Now that about half of American adults are fully vaccinated, the traditional in-person first date is returning and many of us are clueless. “How to date” was the most searched phrase in D.C. last week, according to Google. Nationally, searches related to how to date are at a five-year high.
Is the video date still necessary? How do you seem interesting on a first date after being confined to the couch for the past 16 months? Is it okay to ask about someone’s vaccine status?
We spoke with singles and dating experts about how to adapt what we learned from covid dating to the new normal. Here are seven tips for getting back out there.
1. Virtual dates are still a thing. Even though she’s vaccinated and bars are open again, Julia Capeloto, a 39-year-old marketing executive in San Francisco, still insists on video dates before most in-person meetups. It helps her gauge someone’s personality and whether there’s physical attraction. That’s one pandemic habit she’s keeping.
“Before covid, I wasted my time on so many bad first dates,” Capeloto says. Lately, there have been “far fewer bad first dates because I’ve been able to talk to them before.”
2. Be upfront with your date and slow down. Having honest conversations with a potential partner has always been important, but the pandemic made such talks even more essential. Capeloto has noticed that her matches are more upfront about what they are seeking — a relationship, something casual or undecided. She’s found that directness refreshing and hopes it will stick around.
Capeloto says covid dating has also taught her to slow down. “You don’t need to go on two dates in one week with someone new. Take your time, get to know them,” she says. “At the end of the date, think about: Do I want to see this person again or am I just lonely and I want some companionship?”
One of the tricks to finding the right partner is to not rush into a relationship, says Justin Lehmiller, a researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and author of “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.” “People don’t want relationships just for the sake of having them. They want to find the right relationship and the right partner,” Lehmiller says.
3. Find a way to talk about your values. During the pandemic, asking how seriously someone was taking the coronavirus and social distancing rules gave us a shortcut to assess whether our values meshed. Some daters may feel lost without such clear litmus tests.
Alison Wellington, a dating and relationship coach in Brooklyn, suggests making a list of what you’re looking for in partner — no more than six nonnegotiable character traits. “If you don’t have a clear vision as to what you’re looking for in a partner, it’s going to be difficult for you to find it,” Wellington says.
Before a date, think about how to judge if someone has the qualities you’re looking for. If you’re seeking someone family-oriented, for example, Wellington suggests asking your date about their childhood, or how often they see or talk to their family.
And conversations about vaccination status and covid anxiety are still relevant, she says. Even if both parties are vaccinated, Wellington says, it’s still a good idea to ask about what precautions your date still takes against the coronavirus. Basic questions about whether someone prefers indoor or outdoor dining “speak volumes to this person’s ability to be respectful and thoughtful with this person’s boundaries,” she said.
4. Keep the work talk to a minimum. Long before covid, matchmakers often emphasized that dates shouldn’t feel like networking dinners. After all, you’re auditioning someone for the role of romantic lead, not head of marketing. “If you start to go career-y on your dates, you’re friend-zoning. You’re taking the sex out. You want to talk about other things, like travel, hobbies and interests,” Patti Stanger, former host of the Bravo reality show “The Millionaire Matchmaker,” said in an interview. Try asking someone about the last book they read, concert or comedy show they attended — or what kinds of things they do with their friends. That way you can learn about the rest of their life, the part you might be spending with them.
5. Be curious about your date. Logan Ury, the director of relationship science at Hinge, has a motto: “Be interested, not interesting.” A lot of people try to entertain their dates by telling their funniest stories or talking about the cool trips they’ve been on. “But good dates are about connecting with another person, not showing off,” Ury writes in her book “How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love.” Ury suggests being an active listener, which can make somebody feel “interesting, desired and appreciated.”
How do you do that? Aim for “support” responses, Ury said in an interview, rather than returning the focus of the conversation back to you. If your date adopted a puppy during the pandemic, for example, ask why they chose the breed they did, or how the puppy training went — instead of telling them how badly you want a pooch. “By asking those support responses,” Ury says, “that person gets to dig into their own responses and that makes them feel really good in a conversation.”
6. Go ahead and be vulnerable on a first date. The heaviness of the pandemic had a way of stripping away any pretenses, making it harder for people to hide their true selves and easier to be open about their struggles.
This reporter has channeled that vulnerability into post-vaccinated dating. Recently on a first date, I erupted into tears over margaritas and appetizers — emotional spillover from a tough conversation I’d had earlier that day. My date handled it like a champ, moving to a seat closer to me, taking my hand and encouraging me to let it all out. He barely knew me, and yet his response was mature, accepting and understanding. It was as if we had been together for months. By the time we said goodbye, we both knew we wanted see each other again.
Being vulnerable doesn’t have to involve bursting into tears. Try asking your date about their toughest moments or who they leaned on most during the pandemic. People want to find somebody they connect with, and “being vulnerable is the way that you establish intimacy, through reciprocal self-disclosure,” Lehmiller says, adding that such openness “makes it more likely that something is going to arise out of that.”
7. Follow up. Lately, I’ve received some extremely thoughtful post-date messages telling me that it was nice to meet but that we’re not a match. In fact, Hinge’s Ury says the dating app’s users have reported that ghosting appears to be down these days. Writing a kind and respectful text thanking someone for their time, and highlighting one positive thing you gleaned about them, honors the time and energy you both put into meeting up.
Harrison Forman, a 29-year-old comedian and producer in New York, knows how it feels to be ghosted, so if he’s sensing a “friend vibe” after a first date, he politely makes that clear. The dating scene feels more direct these days, Forman says, with a no-loose-ends energy in the air. “You can’t come out of covid and live the same life.”