The Friday evening before Leap Day, Robyn Cole took a friend out for happy hour drinks. Earlier that night, in a hint of what was to come, the CDC had confirmed 64 cases of the coronavirus in the United States. But for many singles like Cole, who is 48 and lives in Sacramento, it was just another weekend out. Bars were open and people were buying each other drinks, kidding around about virus named after a beer.
Cole didn’t expect to meet a man at the bar. “I’ve been single for four years,” she told The Daily Beast. “I haven’t really gotten out there. I stay home and I don’t do much.” But that night, she met a man. Not your average barfly creep trying his luck with every woman in sight, but someone who seemed “respectful, kind” and very focused on talking to Cole. After saying goodbye to her friend, she met up with him for a nightcap.
They joked about spreading the coronavirus right before their first kiss. “It was a laughing matter at that point,” Cole told The Daily Beast. “It seemed so far away. Certainly, we were fine.”
More than three weeks later, Cole’s new relationship has grown. Unfortunately, so have the number of COVID-19 cases. And like many single people this week, what would have been dinner dates are now phone calls. The usual early stage conversations about exes or where one grew up have been replaced with discussing fears over a global pandemic. (What else is there to talk about?)
“I can’t believe it,” Cole said. “Leave it to the pandemic to interfere with my dating life. What the hell.” With bars and restaurants shut down and an urge for all who can to work from home, even finding a place to meet is difficult. “We spoke about how maybe we could meet on a back road between where we both live,” Cole said, only half-kidding. “It’s impossible right now, but we’re going to make it work.”
The dating apps Bumble and Tinder now have on screen warnings urging swipers to self-isolate. Kelly Rakowski, CEO and founder of Lex, a popular dating app for lesbian, bisexual, asexual, trans, and queer people, says she “encourages virtual dating.”
“We’re really encouraging being creative with your social distancing and you can definitely make connections without meeting IRL,” Rakowski said. “You can even fall in love. It happens. Everyone’s in it together and bound to make the best of it.”
Lex users have offered to connect with tarot readings through video chat, sharing hummus recipes to make while stranded at home, and hosting Skype meditation sessions. “The funniest one is a swap of nudes,” Rakowski added. “Remember, sexting is also still available to people!”
Marla Dalton, the executive director and CEO of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told The Daily Beast that social distancing is recommended, again recommending watching a movie “together” through FaceTime. But once the novelty of staying home wears off and the weather gets warmer, daters’ resolve to self-quarantine will be tested.
“If you must get together, plan an outdoor activity that you will be able to stay 6 feet apart as currently recommended,” Dalton said. “Physical distancing does not need to be social distancing, but is among the most effective tools to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”
Easier said than done, for some. Christin, a 25 year-old who lives outside of Chicago and asked to keep her last name private, works at a senior living community. She’s taking “precautions” and trying to stay home as much as possible to reduce any chance of transmitting the virus. But a few weeks ago, she met a man in her church group. Their first date was to a pie shop. He’s moving to New York this week, and convinced Christin to stop social distancing in order to get one last slice of cherry pie together.
“I hate the coronavirus, and I wish it wasn’t happening,” Christin said. “But it is. And I see it as a beautiful thing, that this person really cares about me. He said, ‘I don’t care if you get me sick.’ One, that’s irresponsible, but two, just like, wow. You really, really must care about me. With the pandemic going on, if someone still wants to see you, and is adamant about it, that really means something.”
Well, maybe. Jamie J. LeClaire, a writer from Philadelphia who uses they/them pronouns, identifies as non-binary and agender. They use a few dating apps, including Grindr. “They don’t give two hoots [about the coronavirus] on Grindr, I’ll be honest,” Le Claire said. “Everyone who has hit me up there said, ‘Let’s hangout anyway.’ I think if your intention is just to fuck basically, come over to someone’s house and be the two or a couple of you, then there is more of a comfortability with that.”
In normal times, LeClaire wouldn’t spend so much time on apps, but they’re bored working from home. “Getting to know somebody via text is not something I’m looking to do, but I’m kind of opening the door for those matches,” they explained.
It’s also never been a more understandable time to sit by your phone and wait around for an ex. “There’s this person I literally just had a falling out with a couple weeks ago, and I mean, I’m not going to lie—every time I get a ding on my phone, I’m kind of hoping that it’s them,” LeClaire added.
Elsewhere, new relationships are getting serious with the same speed as it took for Purrell to sell out everywhere. Kalie Shorr, 25, is a country singer-songwriter based in Nashville. With her tour cancelled for the foreseeable future, she does not have much to do, so she invited her new boyfriend to come live with her.
“We had the conversation: Do you want to come over for a month, or stop seeing each other for a month?” Shorr said. “We’re going from dating for a month to dating for six months. Either we find out that we really like each other, or we really don’t. What happens if we break up in these two weeks? Now that I’m saying this out loud, I’m like, fuck.”
Shorr’s roommates approved of the plan. “Thankfully, they really like him,” she said. “We’re just going to hunker down and make a commune for a couple weeks, minus the weird shit.”
The move will also test whether Shorr’s new romance is built for more than a honeymoon stage. “It’s weird for me to wake up and put on makeup when I’m not going anywhere, but he’s going to be here, so I still want to be cute,” Shorr said. “But also, we’ll need to have discussions about toilet paper, which is disgusting. We need to conserve, but the mental image of [him] using toilet paper? No.”
“Either it’s a meet-cute, or it’s something I go on a podcast and talk about,” Shorr added. “There’s no in-between.”
Best of luck to the couples testing the true strength of their relationship while quarantined. But for the rest of the singles out there, trying to stay healthy is a lonely job.
“I’m definitely sexually frustrated,” LeClaire admitted. “As great as masturbating is, there’s something totally different about having actual sex with somebody. Having that touch-hunger fulfilled. My love language is physical touch, so that’s been hurting quite a bit.”
Ilana Avergun, 27, lives in New York and works in event marketing. She often travels for her job, and was excited in February when non-essential trips were cancelled, because it meant she could try dating in the city more. But now she’s on lockdown, taking it all in stride.
“We’re being asked to hang out on our couch for the greater good,” Avergun said. “Things could be far worse, and I’m sure there will be plenty more awkward first dates in all of our futures if we’re just a little bit patient now.”