A First-Hand Guide to Dating in Lockdown

Am I the only person that is bothering with dating while in lockdown? From the radio silence on social media and the responses I’ve been getting from my friends (‘What is the point?’ or ‘That’s weird’) it would seem most people aren’t too keen on the idea. Why bother when we can’t meet up with anyone? Why don’t we just wait until the end of lockdown?

Well, I’ll admit that my initial assessment of the Covid-19 pandemic was highly optimistic. A month maximum working from home, and then everything would be back to normal, right? Had I known the long period of isolating that was to follow, I perhaps wouldn’t have chosen to proceed. But I’d just started talking to someone I liked (and for once had met in person rather than on an app!) and neither of us wanted to stop chatting. So we’ve continued to date, and as unusual as the situation is, I’ve found there are actually some upsides to a lockdown romance. That’s why I’m here to make the case for dating in quarantine, and share what I’ve learned along the way.

In the months since the end of my last relationship, I’d gotten back onto the dating app hamster wheel, more as a way to distract myself and have some fun date nights than searching for The One. But this inevitably led to a revolving door scenario of potential candidates, with no incentive to properly get to know anybody, a high level of competition, and no meaningful connections. Besides, I had a new job and a revived social life; I convinced myself I didn’t have time for a relationship. Unfortunately, this is often the case as our time-pressured lifestyles create pressure around the idea of ‘wasting time’ on people who don’t meet our extensive successful criteria. We mindlessly sort through potential partners like a supermarket processing line that discards a perfectly nutritious carrot if it doesn’t meet vegetable beauty standards. 

But the pandemic has given us time. Many people are furloughed from work or at least have less places to be, with no commute and fewer social engagements. We have time to get to know somebody, instead of trying to fit in a dating rat race around all our other commitments. We can look below the surface and find out more about a potential partner, rather than ruling them out at the first sign of unsuitability (such as ‘their parents are too old’ which was actually used by my friend as a reason for not going on a second date with someone!). 

So with more time, it means some of the pressure of modern dating is relieved. Social distancing has put a stop on face-to-face dates (until the recent change in legislation allowing you to meet one other person from outside your household) which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the world of dating apps, there is always a rush to meet up in person as soon as possible. It’s seen as taboo, or indeed risky, to waste a lot of time texting only to meet in person and realise you don’t click with each other. But the worst dates I’ve been on were with people I didn’t talk to much before meeting up. 

Personally, I think taking things slow is the way forward. For those interested in a meaningful romantic relationship, it stops you from being lured into a Tinder hook-up situation. As the kids would say: it weeds out the fuckbois. You get more time to find out about someone, what they’re looking for, and their expectations. And, as I keep telling myself, surely there is no better test of compatibility than if you can maintain conversation over a months-long pandemic?

The other (slightly sad) benefit is that being a member of the digital generation, I’m just naturally braver from behind a screen. My inner introvert has been able to delve deeper and ask bigger questions than I usually would on an in-person date. I’ve found out more meaningful information about my date, like what their dreams and goals are, rather than just what they do for a job and where they’ve been on holiday. For anyone that is shy or takes a while to feel comfortable around someone, lockdown dating is a dream come true. 

So how does dating in quarantine work exactly? Well, sadly there is no roadmap, no Carrie Bradshaw guide for this one. So we’re working it out as we go along. Despite the unexpected pros, there are definitely cons. And it requires both patience and creativity. I have no way of knowing whether this will end up in a relationship or go down as a weird lockdown fling, but that’s the same as any dating endeavour. All I know is that the pandemic has revealed that life is short, and we cannot put our lives on hold. So if you’re feeling brave and decide to give dating in lockdown a go, here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

Face facts

You cannot text forever. As much as I love texting, and it’s a great way to get to know someone, there are so many things about a person that just can’t be conveyed via message. Mannerisms, tone of voice, a beautiful smile: all need to be seen first hand. Eventually you will need to speak to each other face-to-face. While video calling can be daunting at first, acknowledge the weirdness and prepare some topics of conversation beforehand. Video calls really are the best way to figure out how well you click with someone, but if they still seem scary try starting out with voice notes or small video messages.

Create boundaries

While many of us have unlimited time on our hands and are extremely bored, it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking constantly. This can quickly become exhausting, make you feel smothered, and lead to conversation drying up prematurely. Make sure you create blackout times – for example when you’re WFH, exercising, doing a quiz with your mates, or just enjoying your morning. Arrange video or text ‘date nights’, and then focus on your friends or personal projects outside of these times. Being too intense at the start will likely lead to romantic burnout.

Reinvent date night

Although we can’t go to bars, restaurants or crazy golf, there are still plenty of date activities to do in isolation. Straight up chatty Zoom calls can be intimidating and there’s the risk of awkward silences when conversation dries up. Instead, look for fun virtual activities to do together. You could search on Design My Night for virtual events to join. Or find an online talk on a topic you’re both interested in, then chat about it afterward. You may want to use Netflix party to watch something together (or even just watch TV simultaneously). And come up with your own ideas – perhaps draw fun portraits of each other, discuss your Desert Island Discs or find some Conversation Starters online. Whatever you do, keep it fun and fresh.

Think outside the box

There are many ways to show affection and develop intimacy, and it helps to consider the 5 Love Languages. Physical Touch is off the table, yet Words of Affirmation and Quality Time are easily satisfied with messages and video calls. But don’t forget about Receiving Gifts and Acts of Service. Lockdown dating is a good opportunity to finally pay attention to these overlooked languages. Treat them to a pizza delivery, some goodies from Lush, a new houseplant or a book they mentioned they want to read. You don’t even have to spend big; you could send them a letter, drawing or playlist you’ve created for them. It’s a stressful time for a lot of people, so perfect Acts of Service could be arranging some time to help them with a work problem, order them a takeaway if they’re too tired to cook or booking a stress-busting yoga class to do together. 

Choose your words carefully

Much of your initial interaction will be taking place via message before you’ve really got to know each other’s quirks and sense of humour. Remember to choose your words and jokes carefully as tone can be completely lost over text. A sarcastic quip or overzealous exclamation mark can easily be misread and lead to unnecessary tensions. Think carefully about how you say things and mitigate the risk with the liberal use of emojis, voice messages and video calls.

Life will return to ‘normal’

Keep this in mind in your dating interactions. If you’re looking for something longer term, try to ask practical questions to see if the romance would work outside of the Covid-19 bubble. Do you have similar interests? How would you normally spend a weekend? What are their future plans? Do you live close enough to be able to see each other regularly once the lockdown is lifted?

Practice Safe Sexting

Unless you live in the Netherlands, chances are that by now you’re a sex-starved single. So naturally, any sustained dating might take on a more intimate aspect, such as sexting and sharing photos. It’s easy to be lulled into this bubble of safety, but remember to still be sensible with what you’re sharing. Ensure you’ve built up some level of trust with this person, and don’t feel pressured to share anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Use Snapchat or the Instagram messenger ‘time bomb’ feature for sending any photos. Or consider other ways to create chemistry or intimacy together, such as commissioning a drawing from @draws_nudes, or telling rather than showing.

So with all this in mind, good luck in your lockdown dating endeavours! I’d love to hear your stories and tips.

by @thefeelings_mutual