For a first date, I was a lot less nervous than usual. I was in my workout clothes, water bottle in hand and I’d even left my wallet in the car. There was no awkward physical greeting and no stress about who’d pay for the bill later. Instead of a candlelit dinner, it was a moonlit walk during which we were separated by a 1.5m public health order.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman dating during a pandemic has every single card stacked against her. When the New South Wales Premier put a giant padlock on the state in late March, I was still logging onto my computer at work while logging onto my dating apps. I had been using them on and off though I rarely found anyone intriguing enough to actually meet them. But of course, just when I had started talking to two guys worth getting off the couch and risking an infection for, the whole of Sydney got shut down.
But as they say, love knows no bounds. My first date and I had been messaging for a few weeks, jokingly suggesting we go on a date like “grocery shopping,” until we both felt safe meeting in person. He worked as a geriatrician and I found comfort in the shared burden of going into work and being at risk every day. I still needed liquid courage for the first date so I proposed filling our water bottles with wine.
We strolled along the Bay Run, a 7km run in Sydney’s inner-west, but the conversation was clinical and I found myself regretting organising an activity that didn’t allow for an exit strategy. While I admired the work he did at the hospital, the date felt more like a consultation. He spoke about his fruitless video dates and how this was the most exhilarating thing he had done in a while. As romantic and secluded the setting was, I felt he was a little too stiff and sensible for me. One lap and a heavily discounted Jacob’s Creek Sauvignon Blanc later, I had made up my mind.
We had parked next to each other and as I was preparing to make an exit, he asked if I’d like to continue the date with more drinks back at his place. I was being very selective about who or even if I’d meet anyone for a socially distant date, so I politely turned him down. A candidate had to be someone I could potentially see myself in a relationship with, otherwise it just didn’t seem worth the risk. He seemed unfazed by my response and leant in for a kiss but I leant back and responded with an elbow bump.
I went home deflated as I thought our online chemistry would’ve translated into the real world. But the next day, at work, I found I wasn’t alone in my struggle with iso-dating. My friend Rachel had been making the most of Sydney’s great outdoors at Manly and Circular Quay (all with a drink in hand, of course) but her dates had also been unsuccessful. Like me, she thought there was something about the pandemic that was amplifying her impatience.
“If there’s not a vibe right from the start, he’s not getting a second date,” she said.
On top of that, the fear of being catfished was also exacerbated due to our reduced opportunities to date.
“To be honest, afterwards I felt pretty shitty," she said, describing how she'd gone home early after a recent date. "I just thought these dates are going to be so few and far between and this is who I picked to spend a few hours with?”
She’d also detected a pattern online, categorising men into three types. “There’s the guys keen to keep things 100 percent virtual with never-ending text chat, the guys that want to meet up but actually stick to the rules, and then of course the guys that are out of their minds on heat and cut right to the chase with a dirty message right off the bat.”
Meanwhile, other friends had noticed a rise in the number of people online. My friend Zoe even found her number of likes doubling during lockdown.
“I think it’s because we’re all stuck at home with not a lot to do...people have also realised how lonely lockdown can be without a significant other.”
While she’d tried a walking date (also in gym clothes) to no avail, she’d also enjoyed the option of getting to know people virtually before meeting in person.
“I actually asked a guy if we could call or FaceTime and he said no. I think for some people it might be even more uncomfortable talking on Zoom or FaceTime… I feel like our generation isn’t really great at picking up the phone and talking but I personally love it.”
Another single friend, John, also had a crack at video dates. “I found some women were weird about them, not really comfortable doing it… [but] after a few weeks that changed, I think people warmed up to the new normal.”
But even this ‘new normal’ had its limitations.
“Zoom and Facetime only go so far, they’re a good tool to get to know someone but what do you do after that?”
Some of the apps have even been offering the opportunity to change location settings so you can match with people from around the world, but John hadn't found it helpful: “Why would I want to chat to someone from Lake Titicaca?”
I guess the only upside to all of this was that being locked down had increased my love for Sydney. My second and last date during lockdown was a booze-fuelled evening stroll at Blackwattle Bay, a leafy pocket near Sydney’s Fish Markets that I’d often driven past, but never visited.
We had been messaging and vetting each other for some time, and one of his profile photos was a negative coronavirus test result, so I felt assured he wasn’t a possible transmitter. He picked me up on his motorbike and we rode through the deserted rain-kissed streets of Sydney. He brought the music, I brought the wine (Jacob’s Creek always seems to be on special). We nestled ourselves on either end of a park bench and covered conversations from communist music to working during coronavirus. I was pleasantly surprised by our connection (possibly heightened by the wine and the fact he rode a motorcycle) but it seems three months on, the beer (or rather, corona) goggles haven’t worn off.
We’ve since enjoyed exploring other pockets of Sydney, getting takeout, exercising in parks and now that intra-state travel is back on, even a trip to the south coast. Some of my friends say the crisis has been a relationship accelerator. I’ve observed that many fast forward the courtship period and cohabitate sooner than planned, but for me, it’s been the perfect way to see a person for who they really are, away from all the pretentious protocol you’re normally served at an overrated, and usually overpriced, dinner date. While the coronavirus ensured there was never any need for icebreakers, it brought about a whole raft of other issues. I found myself wading through a dense minefield of corona goggles, corona criticism and the possibility of being coronazoned by those simply after some corona-company.
But, my second rendezvous proved the wise old saying that sometimes you’ve just gotta risk it for the biscuit. Whether elbow bumps were involved, well, a lady doesn’t kiss and tell.