'I Thought I Would Hate Dating Without Sex, But It Feels More Intimate Than Ever'

The first time I was single in New York City, I was paralyzingly shy about kissing new partners in public while strangers walked by. During one particularly horrifying incident (which I now consider a rite of passage of sorts here), a date went in for a first kiss as we said our goodbyes on my apartment stoop, right as my neighbor walked up to the entrance.

He loudly exclaimed, “excuse me!” and nudged us to the side so he could key in, and I was mortified. Alas, now that I’m 28 and devoid of shame, I’m typically pretty audacious when it comes to PDA. Frankly, being outside is sometimes more “private” than my teeny-tiny apartment with a roommate. So I’ve adjusted to the reality of the public make-out, be it in the street, stoop, or vestibule, as neighbors enter and exit.

But ending a date with a long kiss on my stoop seems light years away right now, with novel coronavirus having changed nearly everything about day-to-day life.

A few weeks ago, when cases started to pop up in the U.S. and talk of potential city lockdowns began, it was quickly reflected on dating apps. People’s bios started to include lines like “will you be my quarantine?” and “looking for someone to quarantine and chill.” (*Eyes roll to back of head.*) My typical cadence of chatting for a few days and then agreeing to meet up for drinks was quickly thrown out the window. For a while, it was unclear if and how people were even allowed to meet. (Obviously, we all know that social distancing is the safe and responsible move now. RIP sex.)

I thought about whether this should be a time to just put dating on hold. But as a single person who got a lot of social interaction from meeting new people, that wasn’t the easiest thing for me to do. And truthfully, the idea of just waiting indefinitely to interact with people in a romantic way again was really anxiety-inducing, because I wanted a partner and didn’t want to put my dating life on pause.

When it started to become clear how much novel coronavirus was going to impact my life, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t have someone to shack up with and lean on for support throughout this time. But that didn’t mean I had to stop looking for an eventual S.O. and couldn’t enjoy dating. I just needed to approach it differently.

So in an effort to not be completely isolated and lonely, I’ve continued to try to navigate the apps, chat with people, and even go on “dates” in a safe and responsible way. It’s been a journey, to say the least.

Novel coronavirus has forced me to be very creative when it comes to meeting people, like showing up on a bike with a backpack full of beers.

At the beginning of March, I was in the midst of chatting with a few new people on Hinge. Before shit really hit the fan and self-isolation was in full effect, I agreed to meet up for a first date with one of my matches.

In order to be extra cautious, we decided to have drinks outside in a park, and neither of us would take public transportation to get there. I rode my bike; he took a Revel. We both packed backpacks full of Pacificos and sliced limes in Tupperware. We (sadly) abstained from kissing. It was oddly one of the least physically but most emotionally intimate dates I’d been on.

Because I knew I’d be riding my bike there and we’d be sitting outside in the cold, I wore an outfit I’d probably never wear on a first date—tennis shoes, jeans, a sweatshirt, and a baseball cap with one long side braid (to keep the helmet hair at bay). I sent my date a text before I headed out the door: “I’ll be the one who looks like a bike messenger.”

“Haha I promise not to judge,” he responded. “That’s actually totally my fetish. I sometimes Task Rabbit a messenger to my door, open it, look them up and down, and then just say, ‘thank you.'” Points for that text, which actually made me LOL.

As I rode over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, I got weird anxiety about crashing my bike in front of him as I rolled up, like somehow I would expose myself as a not-legit cyclist. Or, on the other hand, that I would look deeply nerdy in my helmet. But it was actually refreshing to toss out the expectation to be sexy and just show up looking like my typical athletic self (also, he said he liked my outfit!).

It was fun to be outside where we could hear each other and enjoy the views of the city, instead of cramped in a loud, tiny bar. We agreed to avoid talking about COVID-19 for as long as possible, and sharing a non-panic-inducing conversation with someone for the first time in days helped me to relax. It also felt like we’d teamed up to make something that had felt a little daunting actually happen. We had to get creative to pull the date off and, if nothing else, the outing would be memorable.

Over the next few days, though, the situation in the city escalated. So, my date and I decided to keep things digital for the time being.

Instead of just texting until we could see each other in person again (neither of us knew when that would be), we planned a FaceTime date.

