Pandemics are lonely.
Many of us have seen and felt the impacts of an international health crisis in our own living spaces and social lives. Japan even created a new government position — the Minister of Loneliness — to spearhead national initiatives related to helping people cope through this time.
I have definitely felt the sinking feeling of isolation after what felt like countless consecutive days spent mostly inside, restricted from attending my favorite recreational events and trying to remain steadfast in my consideration of my own health and the health of others. In some ways, the pandemic has taught me to cherish the little things — but sometimes the little things just don’t feel like enough.
I’m a Physical Touch Love Language® person, which means that one of my favorite ways to show and receive affection is through physical closeness to people I care for. Cuddling, holding hands, and massages all are ways to love and be loved that uplift me. Oh, and I mean, sex is pretty great too. Knowing this about myself, I panicked as soon as I had a good handle on what the Partridge-in-a-Pear-Tree would mean for travel, person-to-person interaction, and of course … dating.
Now, even though I wrote the book (okay, okay, technically the blog) on self-guided pleasure during quarantine, I didn’t have any idea about how (or even if) I could continue dating other people in safe, Covid-conscious ways. But I tried. And in trying, I learned some valuable things — about myself, about society, and the ways we all work to make this world we share feel like home, even in dark times.
With “outside” closed and opportunities to meet people by chance eliminated, I, like many people, turned to dating apps. I’ve never been very good at first impressions with dating interests in real life — so I was pretty apprehensive about trying to connect in the digital space. But I was also bored and touch-starved, so something had to give. Not much came of my experience on da apps, but I did notice a profound difference in the way that conversations with potential romantic interests played out.
So much of the talks centered on safety and values — deeper rap than pre-Pegasus first chats, for me at least. Have you been socially distancing? Are you able and willing to get tested for Covid-19 so that we can meet up? Do you think the virus is a hoax?! All of these questions and more helped me ground in knowledge of people and their personalities, much more so than their favorite TV shows or places they’re interested in vacationing. I mean, we discussed that stuff too, but I really did appreciate learning more about people’s principles, how they understand the world, and how they manage their lives. I got to share my values too, and learned about myself in the process.
Am I as patient as I thought I was? As committed to a deep knowledge of a person before having the chance to interact with them physically? Do I really find it hard to connect with people, or have I just been asking the wrong questions? I reflected daily on my interactions with folks and how I felt my positions represented me accurately and honestly.
There was also the challenge of romantically reconnecting with people already in my social circle. This seemed a bit safer than meeting with new people, at first, but it came with the unique struggle of having insight into their personal lives. Sure, I followed them on social media before the Pippi Longstocking but now behaviors that I deemed risky or that could potentially jeopardize my health meant a lot more. I cancelled dates after seeing friends post themselves in crowded rooms over weekends. I had tough, but honest, conversations with good friends of mine about ways I could and couldn’t show up for them based on the differences in how we chose to navigate the pandemic. Above all, I tried to respect people’s decisions about their lives in this impossible time, made only more difficult by a bumbling government public health response. But I’d be lying if I said I felt like I didn’t miss out on anything. On anybody.
But in the space absent of the familiar, I found myself electrified with wonder at feelings to which I’d been long desensitized. The simple intimacy of a late-night car conversation date or an evening stroll with bright stars speckling a dark, Georgia sky. The adrenaline of meeting a cute person and staying out past the protest curfew — like a teenager scheming for any moment they can find to put eyes, hands, lips on their crush. The deep soul connection we can forge with the right kind of eye contact — mutual, non-verbal, the opportunity fleeting. Putting everything into that stare, and believing, with all your heart, that it’s possible for anything to come out of it. Gotta focus on the eyes when people are wearing masks, anyway. At times during this pandemic, I’ve had the chance to be a kid again. To feel the small things in big ways. And I’m grateful for that.
What is risk as we perceive it, really? Fear? Logic? A battle of the two, with the hopes of preserving ourselves? I don’t know. But I know that through it all, I found chances to make life and dating fun and memorable during this pandemic. Not by ignoring risk. Not by letting it shackle me. But by considering it, respecting it, and making the decisions for myself that I couldn’t not make. I have learned to embrace risk when I have a chance to meet someone I simply can’t afford to miss out on. The moments may not have lasted forever, but they’ll always be meaningful to me. I have learned to prioritize what a world of good things that stem from one interaction could mean, instead of deliberating about a world of bad things that could keep the good farther away.
And dating aside, I think it’s a lesson that I’ll keep with me for life — all of its parts. We have space in this existence, Pandemonium or not, to love, be loved, stay safe, throw caution to the wind, make memories, and one day, look back on it all and smile.
And that’s exactly what I plan to do.