Earlier this spring I went on my first quasi-date since the coronavirus started. After having a conversation about his masking practices and pod size — then searching for a flattering face covering — I met a nice University of Houston professor for a walk around H-town’s open air art installation The Orange Show.
He noted that I was double-masking while he was only wearing one. When he asked me to join him for lunch, I nearly shouted “patio only!” I might be lonely, but I’m not suicidal.
Dating is fraught with peril in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. My therapist told me that his patients who have contracted the coronavirus have gotten it by going on dates. Now that Texas has dropped the mask mandate and has fully opened up, it makes one reconsider the wisdom of risking the plague just to dine with a human you barely know. While vaccines mean that COVID-19 cases are way down since January, the threat of even scarier new variants of the disease aren’t to be taken lightly.
Dating is a new world for me. I was with my former husband for 25 years before he left in search of younger pastures. When Beyoncé’s 2009 hit “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) was in heavy rotation, I was too married to embrace it.
This pandemic has been difficult for single people. While I’m often with my 83-year-old mother, isolation is no joke. We are herd animals who have been separated from our herds.
How bad is it? Inspired by another single friend, I’ve gotten my stuffed animals out for companionship. Thank goodness long-distance calls are free now, because I spent more hours on the phone during the coronavirus than I have since high school.
Reports indicate that people have been turning to their exes for pandemic companionship, but I can’t text my ex-boyfriends. When I was seeing them, they had landline phones and answering machines.
Meeting a romantic partner living in the proper time zone during the pandemic seems as difficult as teaching a lame pony to waltz.
Loneliness and the difficulty of meeting fellow single humans explains why dating apps have been popular and profitable during the pandemic. Austin-based dating app Bumble held its IPO just before Valentine’s Day and the stock price quickly doubled. Revenue for Match Group, which owns right-swipe dating juggernaut Tinder, rose 17% in 2020, according to investment site The Motley Fool.
I’m lucky I kept the dog in the divorce. So many people, single and otherwise, turned to companion animals to help with the emptiness of lockdown life that some shelters ran out of pets.
My recent art-centric date was heavily discussed with my ladies’ television-watching-and-commiseration society that meets many pandemic nights on Discord, an online service for group conversations. The woman who started the group envisioned it as a way for us to be together while apart. The vibe is sitting around the dorm lounge, talking smack while watching television. For our shared experience, we all cue up to the same spot of a streaming service show, then count down for a synchronized start. The companionship is more important than then the entertainment, and I schedule my calendar around my television group.
Romance is still possible in these times. Loulou Ghelichkhani, manager of the romantic Austin French restaurant Justine’s Brasserie, estimates that 25% of her reservations are people on first dates.
“In December, we first started noticing first dates” said Ghelichkhani. She said of these first dates, it seems like 8 out of 10 are amicable, and the rest probably went home together. “In these kinds of environments, either people hit it off or they don’t.”
People who go on first dates sometimes end up getting married. That’s not so easy right now. Since you need an appointment to get a marriage license in Travis County, fewer licenses have been issued during the pandemic than usual. According to Rebecca Guerrero, recording division director of the Travis County Clerk’s Office, in February of 2019 the office issued 773 marriage licenses, and in February 2020 it was 876. In February 2021: only 327.
As I keep trying this dating game, I’ve begun to have visions of life in the After Times. Maybe I’ll one day get hitched to some mystery dude in a post-pandemic destination shindig at Fleetwood’s Rock-n-Roll Wedding Chapel, a combination bar, vintage shop, music venue and wedding chapel in Asheville, N.C. Its motto: “Shop-Drink-Get Married.” Our guests could toast us with champagne cocktails like “Love Potion” or “Starry Eyes.”
After dating during the coronavirus, nothing will be too strange for post-pandemic coupledom.
Anna Hanks is a writer in Austin. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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