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How do I date in the time of Coronavirus?

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The desire for human connection hasn’t waned during the pandemic, and singles, some for the first time, are turning to virtual dating when the usual ways of meeting people have decreased as the pandemic endures.  I have heard many say they think, even after the pandemic, virtual first dates will continue to occur at higher rates than before. This is due to their convenience and, often, their effect on conversations going deeper than the usual surface level. 

For a great overview on the current trends in online dating and recommendations from relationship and health professionals on how to navigate dating during these times, these articles in WebMD Health News and on NPR provide a helpful guide.  

Indeed, online dating platforms report record-breaking use over the last several months.  Match, a popular dating site, reports a 40% increase in people sending messages on the platform, and a busier July than last Valentine’s Day, their typical ‘peak season.’  Messaging on Hinge has reportedly increased 30% and virtual dates on OKCupid have shot up 700%.

It seems many have overcome what they may have worried would be an initial awkwardness of virtual dating, and have found real connections this way.  But how do we recommend they take that next step in making an in-person connection?  As long as you do it safely, doctors and public health experts agree there is no need to discourage dating in-person.  Abraar Karan, MD, an internal medicine and global health doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, was interviewed on the topic and said, “Everything we do has a risk/benefit — it’s totally reasonable to date if the benefits, such as social interaction, outweigh the risks, such as underlying medical conditions. Loneliness can be a big problem too.” 

Health experts suggest talking about COVID-19 precautions before meeting in-person.  Discuss daily routines, including work, errands and social activities, to better understand potential exposure risks.  Beginning with outdoor dates in which social distance is maintained and masks are worn and is the lowest risk.  When considering other activities with higher population density, and especially before choosing to meet indoors, couples can check local transmission rates to make sure these risks still fall within levels acceptable to them.  

Before getting intimate with a date, most experts agree both sides should test or quarantine for 14 days before they meet.  If they decide to continue to date, they may form their own bubble.  Health experts also encourage singles to limit the number of people they date in-person to lessen their risk of exposure.  When it comes to sex, just as you would discuss condoms and safe sex practices, discuss COVID-19 exposure risk beforehand.  If your partner has not quarantined for 14 days, you might opt to avoid kissing and wear a face covering or mask – it is far from perfect, but covering your nose and mouth is a good way to add a layer of protection during sex.  

If you’ve been intimate outside of your bubble, many health departments recommend considering a PCR test within 5-7 days of the interaction, taking precautions interacting with people at risk for severe COVID-19 illness, such as those over age 65 and those with serious medical conditions, for the next 14 days, and to be extra vigilant with face coverings and healthy hand hygiene to lessen risk to others.

Although dating in the era of COVID-19 does present a series of risks, in the NPR article Dr. Karan likens assessing these risks to other risks we take when going to the grocery store or to a testing site – “Meaningful emotional connections are still an essential part of everyday life — and we should keep the rewards and benefits of dating in mind, just as we do with buying food or seeking medical care. I think we should not downplay the importance of human connection because relationships are what help us stay mentally sane through something like this,” he says. 

 Well said, Dr. Karan.

Jennifer Abrams, MD, November 10, 2020