New Rules for First Dates during the Pandemic

There’s a new dating game in town and many people find they are playing by unfamiliar rules. Singles who are ready to mingle after months of Zoom visits and video chats can expect dating in person to be just as clumsy as they remember. Old social skills can be rusty, and new expectations can feel just as uncomfortable as wearing a mask in late summer. If you are ready to move beyond the pen pal stage, you’ll want to find out after the first few messages whether meeting in person is in the cards.

“What does social distancing mean to you?” is a good way to explore future possibilities. Making sure an in-the-flesh meeting would be safe and comfortable is certainly reasonable.

Plan a comfortable first meeting.

For a first live-and-in-person date, take it outside. The risk of coronavirus transmission is significantly lower outdoors and keeping a safe distance is less of a hassle. Walks in the park, picnics on the grass, or simply a backyard barbecue are top choices for first dates. Consider a drink at a restaurant with outdoor seating.

To mask or not to mask?

You may be tempted to skip the masks if there are no other people around, but unless your date has recently been tested, there’s no guarantee they aren’t a carrier. While the rational choice is explaining ahead of time that you would like your date to join you in wearing a mask, our socially-anxious selves are inclined to leave the masks at home. Psychologists say there’s an explanation for that. First, we tend to underestimate our own risk and second, we want to assume that the people we like share our invulnerability.

Let’s face it—the whole mask thing can spark anxiety. We rely on facial expressions for signals about what the other person is thinking. When we can’t read those signals, it’s hard to get a feel for how the date is going. Masks, by virtue of what they stand for, can put a damper on romance and be a bit of a downer in general.

The big question is when, not if.

Let’s assume you’ve video-dated for a couple of months and you’re planning to meet up in person. Sparks have flown, chemistry is palpable, and getting physical is on your mind. The big question is not if, but when, you ask whether a kiss goodbye is on the table. Fear of seeming forward may hold you back. However, if you’ve spent a lot of time together virtually, it’s best to bring it up before you get together.

Admitting to your date that you want to ask something but you’re nervous about how they’ll react can lessen some of the tension. Frame your question about the physical as a hypothetical— “Would it be an option for us to give each other a kiss if we meet?”—and you can remove the element of the unknown. Think of it as an opportunity to normalize consent in your relationship.

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