I went about this in the wrong order. I launched into the Covid-19 dating game, realised I didn’t know exactly how to play, then sought the advice of an expert.
I’ve done the dating-app thing before, but dating in pandemic times (and the requisite 1.5-metre-social-distancing) is a new ball game.
First, some background.
I’m single, and I like it that way. I don’t have to meet a “significant” other halfway on a Friday night and order Thai when what I’m really craving is some chicken and chips to sandwich between bread with sauce. I don’t have to spend the evening with Sylvester Stallone in Rocky for the 700th time when I’m in the mood to watch Careful What You Wish For (17 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I can assemble Ikea’s Billy bookcase without anyone pointing out that I’ve grossly misinterpreted the instructions, and I get to have my bed all to myself.
When coronavirus came along it sort of mucked up my Single Smugness. The prospect of being alone in isolation got me thinking company might not be so bad. Since batting my eyelashes at someone across the bar at The Royal Bondi was no longer an option, I begrudgingly (encouraged by my also-single housemate) downloaded Bumble, Tinder and Hinge. Again.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover these apps had changed. They had interesting new features designed for dating from a distance, such as “virtual dating” badges, and had dropped the usual 160-kilometre-radius limitation; the world’s entire singles population seemed to be active on them – Bumble recorded four million registered downloads at the beginning of April in Australia alone (in more normal times, say last September, it clocked three million total downloads) – and, whether out of boredom, loneliness, desperation, or all of the above, most chats now extended beyond “Hey”. (Tinder conversations in Australia are up an average of 16 per cent, and the average length of conversations is 12 per cent longer, the company says.)
I found myself in a number of entertaining chats, including with “Punny” Guy on Bumble, Surfer Dude on Hinge, and Madrid Man on Tinder, thanks to the app’s free new Passport feature that allows you to match and chat with people all around the world.
After about a week of in-app messaging, Surfer Dude suggested we Date From Home. He Facetimed me first, but I let it ring out because I hadn’t spent the necessary one hour and six minutes to take my hair from frizzy AF to bouncy and smooth. I called him back the old-school, video-less way, and we talked for two hours. At the end of our chat, he asked if it would be irresponsible of us to meet in person. I said yes, it would be. Then I revisited his profile, remembered the attractive face behind the phone call, and promptly changed my mind.
We went on a socially distanced walk that weekend, meeting in the car park of a beach between our suburbs. I pulled out my ruler, measured 1.5 metres, and told him not to breathe within a millimetre of that zone. We walked and talked all afternoon, stopping for coffee at the midway mark. We said our goodbyes (thank you coronavirus for removing the uncomfortable Do-We-Hug-or-Do-We-Kiss scenario from the equation) and returned to our respective Isolation Stations. He called me that evening to tell me he’d like to see me again. I shared the sentiment. He messaged me the next day to ask if Friday afternoon worked. I said yes.
I texted him Wednesday: “Hey stranger! How’s your week going? Still keen to do something Friday? Weather looks ideal!”
Foster Blake’s advice when someone ghosts you? “I’m going to be tough to be kind here: if they don’t text, they don’t exist. Try to get on with shit. Don’t waste time and energy on someone who doesn’t write back. When someone wants to communicate with you, they do, and they will.”
Tuesday: “Hey Em! Sorry I’ve been MIA. It’s been a really hectic time at work. I’d still really like to see you. What about this weekend?”
Wednesday: The message I should have sent as per Foster Blake’s take-no-shit wisdom – “I’m busy this weekend.” The message I actually sent – “All good, such is life! Sounds good to me! Let’s do Sat?” (Questions I later asked myself: why has Ben Cousins’ torso tattoo become my life motto? What’s with all the exclamation marks?)
Wednesday night: “Saturday it is, same time and place. Really looking forward to it. Night x.”
Sunday: My housemate bangs on my bedroom door with an early-morning newsflash – “Em – Surfer Dude just liked me on Hinge!”
Such is life.
So how do you know, during lockdown, if someone’s only into you because they’re bored?
“You’ll know if someone is into-you into-you if they don’t vanish once the world opens up again,” says Foster Blake. “But is it the worst thing to keep a few conversations going with people, even if they’re not into-you into-you, during this shit-show? I would think probably no. Enjoy the attention, have fun, hone your flirting and messaging skills.”
Yep, practice makes perfect.
“People can flake on you even without a pandemic,” she adds. “Perhaps try not to forecast too much into the future, as a general rule – hard as that can be when sparks are zinging around. Be here now, enjoy the connection, try to view this whole thing as a wild experiment rather than a test.”
And for those processing a pre- or during- Covid break-up?
“If you can’t process your pain with mates and outings, maybe it would be helpful to go straight to the ‘prison’ stage, where you work on yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually, because you have the time and can’t leave,” says Foster Blake. “I have a freshly broken-up friend who has been in lockdown in NYC and has spent the time getting insanely fit, learning to write with her left hand, cooking and taking up meditation. Sure, it’s a cliché, but what’s the alternative? Drink too much, binge Netflix and endlessly stalk your ex?”
And here are some of my own takeaways:
Get on the apps if you aren’t already – they’re really fun right now.
In all my years of dating-app experience, right now is the most fun I’ve had on them. With more time on our hands, and less options to meet prospective partners IRL, people seem to be using them as they’re meant to be used: to communicate (not just for self-validation). Proof: Bumble recorded a 26 per cent increase in messages sent and 56 per cent increase in video calls made in the second half of March, with the average video call lasting 21 minutes.
Lower your expectations to zero.
That’s not Negative Nancy talking – that’s Realistic Rachel. Sometimes in life, disappointments are inevitable. But don’t let that stop you from swiping. Think of dating as a process of elimination: every disappointing interaction is a fish removed from the sea. Once all the gummy sharks have been fished out, you’ll be left with a big, fat bluefin tuna.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Especially in the early days. Keep multiple options open, so you’re not suddenly back at ground zero when a convo drops off (which it will). It’s a numbers game.
Get out of your comfort zone and take the damn Facetime call.
If they can’t handle your hair at its worst, they don’t deserve your hair at its best. (Bonus tip: a shot of tequila beforehand helps, so long as it’s past midday.)