Maybe you're dating someone right now—and who could blame you, because, what hotter time to hook up is there than the Kali Yuga? You and your partner might live in the same place, or far away (which, now, can even mean "around the block"). Possibly, you've been seeing this person a while, or maybe you're getting to know each other via Zoom dates, squinting at each other's shaggy haircuts/newly shaved heads.
For the purposes of this guide, which is about dating during a global pandemic when you have to stay inside or else get sick or make someone else sick: It's OK for the two of you to be apart physically as you figure out how to make the best of your time together.
The rigorous pain of this crisis can put us at an emotional remove from those we want to feel closest to. Like the people we're dating, for one example. (Ha ha, those of you who are single may say right now, screw you. That's correct.) Good, cool, here is death is not a fun 'n' flirty mode of thinking/living. I can't believe the government continually fails people does not make me, exactly, hard.
Whether you and the person you're crushed out on/committed to are crammed into one place or pining for each other, it might be difficult to do more, when you're spending whatever kind of time, than mutter, "This sucks, I hate it," in unison. So how can you and any person you're involved with, whether new or tried-and-true, find respite in being together?
Sometimes, intimacy with another person can make you feel more equipped to be safe, smart, and healthy, and right now is a good time to feel that way about and with someone else. Here are some ideas for being sweet and feeling closer indoors, only a few of which are specific to in-person arrangements.
1. Stream a performance of an unfamiliar-to-both-of-you artist. NPR keeps a fabulous running list of musicians who are doing at-home concerts on a given day/week.
2. Learn a new language, including smutty things to say to each other. Supplement an app like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone by making flashcards or quizzes for each other based on your inside jokes, memories you two have, or your partner's tastes or best physical qualities.
3. Plan to do an online yoga class, immediately decide against it (flaking with your workout clothes already on and everything is completely acceptable here), and yell out answers along with old episodes of Jeopardy! on Netflix instead.
4. Write fan mail to someone important to the two of you. It could be the person whose song you first hooked up to, or who created the video game you bonded over, or whose restaurant you had your best date at—DaBaby, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nikki Giovanni, Toby Fox… whomever! Write to that person together and say, "You helped us be a part of each other's lives, and here's how," except just like you would say it to a friend. Before you and your partner actually send what you write—which you should!—read your letters to each other.
5. Invent your own holiday. I like these directions: Activities Day, Pizzaversary, deciding for yourself your adopted pets' birthdays if you don't know them, Fright Night, and The Week of the Great Feast. If you like your co-celebrant a lot, casually mention that it's an annual holiday.
Footage from the opening ceremonies of my Activities Day, which entailed painting the backs of grocery lists, a small pit bull's fears about musical innovation, and costume changes.
6. Play Gentlemen's Disagreement. This is the perfect unhinged debate game. I don't just say so because I invented it. When I did, it was literally as a way to defuse tension between me and people I love—in that case, three sisters traveling together for a week, aka, an absolute powderkeg for arguments. The game works for transforming bad moods in any kind of relationship.
How Gents works: You assign the other person something—any topic you want—and they have to argue strongly in favor of it for one minute. Like they would lick its shoes if it told them to, or kick over a public mailbox for it… that's how into it they are. You don't argue AGAINST each other's topic, just ardently for your own. Ideally, play this with another couple or with friends over Zoom, scoring each round as you go, however you want to do that.
Some of my favorite past topics, in the years I've played this with everyone I know: choreography, baby dolls, bucket hats, the Kool-Aid man, belly button rings, Oprah, when you see someone fall down and don't know whether it's OK to laugh, the New York Knicks, bees. Having to be relentlessly positive about something, whether you like it or not, is hilarious and bad. The only rule is not ALWAYS trying to engineer your partner having to make the case for things that suck—note that all of the above topics are, like lyfe, at their best because of what you make of them.
7. Trade one enormous and juicy secret each—the gossipier, the better; the more it involves any sort of crime and/or unsolved mystery, the best. When I tried this exercise, my boyfriend told me the "true identity" of the person behind one of history's biggest conspiracy-adjacent FBI cases! Who can say who was behind it? Well, my boyfriend could!!
8. Play a passive board game, either in a shared space or on your phones, like Scrabble or chess. Choosing a game you can check in on and come back to over time, which we've got quite a lot of right now, gives you something low-stakes to look forward to and think about throughout the day. Those are two of the best feelings to associate with someone you're dating.
9. Send nudes or text porn links from the other room if you're isolating together. If you're not, send nudes or text porn links at a coordinated time, then masturbate together. (Remember, before you do: Not everyone feels up to having sex right now, even if it's online or on the phone. It's a stressful time. Don't pressure your partner or feel pressured yourself!)
10. Teach each other a skill. Basic HTML? Maybe not textbook hot—but, also? Sexy!! Pull-ups? Same! Here is how I make Bolognese. Here is how I mend a hole in my shirt, and now you can mend yours—or sew a mask. When I want to make myself come, this is what I do. Oh, that's how you throw a good punch? Disinfect your mail just like this, so I can send you some love letters.
11. Sketch or paint your own versions of Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles. The story of the Bedroom in Arles series of paintings: Van Gogh "wished to express utter repose," as he said in a letter to his brother, by painting his bedroom simply and plainly. He focused on that bedroom so much because it was in the first true home he ever knew, and he felt like—it was—a hell of a lot to be grateful for. You and your partner should make paintings of your bedroom(s) or other living spaces, either together or over Zoom. You know it pretty well by now, don't you? If you live apart, mail your paintings to each other and hang them up above your respective beds.
