Dating While Distancing: How the Pandemic Changed My Dating Perspective

When it comes to dating, I have been on the struggle bus for so long that I might as well be the driver. Looking for a real relationship in 2020 was nearly impossible, but after COVID shut down the world, I figured that it was my sign to officially stop looking for love. Pre-quarantine, I was mostly using dating apps and on the rare occasion, meeting a man in “the wild” AKA at work events or hangouts with friends of my friends. 

After months in quarantine and looking at all of my boo’ed up friends either getting engaged, or breaking up and deleting all of their couples’ posts on Instagram, I figured: “What do I have to lose?” So I gave dating one more valiant effort. I re-downloaded Hinge, revamped my profile, and started swiping in between commercial breaks of my favorite reality shows.

I’ve noticed some differences in dating recently: The game has changed for the better, but specifically, for Black women like myself! There are unavoidable realities that everyone living in the States must face on a daily basis. How a person I’m dating processes these changes tells me so much about who they are as a person (for example: Do they show up wearing a mask?). These new factors have helped me to identify who is and who is not right for me significantly faster than in the past. 

Let me explain some of the key dating elements that have changed due to COVID and why they will impact the future of dating in a positive way:

I’ll let you know when it’s OK to enter my personal space. Until then, 6 feet, please.

I have two love languages: Quality time and touch. That being said, I am only a touchy person if I am completely comfortable around someone. As I’m getting to know someone, I deeply appreciate when my personal space is respected. In the past, I’d experienced dates who would try to hold my hand, grab my waist, etc. long before I felt comfortable enough and it became an immediate turn off. 

As a Black woman, I’ve found it can be difficult for me to create physical boundaries. For example, people (including strangers) used to grab and play with my hair “to see if it’s real” as though my personhood is an exhibit. When I do try to establish a boundary, I’m called “rude”, “standoffish” and other less kind terms. So finding someone who also recognizes their value is high on my “must haves” list.

With social distancing, a certain amount of space is automatically assumed. I have a friend who was texting a guy through a dating app, and he suggested that they meet at his place for the first date. She told him that she would prefer they meet somewhere outdoors where they could be socially distant instead, and he told her to “relax” because he was “definitely COVID negative.” Needless to say, they never met up.

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So. Everything is on fire. Thoughts?

Almost immediately after COVID shut down the entire world, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were murdered. At the same time, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from others turned into a political statement instead of a public health precaution. Black Lives Matter protests are happening daily, and there are so many intense political conversations happening all the time it’s virtually impossible not to talk about some of it.

As a Black woman, these events directly affect me, my family, and my mental health. Coming across the ceaseless stories of police brutality and white supremacy on the news and social media only increases my anxiety about the world that I live in, and so finding a partner who I can safely talk to about these events and feelings is of the utmost importance to me. I have found that as long as I am open to having conversations about the aforementioned topics, they will naturally arise. This is an easy way to quickly gauge if you and the person you are on a date with have compatible values. 

You get a test and you get a test and you get a test!

Since I am a cautious person, I always ask a person I date to get tested before we get within six feet of each other or spend time indoors together. If the person I asked was unwilling to get a test, then that was a red flag for me that my need to feel safe and comfortable is not a priority for them. I’ve gotten the COVID test and the antibody test just to be safe, and neither are a big deal. 

In general, I believe testing to be important and conducive to a safe relationship and an international pandemic helps to get that conversation started quickly.

I am full of feelings and I know you are, too.

With all of the police brutality videos in the media, sometimes I don’t have the words to express just how scared I am so, instead, I just ask for an abundance of hugs and maybe a mindless food documentary movie night. And when I am finally able to talk about my racial, COVID, or political anxiety or just the regular anxiety, having someone who can actively listen and maintain feelings-based conversation feels like a refuge from the storm. 

Would I bring all of this up on a first date? Probably not, but I feel like it’s finally OK to just say “I’m pretty scared about…” and have someone understand. Being able to talk about feelings is something that I know many people struggle with but, the fact that we as a global community are living through multiple crises, creates a lot of shared space for honest communication about feelings.

Being able to have these types of honest conversations early on not only helps me to find out who is and is not more likely to be compatible with me, but also helps me to feel safer as a Black woman dating. Regardless of your race or gender, I think that these revelations could help you weed through all the fish in the sea (and the garbage, there’s lots of garbage in the sea) to hopefully find your pandemic person!

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Shayna Conde is a freelance writer and performing artist based in the NYC area. She graduated with a BA in Creative Writing and Music Industry from The Honors School at Monmouth University and went on to graduate with an MFA from The American Repertory Theater’s Advanced Acting Program at Harvard University. She has won the Thornton Sisters Scholarship and a Two River Theater Scholarship for her writing and public speaking. She is looking forward to being able to go on unpredictable adventures again with her friends in a more socially conscious world.