lacking such as dependability and consistency.”
As singles venture outside their home to mingle, what should they be sure to have at hand for their in-person dating encounters?
“In terms of safety, wearing a mask would be the highest priority,” Dr. Goodrich-Braun says. “Try to think of unique dates that would allow you to do this as much as possible. Also research businesses that have pandemic safe practices as an extra protection.” That would include good air ventilation and outdoor accommodations. Hand sanitizers are good to have close-by too.
Thomack adds, “Couples seeking to grow their relationship will tend to have similar interests and be more willing to try new things, so think outside the box.”
Other experts advise taking additional steps prior to the meetup such as both people agreeing to quarantine and seek COVID tests, ensuring a negative result prior to the in-person encounter.
“Those who do decide to meet in person typically already feel strongly they are willing to risk being out of the safety of their own comfort zone,” Thomack says. Still, people looking for love should avoid throwing caution to the wind and stick to the basics: wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.
Taking a few precautions early in the relationship might just lead to a long life, happily ever after together – pandemic and beyond.