I was working from home, which meant I hadn’t exactly been practicing my full get-ready-for-the-day routine, or following a regular schedule. Knowing I had a date later in the day helped to give me a little more structure (I wanted to be able to sign off and focus my attention on the conversation, so I hustled with my work), and motivated me to clean up and do something with my hair, which I hadn’t taken out of a bun and actually brushed in days.

Still, because it was FaceTime from my bedroom, it felt silly to be dressed up in any way. I didn’t do my makeup, and I ended up wearing leggings and a tank top. Again, this made things feel more intimate, familiar, and relaxed.

When we got on the video call, it took a few moments to get our phones propped up in a way that didn’t make us look like we had five chins and still allowed us to hear each other clearly. He was sitting at a desk; my room isn’t big enough for one, so I sat on my bed and opened my laptop to set my phone against the screen. We both hadn’t been on a FaceTime date outside of long-term relationships, so it felt a little strange at first to be doing this with someone so soon.

“It felt a bit like chatting with my crush online in middle school.”

But after “clinking” our respective drinks and giving each other MTV-Cribz-style tours of our rooms, we settled into conversation…and it didn’t feel weird at all. We talked about what we had been doing to pass the extra time in quarantine (he’d been learning how to edit videos, I’d been experimenting with recipes), what it was like growing up in our respective home states (him: California, me: Iowa), what inspired the tattoo on his wrist, the history behind the art in our rooms (his from a neighbor who was getting rid of all her pieces from Japan, mine from a painting collection called Bedtime Stories, by Alex Dooley, who I discovered at a gallery in college).

We also shared our craziest NYC apartment-hunting and landlord horror stories (like the time I lived in an ostensibly abandoned building in Hell’s Kitchen owned by THE worst landlord in the city). After attending so many Zoom calls and Google Hangouts for work and with friends over the last week, having a virtual date felt…right?

I was thankful for the company and the chance to get out of my own head for a few hours, even if I never left my bed. It felt a bit like chatting with my crush online in middle school. I don’t miss “dating” at 13, but there’s a sort of nostalgic feeling to that kind of interaction. I also don’t think I’ve ever stared at someone’s mouth so intently during a date in my life…I truly cannot wait to be able to kiss another person again.

Hanging up wasn’t as awkward as I’d anticipated—our conversation came to a natural lull after a few hours and around 11:30, we were both sleepy and tipsy, so we decided to call it a night and sign off.

So far, dating during the new coronavirus has shown me that I can (and should!) break my swipe-text-drinks-repeat dating routine.

Subscribing to those expectations makes meeting people boring. And sure, trying to date without being able to *physically* connect has been challenging (when self-isolation lifts, single New Yorkers are gonna go…crazy). But it’s also forced me to be more open-minded and recognize that there are so many different ways to build a connection with someone.

While a lot of people on the apps have gone silent, plenty are still willing to chat and do a video call as a first date—though I haven’t had time to make another one happen yet. I respect my matches’ commitment to meeting people (flexibility and effort are sexy!) and staying safe at the same time. I think the new coronavirus is weeding out the people who only want to meet to hook up (no judgment, but that’s not really what I’m looking for).

This new dating game has also stripped away a lot of the expectations I put on myself for the first few dates with someone new. There’s so much going on in the world (a lot of sad, terrifying things, to be honest), and it’s made any feelings about how I’m dressed or how I look feel extremely trivial. That, plus the fact that anything physical is off the table, has taken a lot of pressure off these dates and really made the focus about just connecting and being there for one another.

None of us know when this new way of living will be over, and the uncertainty is really scary, but has also reframed dating for me: It’s not about any kind of end-game (be that a hook-up or a new relationship status) right now. It’s just about sharing an experience, enjoying time with someone, truly going with the flow and seeing where that takes me.

Trust me, I miss the physical aspects of dating (the sex dreams have gotten weird, people), and not being able to explore them makes it hard to know if someone is really a good match or not. And, yeah, I worry that I might not be able to keep up these pen-pal kind of relationships long enough to actually meet anyone I’m talking to in the flesh. But right now, learning how to connect from a distance is eye opening. It’s making me more appreciative of good conversation—and exactly how that can scratch an intellectual itch, fill me up emotionally and make me feel less alone when in-person interactions are few and far between.

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