“We make the rules up.”
I said this statement over and over as I biked past a barricaded police block on a bright and warm Saturday afternoon, on my way to meet my first date in seven years.
Normally I’m never that nervous for a date; much less if it’s with a stranger from the internet. But this time it felt like my life was in danger in a way that makes getting hit by a car or burning up in a fire seem pedestrian. The feeling reminded me of all the sex ed class when I was a teenager that were basically like, “Sex=AIDs and AIDs=Death.”
Me and my trusty CitiBike pulled into a very green and very loud Brower Park. Everybody was out, from the roller skaters to the drummers to the Saturday walkers. Most were wearing masks. Those who weren’t did the COVID Ballet; the “let’s not get too close” dance we’ve all been practicing in New York.
My date looked radiant. To be honest, at that point, any human would be radiant. My ex moved out mid-COVID (thank God) and I had lived alone for the past two months. I missed hugging people, let alone being within six feet from someone that made me smile every time I received a message. We immediately immersed ourselves in conversation like we were old lovers who ran into each other on the streets of some far-off European city — that we’re not allowed to visit.
During all of this, one thing kept buzzing in my mind. Where’s the bathroom? I have to go. Four hours later, my lovely date invited me up to her place to use the restroom. And I left five days after that with a smile on my face and a promise to return.
I wish this story had a “they fell in love happily ever after,” but, unfortunately, we exhausted our connection. Her OCD annoyed me. My desire to see more than one COVID pod on occasion sent her anxiety into flight and my bank account was not covering a chalet in Aspen.
COVID dating at its best and worst has forced people en masse to stop for a moment. Spend time at home instead of on long commutes. Form new hobbies. (Mine are juicing and making Asian-inspired vegan meals.) To slow down and figure out what they want. As much as looks usually play into NYC city romps, people are now being forced at earlier stages to consider that personality and comfort are just as important and maybe more important than “Will my friends think they are hot or cool enough to date?” For a second, we have found a relief in the idea that our personalities will just shine through.
On the other hand, people spending large amounts of time at home by themselves or with roommates can drive someone to settle or invite someone into their life that shouldn’t be there. One story comes to mind. My friend K. shared a cigarette with her downstairs neighbor every night. One thing led to another and they shared a bed for three months, till his girlfriend returned for her COVID hibernation. I can only imagine how many people this has happened to.
In addition to that five-day “date,” my personal highlights have been seducing a Netflix actress with cocktail recipes that she shared with her ex-boyfriend roommate, who she also shared a baby with. We stopped because she asked me to send her a bottle of tequila through a delivery service. My response was, “Unemployment doesn’t cover that.” There’s also arguing with one of my best friends over a famous celebrity chef that didn’t know she was in a love triangle with us and meeting someone who showed me love, compassion and generosity beyond words, even as their own life was being cancelled.
These stories have helped me deal with the other side of dating during COVID. Dealing with a mental breakdown of someone after a sexy Zoom session from their parent’s basement. Being a Black man on a lovely picnic date with a white woman that, it turns out, was afraid of men. (She thought I was a very nice man.) Worrying about if the interactions of someone I’m seeing with their loved ones and strangers will have me on a ventilator.
But also, with COVID, social status and knowledge of where the best hotspot is has been replaced by a more egalitarian approach, at least for the first few dates. Parks and bike rides have replaced Michelin-star restaurants. Picnics and to-go cocktails have replaced large bar tabs.
Like dating any time, COVID dating comes with high-highs and low-lows. So mask up. Bring hand sanitizer and a condom. After all, the world is ending.