It’s happened. The ‘Big 12’. On Monday, England gradually took its first tottering steps towards easing lockdown restrictions, with pub gardens opening up and groups of six allowed to meet outside. Happy days, indeed.
Our social calendars can breathe easily again…but the dating landscape stretches ahead of us, full of questions, queries and outright fears. For so long, Zoom has borne witness to video date after awkward video date; and social distancing has almost single-handedly obliterated physical chemistry from the dating experience (unless you opted to break the rules on a park walk date, which we certainly wouldn’t advise…).
So if you’re wondering how to jump back into dating after a long, bewildering time out of the game: we’ve compiled a few tips on how to navigate this precarious new world we’re all gradually stumbling into.
Take your time — there's no rush
Maybe you’ve had a year off dating (we wouldn’t blame you — dating can be hard, at the best of times), or maybe you’ve refused to let the pandemic come between you and love. Either way, there is absolutely no rush to head straight back out into the dating fray.
On the contrary: there’s plenty of time. The amount of #bestday engagement posts on Instagram, enigmatically accompanied by that sparkling ring emoji, might suggest otherwise (we know: it seems that every couple, everywhere, has got engaged during the pandemic); but there are many, many people not getting engaged, too. Just because lots of your friends are settling down (if, indeed, they are) — that doesn’t mean you need to follow suit at all costs.
"It can be easy to panic when faced with blissfully happy couples..."
We’re not saying that the dating landscape is full of people with the perpetual interior monologue of ‘Must Meet Someone Before I’m 30’ running through their heads — but it can be easy to panic when faced with blissfully happy couples on every corner (of your phone screen). If the pandemic has shown us anything, though, it’s that the old societal rules concerning “where you should be in your life” at a certain age have been shattered into pieces. Take it easy; no one’s putting a timer on anything.
And most importantly: remember it’s supposed to be fun. ‘Getting excited about reclaiming control over your dating life is something that people can relate to, even if it’s a slower start than you imagined,’ says a spokesperson from dating app Bumble. Take your time, and enjoy the fact that you can actually think about dating again. Who’d have thought.
It really is all about ‘self care’ these days...but seriously, be kind to yourself
If (once it’s possible) your date illicitly books a table indoors at a restaurant and you don’t feel comfortable with that, you don’t have to go. If your date is keen to introduce physical contact and you’re worrying about transmitting the virus to your loved ones, you don’t have to go along with it. And if you’re generally feeling under pressure to date but aren’t sure if you particularly want to: you don’t have to do anything.
‘Since vaccinations began in December, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people who have included the word ‘vaccine’ or ‘vaccinated’ in their Bumble profiles, and we know that two in three people are already having the ‘COVID conversation’ before they meet,’ says Bumble.
This ‘COVID conversation’ is important. People will move at different speeds in terms of what they’re comfortable doing, restrictions-wise: and that’s fine. If your date wants to take things to the next level and bring kissing into the mix, then we’re not here to judge — but if you’re concerned about those pesky airborne droplets (or concerned about anything full stop), then express your concerns: and most importantly, don’t feel you have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.
It goes both ways: Be kind to others
Or maybe, you’re ready to dive straight back into the dating world. Maybe you’re ready to meet ‘the one’; or perhaps you’re simply keen to meet new people and have fun.
In which case, we say: that’s great! But the kindness advice extends both ways. You may be ready to plunge straight back into a pre-pandemic dating scene: but don’t assume your date is ready to do anything and everything you want to do. (That’s a pretty general rule, we hasten to add; COVID or no COVID). If you’re keen to meet at a busy restaurant, run it by your date first to check they’re comfortable with the location, COVID wise. If your date says they’d rather go for a walk than sit inside somewhere, don’t push them on it.
"Embody all your gentlemanly qualities..."
Don’t try to force your date to mentally meet you where you are. Instead, try to meet them where they are. Listen to their concerns, and see what you can do to make it easier. If they’re talking about dating, that presumably means they’re keen to actually go on a date; they just might not be quite ready to forget the whole COVID thing just yet. So we’d suggest embodying all your most gentlemanly qualities, and pulling out all the stops to help your date feel as comfortable as possible. It’ll lead to a better date in the end: trust us.
Get creative: now’s the time to indulge your inventive streak
Parks. Parks, parks, parks. Who else is thoroughly sick of parks? They’ve been our trusty friends over the past year, but we’ve certainly all had our fill of parks.
But while we’re still limited to meeting other households outdoors, it can be tricky to find something else to do; given that every pub, restaurant or bar seems to be booked up until about 2024. So why not get creative? Summer’s on the horizon, the days are getting longer and warmer by the second — now’s the time to delve deep into the myriad outdoor activities available, and plan a spectacularly original date.
"It's amazing what penguins can do for dips in conversation..."
Are you and your date animal people? Why not go to the zoo? It’s possible to spend a whole afternoon outside, and it’s amazing what penguins can do for any mortifying dips in conversation. Or how about embracing your sporting side? Mini golf, tennis or even a run are great ways to ensure compatibility (if you can exercise together, that’s a great start) and it’s certainly an improvement on the borderline pathetic “shall we meet at the tube station and see if we can find a bar?”.
Or, if you’re stubbornly set on the park route, go one step up from a walk. Grab your best Fortnum & Mason wicker hamper, and fill it with champagne, strawberries, napkins and an aesthetically pleasing picnic rug. Help your date forget they’re in a park — with Dairy Milk wrappers floating by in the wind and a dodgy smell in the air that may or may not be weed — and help them feel like they’re at Glyndebourne instead. It’ll be the start of a glorious romance: we’re sure of it.