Do you have a Zoom boyfriend/girlfriend/partner right now? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Do you have a relationship that started just before lockdown, only to face the stormy seas of isolation? Again, you’re not alone.
This is the reality for many of us right now. For single people in lockdown, online relationships have become the norm. The amount of interviews I’ve done in the last three months on how to make video dinner dates intimate is truly staggering.
Complications are possible
There is a light at the end of this long, lonely, digital tunnel. With lockdown restrictions finally easing up in the US, we may once again feel some thirst-quenching human contact. Of course, this brings with it it’s own set of complications. If your relationships have been mostly (if not exclusively) digital thus far, how can you bring that online relationship into the real world?
Dating and sex experts had a golden rule before this pandemic: when you meet someone online, see them in person within three days to see if there’s a spark. Covid-19 really blew this one out of the water. The rules have completely changed. We’ve been dating on Zoom, FaceTime, and WhatsApp for the last three months. How do we reestablish intimacy now that lockdown may finally be coming to an end?
We’re all feeling socially awkward
It’s important to remember that much like with isolation, we’re all in this together. Everyone is rusty in the socializing department. Smartphones had already compromised our social behaviors only for us to be thrown completely online, without even a modicum of social interaction.
We’re all nervous and freaking out a little bit. “Transitions are notoriously fraught with big emotions, whether it’s moving overseas, starting a new job or getting back out again,” says sex and relationship therapist Cyndi Darnell. “First accept that nerves are normal. Allow them to be there.” This means sitting with them and acknowledging their presence. When you push emotions away, they don’t disappear. They build up and become overhanging dark clouds that will inevitably erupt. Feel your feelings.
Remembering that you’re not the only one feeling awkward is a great first step. If you’re really worried, start by going out with friends rather than on dates right away. Ease yourself back into the social scene. Darnell says it’s important not to overschedule yourself. It’s about taking baby steps back into the world. It’s going to be a little like being an alien on a foreign planet for a bit and that’s just the reality.
Transitioning from online to IRL dating
Acknowledge your discomfort. I can assure you from both a professional and human standpoint that your date will be able to relate. Often, talking about nerves can help to relieve them. We don’t need to compromise our well-being by playing the “cool” person. No one is cool right now. We’re just trying to reassimilate without losing our minds. If things are awkward when you meet up, don’t jump into saying “sorry” over and over again. Just be honest: this is weird.
Next, figure out where that first date is going to be. Pam Shaffer, MFT, a licensed sex therapist, advises that people meet “in a public place if possible so first date ideas could be going on a masked walk or having a picnic at a safe social distance outside. Once you get to know someone and feel comfortable with their level of COVID safety, it’s up to you to decide if you want to be more physical or enter each other’s homes”. Safety first, babes.
Staying safe from Covid when you need human contact
Be sure you and your prospective boo have both been following government guidelines before you meet up. This does take a modicum of trust. You have to trust the other person didn’t expose themselves during lockdown and they have to do the same. “If you have been chatting with several people and things get physical with one person, be responsible and honest with the other people you are talking to as well as anyone else that you have physical contact with, such as housemates or friends,” Shaffer says. The best way to avoid any discomfort is to have an antibody test before you engage in physical contact. This isn’t feasible for most people and that’s OK.
If you and the person you’re going to touch have both been socially distancing, you’re probably fine. If you or your partner are in a vulnerable category (ie: someone who is high-risk), have that discussion and weigh the options before you run wild into meeting up. It’s also crucial to get consent from anyone you’re thinking of hugging or touching.
Building intimacy with an online paramore
It’s no secret that when you build a relationship digitally, you’re likely more emotionally connected than physically connected. Even if you’ve had all the FaceTime sex in the world, it’s not the same as actually touching someone’s body yourself. Now that lockdown is ending, we need to figure out how to build out our physical connections to match those emotional bonds we’ve formed. Again, this can be daunting.
Sex is not something you can be “good” or “bad” at. It isn’t a skill. It’s a co-created experience between two people. It’s deeply human. Communicate openly and honestly. Be ready to make changes and listen without judgement. With a willingness to make it work and enthusiasm, anything is possible and all sex can go from blah to fabulous.
The key is a commitment to keeping it honest and open. Again, remember that this is a strange time for literally everyone. “It may take a moment to adjust to the in-person thing after being online for a while, but the transition can happen pretty quickly. If first meetings don’t meet expectations, maybe try again – and if there’s still no spark the second time, try a third? You get to decide, just like with regular in person dating,” Darnell adds..