I can’t remember the last time I was so excited for a first date - especially one I knew could end in absolutely no physical contact. But this weekend, when I got on a Boris bike and cycled from my Chelsea home to meet a girl on Vauxhall Bridge, I was filled with anticipation.
It wasn’t even because I thought that Lara* - who, like me, is in her mid thirties and lives in south London - would be the woman of my dreams. It was because I was finally going to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who wasn’t my sister or baby nephew.
I’ve spent the eight weeks of lockdown living alone, and even though as an artist I’m used to passing hours in my own company, it was all getting a bit much. I’ve followed the Government guidelines carefully, bar a few socially-distanced visits with my family, who live nearby. But when Boris Johnson announced that we could meet one other person in a park, I immediately knew I’d use the opportunity to go on a date. It’s what I’ve missed most about normal life - getting to sit down with someone new, talk and (hopefully) make a connection.
Obviously, it was never going to be the same. But I was still keen to give lockdown dating a shot, and I knew exactly who to ask. I’d met Lara in a bar a few years ago, and we’d exchanged Instagram handles. At the time she had a boyfriend, but I recently saw her post a photo of herself alone, holding a glass of wine, and joking that she was dating herself. I messaged asking if she’d like to go out on a real date - and she said yes.
The plan was to cycle through central London, and have a picnic in St James’ Park. It was the most creative option I could think of, without access to the typical failsafes of a restaurant or bar.
I dressed in jeans and a T-shirt because we were cycling, but I’d made an effort to put on my nicest casual clothes. It also gave me a reason to comb my beard - pretty much a first during lockdown. She’d made an effort, wearing a floaty top, and it felt like such a novelty after weeks at home.
I wondered how we would greet one another, given that we couldn’t touch. In the end, we made a joke of it and did an elbow bump. It was so quiet in central London that we could easily chat as we cycled, stopping off outside Buckingham Palace to comment on how eerily quiet everything felt, and then finding a quiet spot to eat lunch in the park. I’d brought a blanket and made us some cheese and salami sandwiches, so we sat down - two metres apart - and joined the other dressed-up couples, many of whom were clearly also on first dates. It was nice to know we weren’t the only ones who’d decided to use our first, longed-for, in person meet-ups to look for love.
That said, it was a bit awkward. There was a lot of talk about lockdown. But things improved when I asked her to teach me some yoga. The highlight was when she touched my chest to adjust one of my poses, but then realised she’d broken the rules and pulled back.
The fact we couldn’t make physical contact was frustrating because, normally, I’m quite tactile and hope any dates will end in a kiss. Social distancing takes away the element of hope where that’s concerned.
If I’m honest, there was a moment when I considered breaking the rules and touching her. But she mentioned that her flatmates have jobs where they’re frequently in contact with different people, so I decided it wasn’t worth the health risk.
We ended our date with a wave goodbye and a second meeting wasn’t mentioned. If I’m honest, I didn’t feel much chemistry. The lack of physicality took a bit of the spark away for me. Maybe if we’d had a first date another time, without 2 metres between us, it would have been different.
I’m still glad I chose to use my weekend for a socially distanced first date, though. It made a change from my lonely lockdown life, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s single and has been by themselves this whole time. There might be a slight risk of catching coronavirus, but to me it’s worth it.
*Details have been changed
As told to Radhika Sanghani