12. FaceTime with your partner's neediest friend along with them, or hop in on a group text, to ease the psychic load of that a little: "How was your day, college friend my partner feels obligated to check in on, but finds exhausting sometimes?"
13. If you're living together, for now or longer? Find a convenient way to temporarily disappear—take a long shower; explain you'll be very busy on the phone for an hour and NEED not to be bothered, no matter what—so your partner can masturbate in peace and (possibly relative if you live together, but sacrosanct nonetheless) privacy. Even if they don't want to get off, it will give them much-appreciated time to do something on their own.
14. Show each other your hidden talents. If you don't have a hidden talent, now's the time to pick one up, which is also something you can do together, thanks to YouTube—trick-based ones are great, especially if they involve basketballs or smoke.
15. Pick three movies or TV shows that you consider the most formative to your sense of humor, have them do the same, and enact a whenever-we-feel-like it comedy marathon over a week or a month trading your selections back and forth. I would choose Army of Darkness; George Clinton's Twilight Show–esque HBO miniseries Cosmic Slop; and Saved by the Bell, probably. Get loose!
16. Find a way to safely get your date groceries that wouldn't occur to them as necessary, but which they'd really enjoy. Then, send them recipes using those things that they'd probably like. Think things like: especially fancy cheese and crackers, restaurant-quality meats, really good bread, olives that don't come in a can. Tip the deliveryperson very heavily if you have things sent to your partner; if you don't live together, make especially sure that's sorted out in advance. Here's a primer on ethical grocery delivery right now.
17. Draw portraits! Don't draw each other, though—the bar for insult is too low and the drawings won’t go over unless you both have extremely good senses of humor, which I feel like almost no one does at the moment. Instead, make an ongoing museum dedicated to a pet, or your kids, or a prompt each of you assigns the other, saying, "Get it done in 15 minutes, then show me."
18. My favorite iteration of the last suggestion is an after-practice bar tradition I have with my bandmates called "draw a cartoon character from memory" that I picked up from the comics artist and critic Nick Gazin. You can't look at the character in question before you begin—you have to sketch them wholly recollectively. Start with Bart Simpson, move to Betty Boop, despair at the impossibility of Mario of Super Mario fame. It's so stupidly funny and makes for beautiful keepsakes. It's also really impressive, infuriating, and hot when someone is, improbably, good at it. I would flip out and give head if someone could draw Mario.
19. Get stoned, or not, and listen to old radio dramas, which are Not Your Grandparents' Crisis-Time Entertainment!! Just kidding! That's exactly what they are! My and my dude's favorite one is called Suspense—Lucille Ball (of I Love Lucy, who wanted to be in the showww!) once, completely unironically, voice-acted being murdered on it by going, "ACK… GAAACK!," which obviously rocks. Here's a great archive of all sorts of old-time radio dramas for your enjoyment.
20. Make a pact to fix something in your living space(s) that has really been bothering you, and document the process toward your individual or shared victory. I have rarely felt so sexually invigorated as I did when the shower curtain rod stopped falling the hell down because someone finally fixed it. (I tried to do it myself, then caught my hand in the tensile rod and swore—and then he said he'd fix it, even though I tried to downplay my frustration by swearing pretty silently to myself on the fire escape. I love him.)
21. Tell each other the very first memory you have, from your entire life, in enormous detail. (Dreams count, too.)
22. Sleep naked and see what happens. (If you're apart: Document yourself getting ready to sleep naked and see what happens.)
23. Do virtual and audio tours of the museums where your favorite artworks live, or one in a part of the world you've never visited. In the former case, I'd go to the Musée D'Orsay in Paris (to look at Bedroom in Arles, of course!), and, in the latter, I'd go to Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands (which also has good van Gogh, as well as a ripping painting of a swan I'd never seen before). Here's a solid list of museums and galleries you can peruse remotely online with your partner.
24. Watch a play. Here's a good list of online musical and theatrical performances that are available on various streaming services. Include your own intermission, in which you enjoy refreshments and an analysis of how you're liking it or not, at some point, to sharpen the ersatz theater experience!
25. Alternatively, or as a supplement, perform famous monologues sourced from scripts available on the internet after two glasses of wine (or no wine, but pure bravado, in which case—I love you). The best ones to do are Kat's from 10 Things I Hate About You and Polonius's famous Hamlet showstopper. You could even perform those two characters as doing the other's dialogue, oh my god, that would rule.
26. Show each other your weird teeth by biting each other (or yourself) gently on the arm, just hard enough to leave indentations, then tell each other the stories behind your dental histories (the origins of certain chips, tales of orthodontia gone wrong, highlighting especially good snaggleteeth, etc.).
27. Decide to only argue shirtless.
28. Claim them on your Instagram Stories, for the first or fourth hundredth time, in a photo they think they look really good in. (This last point is crucial—while you always know they look good, they need to have their personal approach to vanity stroked by this gesture.)
29. If you need material for the last suggestion: Pick out each other's at-home date-night formalwear fits (you can also do this over FaceTime) and take pictures of the two of you looking amazing in them, together or apart.
30. Create a plan for helping people in your community on the front lines, who maybe can't spend time with their partners, or barely have time to do so remotely. What are the necessities or comforts you can extend to them? My fire station needed dog food and treats, which I wasn't expecting. Could you take the non-canned-olive budget and use it to donate supplies together? What causes does your date care about? Can you each pick one and figure out, as a team, how to mutually draw on your individual particular skills and resources to support each? You can. Enjoy each other; extend that feeling of communion outward.
Follow Amy Rose Spiegel on Twitter.
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