Unless you're one of the lucky few who loves a video date or virtual date, dating during the pandemic has been really damn hard. With restrictions preventing us from actually meeting up with people, we've been firmly stuck in the messaging phase for what feels like years (I mean, it has been over a year...) Now that restrictions have pretty much lifted, there are many people who are feeling anxious about life returning to "normal", whatever that may look like.
Regardless, dates are very much back on the cards. But what if you're worried about meeting up in real life after so long? This feeling has been coined FOMU - or fear of meeting up - and is very common and very normal. Whether you have health concerns about COVID, or are socially anxious about interacting with real life humans again, know you're not alone and you can take it your own pace.
Here's an expert guide to dealing with FOMU in dating now restrictions are lifted and everyone's thinking about going on dates again.
Dating as lockdown restrictions lift
Be honest about how you feel
Remember just because you can legally go on dates, that doesn't mean you have to. Take everything at your own pace and don't put too much pressure on yourself. "If you’re not ready to go on a face-to-face date, whether that’s because you don’t feel comfortable doing so just yet, or you’re feeling socially anxious, all you have to do is say so - let your match know and talk about it openly," says Natasha Briefel from Badoo UK.
"It’s been a strange 12 months, so chances are they’re feeling the same way! The date will feel more natural and enjoyable if you feel genuinely ready to make that step. You’re also likely to make a stronger, more honest connection, as your mind won’t be preoccupied with the worry of, am I actually ready for this yet, and is this what I really want?"
Mia Sabat, sex therapist at Emjoy, adds, "One of the biggest challenges we’ll face with dating as lockdown begins to ease will likely stem from re-entry anxiety. These emotions are completely normal, and there is no shame in feeling apprehensive about being around numerous people, or about meeting in person after months of communicating via a screen. Don’t hesitate to share these concerns with your friends, family and S/O ahead of your in-person date, so that you are on the same page and can find ways to address these anxieties together! Your comfort and mental wellbeing should always be the first priority, so don’t be afraid to do what you can, both together and alone, to address them."
Meet first via video call
If you're not already sick to the back teeth of trying to find an emotional connection over a dodgy WiFi connection, remember video dating still exists after lockdown lifts. And you can use that to your advantage.
"It’s great being able to meet someone via video call, before meeting IRL. The pandemic has shown us the power of connecting virtually, and it’s likely that meeting via video first of all, will continue long after the pandemic," Natasha says. "Whilst it’s great to be able to connect and share interests via chat, meeting someone on video allows you to connect on a deeper level. You can hear their voice, see their mannerisms, and generally get a better, more honest sense of that person, without the pressure of literally being with them. When it comes to meeting that person IRL on a park bench, it’ll feel like you know them already, and you’ll feel much more relaxed about it."
Think of a few conversation starters
Yes, talking to people - especially new people - in real life is going to feel a little odd for a while. But don't worry, you can prepare beforehand so you go into it feeling ready and less anxious.
"Go to your date armed with some questions and conversation starters, whether it’s asking about new lockdown hobbies they’ve picked up, or what they’ve been watching on Netflix. Now that lockdown is starting to ease, there’s going to be more to talk about – ask them how they feel about it, whether they’ve anything planned – chances are you won’t need these prompts, as you’ll relax once you get into it and the conversation will flow naturally – but it’s always nice to feel prepared," Natasha suggests.
Incorporate an activity
"There’s a limit to what we can do, but if it feels too intense to share a park bench as a first date, why not plan a picturesque walking route, grab a coffee together, or even think of some games to play to liven things up," she recommends.
Here are some lockdown date ideas to inspire you - both virtual dates and those that can be done outside and socially-distanced.
Natasha makes an important point, which is to have fun with it. "There might be some awkward moments, but after being stuck inside for a long time, being able to meet new people is a welcome break to the routine. The most important thing is just to be your honest self, be upfront with who you are and what you want, and enjoy making connections."
