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2020 Oct

Dating Pandemic Style

Experts agree it’s important to play it safe.

Patience, a 24-year old Chesapeake resident, was feeling lonely and “cooped-up” because of social distancing restrictions, and a picnic in the fresh air seemed like a perfect way to connect with a date, enjoy the weather, and remain safe. She agreed to meet her date at a nearby park, and she remembers their picnic together as one of the summer’s high points.

“It was a gorgeous day,” Patience said. “We sat at a picnic table underneath a canopy, and there were some geese begging food from us. That was funny. It just gave us that one funny moment.”

Today’s singles are discovering creative new ways to connect with others. Instead of meeting up in a crowded bar, they’re safely navigating the virtual dating scene or meeting their potential soul mates in outdoor venues such as parks, golf courses, or nature trails where social distancing is easy to maintain.

Let’s meet a few local women who shared their stories about safely dating during a pandemic and hear what the experts say about balancing the basic human desire for connection with the need to remain safe during the pandemic.

Using Online Apps Like Tinder & Facebook Dating

Choose Outdoor Meeting Locations

Patience, an office worker, ended a three-year relationship last winter and had just decided to try online dating sites when concerns about the pandemic caused her to question the wisdom of in-person dating. She was also undergoing medical tests for a suspected autoimmune condition, so she was especially cautious about social contacts.

“For me, loneliness definitely got to me because I’m a physically affectionate person,” Patience said. “I love hugs and just being around people in general.”

She stayed with her family for a while, but still missed socializing with friends. She tried online dating sites, including Tinder and Facebook Dating, and recommends them to others. However, her contacts have often been limited to texting. “I haven’t found anyone who is willing to FaceTime,” she said. “It’s hard when you can’t see the other person’s facial expressions. It’s hard to connect to text on a screen.”

One bright moment was the picnic in the park, and, although she later decided not to pursue a relationship with that date, she cherishes the afternoon in the open air with him. “That was definitely fun for me,” said Patience, who definitely advises outdoor activities. “Just remember that going to a park right now has less risk than going to a restaurant,” she said, “and, for me, it’s more about going someplace together than about where you go.”

Virginia Beach resident Linda (pseudonym) also suggests meeting people in outdoor venues right now. An enthusiastic golfer, she’s had an occasional date on the golf course or in another outdoor venue since social restrictions were put into place in March.

Linda sometimes goes to restaurants, but she’s very cautious to make sure that the restaurant she chooses adheres to the guidelines about masks and that everyone is six feet apart. Even so, she’s mostly eaten out with friends who she knows are exercising caution rather than with dates, and she’s limiting physical contact even with close friends.

“A quick hug is all I do and only with people I feel are following restrictions,” Linda said.

Like Patience, Linda struggles with this lack of physical affection. “It feels unnatural,” she said.

“Everyone responds to this situation differently,” Linda said. “I think loneliness was a problem for almost anyone who lives alone, especially during the first couple of months when everything was shut down and the weather was so awful.”

Consider Joining Church and Community Groups

Better Communication Leads to Bonding

Rachel Brown, Next Steps Pastor of Wave Church, said that, as a single, middle-aged woman, she’s dealt with loneliness all of her adult life, but, like Linda, she gets by with the help of her social network. “I don’t do great alone,” she said, “but when I feel lonely, I reach out to friends. Isolation isn’t a great thing.”

Rachel encourages singles—or anyone who is feeling lonely right now—to become involved in virtual community meetings and support groups, or even in groups that meet face-to-face if social distancing is maintained. Wave Church, which has locations in both Virginia Beach and Norfolk, offers a variety of community groups, she said.

“There’s not a lot of physical contact, but there is social, emotional, and spiritual contact,” Rachel said. “Loneliness is a problem for people who are single, even without Covid.”

So how do we handle loneliness?

Get creative. That’s the advice of local mental health experts.

Socialization is a key part of the treatment plan for many clients, said Annie Phillips, LPC, of Beach Counseling Center. When the pandemic first struck, singles had a rough time connecting until they began taking advantage of safe social media apps. Sites such as Tinder and Bumble have enabled many to connect to others and to date online. According to Annie, online dating can lead to lasting relationships because people are taking the time to communicate—and perhaps to begin to bond emotionally—before they have the first date.

“They’re establishing a connection before they actually meet,” Phillips said.

Laurie Dierstein, LCSW, and owner of REBOOT: Mind, Body and Health and REBOOT: Functional Health Care, agrees it’s possible to form positive relationships during the pandemic, and she recommends both group participation and outdoor recreation as a way of meeting people.

“A lot of my clients who are single are active in the church,” Laurie said. Others are joining groups on Zoom or Facebook so that they can connect to people with common interests, and many are spending more time outdoors.

“They are using social media in a positive way,” Laurie said. “They are also going for a walk or a bike ride with someone, and when you’re engaged in these activities, the fresh air and movement boosts our moods.” This could stimulate conversation and lead to richer relationships, she said, and the exercise improves your fitness level and overall health, important during a pandemic.

Social media can be particularly effective for single parents, Laurie added, because these busy people always struggle with finding time to balance children and social activities, and apps allow them to connect to others at home and to satisfy some of their emotional and social needs. Connecting online also allows for time to get to know each other’s comfort level during the pandemic and to negotiate guidelines for mask wearing, distancing, and touching, all of which really should be discussed before you physically meet someone, Laurie said.

Jane Bloodworth Rowe, PhD

Jane Bloodworth Rowe is a freelance writer and adjunct assistant professor who has written for local publications, including The Princess Anne Independent News.

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