What to Know About Dating After COVID-19

The prescribed measure of social distance is one bicycle

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The COVID-19 pandemic created a massive upheaval in our lives, and many people are still dealing with its effects. For single people, lockdowns and safety guidelines totally changed the way we date and pursue romantic relationships. While dating was not altogether put on hold, COVID restrictions meant an increased reliance on online dating and alternative methods of getting to know someone new.

As more Americans are vaccinated and restrictions are loosened or lifted entirely, people are starting to meet up again for in-person dates. You may feel that it's too soon for you, and feel some hesitation about putting yourself back out there, which is perfectly normal. As you navigate these feelings, here is what to keep in mind about dating as we get closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Take Things Slowly

Whether you dated virtually before or avoided dating throughout the quarantine, you might feel nervous about dating in person again. If you decide you’re not completely ready, it’s okay to set the date a couple of weeks in advance.

“Be sure to take it slow,” says Dr. Amy E. Keller, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Especially, as she says, “after living in a world that doesn't feel very trustworthy due to development of a pandemic, loss of jobs for thousands of people, racial unrest, and unsteady political times.”

Robin Hornstein, PhD

For most people, the stress of widening a pretty tight circle of people is going to engender anxiety at this time, and the easiest way to manage that is to set boundaries that help you tread back out into the world in a confident manner.

— Robin Hornstein, PhD

It’s important to get yourself on steady ground physically, mentally, and emotionally. Do this by looking inward and understanding what feels right for you. Keller adds, “Trust your heart and intuition. Meet somewhere in public where you feel safe and it is familiar."

After the unprecedented nature of the last year, Keller cautions that our brains may still be prepared for some kind of unwanted surprise at any time.

Meditate, Breathe, Visualize

Excellent meditations and practices that include deep breathing and guided visualizations are readily available. These can contribute to a sense of wellbeing and centeredness.

The goal, Keller says, is “to try to quiet your over-active spider senses and calm your sympathetic nervous system.” After the ruckus of last year, Keller finds many of her patients are fried. She says, “They often need me to calm them down through breath work and mindfulness exercises to help the actual therapeutic work land.”

You might even use future thinking and mentally rehearse your dates. Imagine how you want to feel before venturing into the world of finding love again. Visualize a date going smoothly. What would you feel and sense in your body if it did go well? Imagine yourself smiling and enjoying your time together. This will help dating turn into something you look forward to, rather than something that you are anxious about.

Prepare for Dating Again

First of all, remember that you are not alone in feeling hesitant about getting out there. While you might be eager, that hypervigilance or anxiety that percolates when you think of interacting in new relationships is completely logical.

David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine and director of the Stanford Center on Stress and Health spoke recently about what causes our ambivalence about reentering this post-Covid 19 world. He said, “When people start avoiding something, they then associate it as something dangerous or stressful.”

We’ve avoided people and places for over a year now. It therefore makes sense that we might associate dating, being with people, eating in a restaurant, or participating in a host of activities as being dangerous or stressful. Our hypervigilance and ambivalence are byproducts of this association.

Robin Hornstein, PhD, a clinical director, psychologist, and intersectional/inclusive therapist, works with a diverse staff and a large group of folks from marginalized communities. In addition to issues her patients must contend with during a time of increased violence against people of certain races, religions, and identities, many are also addressing the natural fear of opening up again to families, friends, local communities, and the wider world.

Hornstein states, “For most people, the stress of widening a pretty tight circle of people is going to engender anxiety at this time, and the easiest way to manage that is to set boundaries that help you tread back out into the world in a confident manner.”

So, rather than rush out and line up a slew of dates to meet in town, take some time to prepare yourself. Although you want to take things slow, it's important to start somewhere. The longer we avoid situations, the more anxiety provoking they become.

Build Confidence

How do you regain confidence you may have lost, or build upon what you had? Having self-compassion and offering yourself positive self-talk are good ways to add to self-confidence. You’ll feel more self-assured if you take some time to boost your own feelings of self-worth before you meet that special someone.

To ready yourself for meeting up in person and to help allay fears, Hornstein reminds you to dial down the angst. She says, “I think the pressure of a first date while things are not completely opened up can be daunting and we recommend meditation, exercise, and remaining in touch with good support people as part of handling the concerns or fears.”

Another good way to feel more assured is by taking time to check in with yourself. Hornstein recommends journaling. She suggests, “Using these journal prompts are extremely useful: 'What do I want from a first date with this person?' or 'How do I remain true to myself on a first date?' or 'The best time for me on a date is...'"

Determine if you just want a fun fling or are looking for something serious. Helping determine what you truly seek can also give you confidence and direction. There’s nothing wrong with having some ice-breakers and funny stories at the ready.

Relabeling the experience can also help. "Dating" can seem daunting right now, but "meeting someone new for a drink" can feel less anxiety provoking.

Dating in the Real World

One result of the pandemic is that people are engaging in more authentic ways, and dating more cautiously and intentionally. This is a good thing. Without the distractions of the outside world and the distraction of sexual allure, it is easier to get to know people as people.

That doesn’t mean those seeking romantic relationships don’t want to have fun and add romance. The focus on first dates and early dating, Hornstein reminds us, should be on “finding something to connect about.” There’s a wide world of things to connect about.

Prioritize Your Health and Safety

If you’re worried about the danger of virus variants despite the rise in vaccinations, for example, you could opt to meet for an outdoors activity. This could be a traditional coffee date or dinner date at a restaurant with well-spaced outdoor seating.

Creative ways to date are especially good, too. Research shows that novelty adds excitement, and is proven to be a benefit to relationships. Therefore, you could choose to meet up in outside-the-box ways like the following:

  • Plan a date with stargazing
  • Add a little art appreciation by discussing the sculpture garden in your local park
  • Meet a prospective love interest outside, assuming you live in a city in which the weather is conducive to outdoor adventures.

Hornstein adds, “People have told me that they've met in parks to people-watch, so they get to know what the other person thinks and have a few laughs when dogs act silly. There have been people who have projected a movie outside on a wall at one of their places and watched each person's favorite movie that way.”

A Word From Verywell

As vaccinations in the adult population have surged in the U.S., many are looking forward to moving beyond isolation and Zoom dates. Initial conversations that take place on dating apps can now move to in-person meetings much faster again.

It’s exciting for singles to know communities are opening up again. While some may choose to keep dating online, others may choose a hybrid model moving forward. You may be ready to meet in person, safely and following CDC precautions. Whichever way you choose, dating after COVID-19 is possible, and you can continue your search for a loving partner with confidence and ease.

 

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