COVID-19 x Romance Is the Collab We've Been Waiting For
It's Nice to Laugh

COVID-19 x Romance Is the Collab We've Been Waiting For

by Mary Beth Barone

The last several years have been a very specific period in dating culture. In one word? Hell. With apps and social media, we have unbridled access to potential partners all over the world. There has been no rush to settle down, absolutely zero pressure to self-reflect, and seemingly endless options to scroll and swipe through.

Although some aspects have become "easier" as a result, it has largely felt like we've lost the plot. Dating is not fun. Open communication is not really a thing. People aren't being honest with each other or themselves about what they are looking for. Casual hookups feel transactional and emotionless. Courtships go through an entire lifecycle without a shred of romance. It's gotten so bad I created an entire live show, called Drag His Ass, highlighting some of the more outrageous practices.

Enter: a several-month period of forced isolation. We single people are alone with ourselves and without the booty calls, late night Ubers or instant physical gratification.

All of this time to reevaluate what we want and examine our approach to dating is likely going to lead to a vastly different landscape post-COVID. Your fiercely independent friend who brags about loving the single life will be looking for his husband. The rock solid couple in your group of friends will open their relationship. Your parents will get divorced. (Okay, this last one is a joke but maybe call and check-in on them.)

Prior to coronavirus, dating felt like it was a competition to see who could care the least. People were quick to declare they were "too busy" or "not looking for a relationship." God forbid either person "get the wrong idea!" Making an effort? Unimaginable. Under present circumstances, if you want attention and connection you have no choice but to try harder. Social distancing is forcing us to actually have conversations and get to know each other before even meeting in person, let alone having sex of any kind. Connecting emotionally and intellectually before intercourse? Things have taken a turn!

How do you keep a person interested over several months without any physical contact? By putting in an effort. Dates are now happening over video chats, sans the IRL sex to punctuate the experience. Prospective couples have begun watching Netflix shows "together" separately, exchanging playlists and writing letters (shoutout to the US Postal Service we love you). I caught wind of someone in London who met a girl on Hinge and he read her an entire book, one page each night, over WhatsApp. That's right! Boys can read now!

I couldn't help but wonder, will coronavirus save romance?

My friend's experience (we'll call her Haley) seems to point to such a conclusion. Haley started seeing someone a few weeks before the quarantine started. "We've had to get creative with our virtual dates, so we decided to have themed dates," she told me. "One we did was the '90s, where we dressed up in '90s clothes, played our favorite '90s music, and talked about our favorite childhood films. We've also done a sports-themed night, a hat night and a fancy dress-up night. I'm not a good cook and we've even had a date where he teaches me how to make something over Zoom." Okay... I'm crying. She added, "It's really allowed us to get to know each other better without the physical aspect getting in the way. I thought dating virtually would be boring, but it's been a lot more entertaining and creative now."

Who knows? Perhaps these virtual unions will end up like camp friends — people you think of fondly who were with you for a short, very specific phase of your life. Or perhaps you're currently Zoom-dating with "the one." Either way, I hope this new age in dating gets people a little more comfortable with the idea of being sweet to each other. I've regretted sleeping with people, I've regretted agreeing to dates, but I've never regretted showing someone that I care about them.

A few other things I'd encourage you to realize in quarantine:

  1. Life is too short to waste it with people who don't give a shit about you.
  2. You have to figure out what you want before you can communicate it to someone else (and you finally have the time to do it).
  3. Caring is okay. Hell, I'd even encourage it!

...I guess all we needed for dating reform was a global pandemic threatening the entire human race.


I put out an open call on my Instagram for questions related to love, lust and dating during COVID-19. Each week throughout May's It's Nice to Laugh on PAPER, I will pick a few to answer to the best of my ability! My blanket advice to everyone is to find a therapist. That's a great place to start!

"I have a FaceTime first date and need some advice on what to ask and such." – Cutiepie

Hi Cutiepie! I'm so excited for you! Experiencing a first date without any of the pressure to have sex or split the bill... huge. I'd say you can expect the first 10ish minutes will be spent talking about quarantine and how weird it feels to be on a first date on FaceTime. Then, I'd suggest a ban on the words "quarantine," "COVID-19" and "coronavirus" for the rest of the date.

Here are some alternative questions you can discuss:

  • What was the first concert you ever went to?
  • Were you a Barney kid or Sesame Street kid? This is very telling — we are not the same.
  • When you empty a dishwasher, which dish type do you go for first and why?
  • How old were you when you started respecting yourself? (I, personally, was 28)
  • If you could be a teenager in any decade, which would it be?
  • Who's your favorite family member? Don't be coy. We all have one.
  • Where were you on 9/11?
  • What are you looking for like... with dating?

Oh and remember to have fun!

I'm an asshole who broke self-quarantine and met someone from Tinder. Duh, we hooked up. But we've hung out more than once and, of course, now I've caught feelings. I'm trying to play it cool and be chill, whatever, about it. But I can't anymore. What do I dooo? – Whorentine

Whorentine, we are in a pandemic! You'll be lucky if feelings are all you catch!! But also like... good for you. I know we aren't supposed to be meeting up with people. At the same time, I'd probably push my least favorite relative (we all have one) off a cliff for some physical intimacy right now. Anyway, obviously tell the person! You lose nothing by being upfront with someone about how you feel. Worst case, they freak out and disappear, but I firmly believe I'd rather know that early on than months in. Take some time to figure out what you want to say and then set aside time to actually say it.

When we're allowed to go on real dates again, I want to drop the fake "cool girl" persona and stop being so strategic about everything I say in the pursuit of keeping the guy. How do I let myself be myself? – Trying Too Hard Girl

NOW! That's what I call relatable content. Trying Too Hard Girl, you are not alone. In my mid-20s, I noticed this pattern when I was alone with a guy. I would try to constantly shift the focus back to him, ask a lot of questions, and keep my answers short. I was making myself small, which I think was a defense mechanism. If I never showed him my whole self and he rejected me, he would only be rejecting one part of me. It's something I never do in regular social situations. For years, I internalized this behavior.

At 28, I'm only just becoming more comfortable with showing romantic interests who I really am. And the only way to do it is to practice. (Dating women also helps! Because I am more comfortable with women and we are better at having balanced conversations. That's science.) Now, instead of being calculated in every reply and pouring over the subtext of every word, I send the text I actually want to send. I try not to stress myself out about what they might say back and just trust the process. In some cases, I've been disappointed and then I knew that wasn't the right person. It's the ones who surprise you and embrace who you are that you should keep around.

Use this time to begin communicating as your true self over text, DM or FaceTime. As you slowly start this, it will get a lot easier in person. I promise!

Should I try anal? I'm scared, but also intrigued. – Kaya

Okay, maybe this doesn't fall neatly under "How Quarantine Will Reshape Dating," but firmly believe that anal is romantic so it fits the theme and yes you should. Be sure to read up on how to prepare for it — lube, fingers, butt plugs — and find a sexual partner you are totally and completely 100% comfortable with. After that, it's off to get that ass torn up!

Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Barone


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