Think of the positives
Mia says while there have been many negative impacts on dating in the last year, there have also been some positives. "Dating platforms have seen an increase in users’ length of conversations, and online-daters have commented that isolation has helped them to forge stronger online romantic connections and that their online conversations have become more detailed and emotional. This suggests that those looking to date may be more open to forging an emotional relationship, and feel more ready to bond with another person," she explains.
"As we struggle with isolation, we reach out to those around us with the aim of cultivating truly genuine connections, and I think this is a pro of lockdown and its effect on dating that is sure to carry into the real-world. Many are likely to be more open to exploring a connection than they were pre-COVID, and would even consider forming a bubble with someone they’ve met online and forged a relationship with throughout the lockdown - a commitment that might have seemed daunting before quarantine took full effect. Many people are also likely to avoid the notoriously awful first date butterflies, as weeks or even months of chatting are likely to build excitement and confidence."
If you're concerned about contracting or transmitting the virus, remember the ways you can reduce risk while also getting out and about again. Mia says, "One of the biggest concerns is of course contracting or spreading the virus. It’s important we all abide by social distancing as much as possible, and take precautions such as wearing masks, using hand sanitisers and doing our best to follow government regulations to ensure we’re as safe as possible when in close contact with others, even when we’re yearning to be physically affectionate with those around us."
In terms of physical touch, Mia believes people will have to become more vocal about their preferences and what they’re comfortable with. "This will want to give their consent at every stage of physical intimacy, even if they have chosen to bubble with another person. Before lockdown, a hug was a natural way to greet a friend or date - but now every act of physical touch is second-guessed. I think this will force us to become more articulate regarding what we are and are not comfortable with in real life, and I think this conversation will, in turn, migrate to the bedroom and help to emphasise the purpose of consent even further. Conversations around consent and intimacy will change for the better, as open, honest conversations become an absolute-must."
Set your boundaries and respect others'
Match’s dating expert, Hayley Quinn says, "Don't assume your date is on the same page as you when it comes to physical contact! If you know you want to keep your distance it could be worth disclosing this before your date to avoid any awkward moments later, a simple, 'wanted to let you know ahead of tomorrow that I'm still sticking to social distancing, so hope air hugs are okay by you?'. If you're on the other side of the fence and do want to suggest physical contact, then phrase your request playfully, 'Can I be cheeky and ask for a hug?' However, be fully prepared to accept someone else's boundaries in return. It's also worth remembering that any date worth your time, will always respect the level of physical contact you're comfortable with."
Build your confidence and take it slow
Hayley says it will also be beneficial to try and reduce the expectations for your dates. "A first date really is just an opportunity to get to know someone new and have fun! It's definitely not about impressing someone, or about finding love the second you step out of the door. Build your confidence with short dates, that you'd find fun anyway (drag them to that yoga class or quirky restaurant you’ve been dying to try!) and remember, even catching up with friends is good practice to feel more comfortable being sociable again."
Becoming intimate again
"Lockdown has been tough on all relationships and it could feel really strange seeing one another in person again. If you've had an inadvertent long distance relationship due to COVID, don't feel too much pressure to have a megawatt romance the second restrictions are lifted and you can see one another again. Instead of jumping into things, focus on getting to know one another IRL again with dates focussed on spending quality time with one another," Hayley says.
"Going on an actual date (no more takeaways and boxsets, hurray!) can also be a great way to reinvigorate a relationship that's grown claustrophobic over lockdown. However, you may also find another great aphrodisiac is spending some time apart again. If you have some personal space to see friends, and return to your old hobbies, you may find that rediscovering who you are as individuals also helps to recreate your chemistry."
Keep checking in
Remember how you feel about meeting up can change, and that's fine. So check in with each other mentally throughout the dating process. Mia says, "Re-entering society has left many of us feeling a little uncomfortable - it’s only natural. Remember it’s okay to take things slow, and don't be afraid to check in with one another to help build emotional intimacy. Learning about your Love Languages, or going through intimate questions like the ‘the 36 questions that lead to love’ can help maintain and grow emotional closeness, helping to forge an even stronger connection between you and your partner. This will ensure that all areas of your relationship are being looked after, so you both feel truly cared for."
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