Navigating the new normal of dating is both complicated and simplistic, says Olivia Adams
Following Boris Johnson’s speech in May, in which he said we are now allowed to meet up with one person outside of our household, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and go on a social distancing date for the first time in more than two months.
Romance moved online months ago, but virtual dating wasn’t an activity I was interested in. However, I can see how being in your own home is a comforting choice and a good way to keep your mental health intact if meeting in real life is currently too anxiety-inducing.
I suggested a park walk (what else?) to a guy I’d been chatting to on a dating app for six weeks. I drove up from my parents’ house, located outside of London, to meet on Hampstead Heath – and planned to drive back after. It was ticking off my exercise for the day, and I can’t lie, I was excited to speak to someone who wasn’t a blood relative.
That said, as I wait at the park entrance (okay, I’m 16 again), I begin to feel apprehensive about spending time with someone new. My world has become so small recently. Like the majority of the population, I’ve barely left the house, and grown accustomed to small rituals of virtual barre classes and uncomplicated conversation with my family. This real life meet up is one of the biggest events of 2020.
Unsurprisingly, it proves difficult to chat while adhering to the two-metre rule, so we sit down on a scratchy blanket he pulls from his backpack and drink from Rubicon Mango cartons. The blanket helpfully connects us while allowing social distancing, but the drinks are risky: most loos in parks are still very much closed, so be sure to not over-hydrate before the date and then be distracted by your bladder. It could be a real mood killer.
Psychologist Rachel Voysey says about 70 per cent of emotional intimacy is about sharing, knowledge and connection. Those things don’t have to be physical. Two hours later, her words rang true: we’d chatted easily and comfortably (wear a cross-legged appropriate outfit) and I was attracted to him (I just had to keep reminding myself that the fact we didn’t touch and kept our distance shouldn’t be interpreted as mild rejection…)
It was the second sober date I’d ever been on (I’m 27, the other was with a gym junkie who was training for a half-marathon), and so I expect to feel virtuous and anxiety-free after we part ways with a polite wave. Instead, I have what can best be described as sober fear: I am riddled with self-doubt. Was my conversation too limited because I’d not done anything of interest for weeks and weeks? Had I been able to show I was interested in him through conversation and facial expressions, rather than human touch?
As I drive home, I realise the date has exposed my true self. I couldn’t hide behind the default date location of a busy, boozy bar or restaurant. There were no distractions and it forced more questions – I recommend planning a couple beforehand – and as I reflect, I actually feel we got to know each other better. I’d also clocked up a tidy 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. Hey, social distant dating might just have some perks after all.