Looking for love in a pandemic can be challenging. Social gatherings are restricted these days, and you don’t get the same face-to-face opportunities to determine whether someone might be the one for you. You might have to pick up essential clues about people from texts, telephone calls, Zoom videos, or emails. Using these indirect means, you have to decipher if this is someone worth the risk of meeting in person.
But you can tell a lot about people from the way they communicate in these various media. If you know what to look for, getting to know someone through distanced communications can be fun. (It might even be more objective, without appearance taking center stage.)
Good relationships support and build the energy and individuality of each person. Healthy people do this for each other regardless of the mode of communication. You can sense when a person has empathy and automatically puts himself or herself in your shoes as you talk about a problem.
Whether it’s on the phone or in a text, you can tell the difference between feeling heard or being ignored. You will feel seen when people remember what you’ve told them and reference it later, demonstrating that you mattered enough to pay close attention. This kind of reciprocity shows that you can share your inner world safely.
Reading between the lines, do the people you correspond with seem to know themselves? Are they grown up enough that they can observe their behavior and take responsibility for missteps and hurt feelings? Or do they get defensive and deflect blame away from themselves?
Can they think and feel at the same time, able to discuss things when emotional, or do they lose control of clear thinking once they become upset? Are they nice to you even when they might be having a bad day? Are they up front with you about how they’re feeling, or do they communicate passively with bad moods and chilly behavior? Do you feel like they are appreciative when you offer comfort, or does it always seem you can never do quite enough?
People talk about their prior relationships in the same way, whether in person or on the phone. A history of conflictual relationships and years-long resentments should raise a red flag because those are signs of being emotionally reactive and being in a victim-villain mindset. Flashes of irritation or impatience are also warning signs, and hyper-irritability when others don’t anticipate their needs fast enough indicates a low stress tolerance.
If it doesn’t seem to be working out with distance dating, I suggest bringing things to a close sooner rather than later. This is because familiarity fuels bonding. We get more and more bonded to anyone who starts to feel like a familiar fixture in our lives. That familiarity can blind us to selfish or exploitative behavior. Soon we start making allowances and excuses for what shouldn’t be acceptable. It’s important not to let the comfort of familiarity overrule our instincts.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that a quick mind and smooth communication skills are a good sign for a relationship. But good communication skills and a sharp intellect are not the key; it’s more what goal the person uses these gifts toward. Are they intent on persuading you or defending their position? Or are they curious about you and willing to be vulnerable with their true fears? If you are always having to communicate about problems or argue your point of view, perhaps that is telling you something about long-term compatibility. Nobody wants to keep working hard just to stay afloat.
Even a text can tell you if people respect your boundaries, can reflect on their own behavior, and hold themselves accountable. Reciprocity and mutual respect can easily be identified if you’re looking for it, regardless of the medium. The pacing of their responsiveness on an email hints at whether your level of interest is equivalent. Try joking a little on a Zoom call and see if their eyes crinkle. On the phone, try letting your guard down and sharing something difficult about your day, just to listen for warmth in their voice.
Even if you’re not yet ready to meet in person, these connections can still tell you nearly everything you need to know.
Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and author. Visit www.drlindsaygibson.com.