By Michelle Talsma Everson
When you ask partners Dee and Jace how they met, it’s a fun story of a mix of in-person and online shenanigans.
“If you ask me, I'll tell you that Dee stalked me on two different platforms after seeing me perform at Stacy's last February,” Jace shares. “She'd seen me emcee a Three Fates Revue burlesque show the previous December , then actually perform in February , and I'm pretty sure it was the 70s mustache that sealed the deal. She messaged me on Facebook after the show, which I didn't really think anything of as an entertainer; it happens fairly often, then she messaged me on my OKCupid profile. We met up for a little bit on Thursday, March 12  at The Snooty Fox Tattoo to get Friday the 13th tattoos, and our first ‘official’ date was the following evening.”
Dee, of course, lovingly denies “stalking” him and confirms it was not the '70s porn stache. What matters to the happy couple, who both identify as pansexual, is they connected. But, right after their first date, the world shut down as we all sheltered in place due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We'd seen each other in person exactly three times prior to the pandemic, and once the shut-down happened, we both took things like sheltering-in-place and social distancing very seriously,” Jace explains. “We didn't have any in-person dates for the first six months. Neither of us was willing to risk the other's health, no matter how safe we were being. We knew we had to get creative since we knew we couldn't do all the normal things you'd do while dating and getting to know someone.”
“Be creative” is the advice both Dee and Jace give for those who venture out into the dating world during the pandemic.
“As time went on, it became clear that we had to get creative to make things work,” shares Dee. “We texted and did Marco Polo videos every day, but we soon made Monday nights our trashy TV night. We would plan food exchanges or eat the same cuisine on a date night. We sometimes met at an ice cream store and then would eat in our cars and talk on the phone parked near one another. On occasion, we would socially distance grocery shop together. Finally, after many discussions together and with the other people involved in my life, we opened our germ bubbles up at the end of August/early September .”
Now, nearly a year into their relationship, they will see each other in-person but their social bubble still remains small.
“The risks are very high right now and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight,” Dee says. “I recently obtained my first vaccine and will get my second later this month. We have a closed social circle that includes us, my kids, and their dad and his partner and kids. We have only met up with friends a few times for social distanced time together around a fire pit or walking distanced around downtown or a park. We have gone to a couple of restaurants but made sure their patios were open and distanced. We have really only made room to socially distance with people we know are also following similar safety measures.”
Despite the challenges of navigating a relationship during a pandemic, both admit that the strict social guidelines that come with COVID-19 have made them a closer couple.
“Dating during the pandemic, and not hanging out in person for the first six months, essentially forced us to really talk to each other,” Jace explains.
“We spent six months getting to know each other, without any of the cloudiness that potentially comes with jumping right into a physical relationship with someone. We got to really talk about likes, dislikes, boundaries, limits, turn-ons, turn-offs, without the physical stuff contributing to the NRE [new relationship energy] that can occasionally cloud a person's judgment and perceptions.”
“The first part of our relationship was strictly emotional foundation building,” Dee adds. “Although I was extremely physically attracted to him from the beginning, we didn't even have our first kiss until September and only after hanging out quite a few times in person. Talk about pressure! We were both nervous through the distanced dating. I think we both had some safety walls up just in case things were different once we could hang out in person. Luckily, that adjustment was an easy one, and our connection feels stronger because we had such an emotional foundation built before the physical could cloud anything.”
With a year anniversary next month and still going strong, they both advocate for making smart decisions for those who choose to date during the pandemic.
“There are so many things you can do virtually, and responsibly socially distanced,” Jace says. “Don't let up on your safety practices just because it's 2021; the virus is still here, still running rampant, and can still be very dangerous. There are ways to date and get to know someone without putting yourself, your date, families, etc., at risk."
Relationships Experts Weigh In
Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D., goes by “Dr. Gilde” and is a well-known relationship expert. She’s the author of 18 books, and former columnist for the Today Show and Match.com.
“There are two kinds of daters: those who want a lasting relationship and those who want a quick sexual fling,” she says. “The pandemic is making these distinctions more obvious because those people who just wanted a fling now have had to re-think whether deriving momentary pleasure is worth potential long-term effects of the virus. The people who want a long term relationship are now pushed to get to know a love interest before they risk meeting that person face-to-face. We are seeing too many examples of daters who weren’t careful at the beginning of what they thought would be a romance, only to find they became infected by someone they barely knew. So ‘caution’ is the dating word for pandemic love-seeking.”
“Yes, there’s the dark cloud of COVID-19 hovering over us. But we can still keep safe,” she continues. “Even if you only want a fling, before meeting in person, get to know them online for a longer period of time than you have in the past. If you think they don’t take the virus seriously, re-think your next moves.”
With such a focus on COVID-19, she cautions for those who choose to date in-person to remember that STIs and other issues still exist. Also, there are chances for big emotions because of quarantine and isolation.
“Just because COVID-19 is prevalent in our minds, don’t forget the potential risks for sexually transmitted infections,” she says. “Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and other STIs are still rampant. Also, keep in mind that many people have been so starved for human companionship during lockdowns and other precautions, they may utter words suggesting more of a relationship than they really mean or want. Ask plenty of questions about where they’re coming from, who they’ve been socializing with, and how, and then assess whether this is a person you’d like to be with.”
For those who balance multiple partners, such as those in polyamorous or open relationships, the health and safety stakes can be higher. Chris Deaton and Elisha Thompson have been together 13 years and educate the community through nonprofits Loving More and Truly Beloved (TrulyBeloved.com) on polyamorous relationship and kink topics, including STI safety and emotional intelligence. Throughout the pandemic, they have chosen to keep their quarantine bubble small and limited.
“[Dating during the pandemic] is I think is a fine line and everyone needs to make their own decisions based on balancing their social health needs and their medical health needs,” Chris says. “We made the decision not to date or socialize in March 2020 and at this time see no reason to change that policy. I have heard from a lot of others though that have found some comfort in the extended conversations that are now happening online, before any initial physical meeting. This seems to add a new level of communication and intimacy that might have otherwise been rushed.”
“I believe in creating personal COVID-19 boundaries as you should your sexually transmitted infection or disease protocols,” he continues. “Keep all of your partners and quarantine pod informed of any possible changes and get regularly tested. Let those people create their own boundaries based on being fully informed. I know there is some controversy around the analogy, but for me, it works and I plan to follow those guidelines once the world reaches my personal comfort level.”
“I think one of the interesting things that COVID-19 brought to the dating world was a chance to slow down and spend a little extra time communicating with a someone before actually meeting in person,” Elisha adds. “I think this allowed space for actually getting to know someone and seeing if that person could be a good fit before making plans to meet in person which potentially takes away some of the awkwardness that happens on a first date.”
COVID-19 Dating Caution Tips
Dr. Gilda (drgilda.com) suggests these dating tips if you choose to date during the pandemic:
- Converse online first. Let your online conversations last until you feel you are getting to know this person.
- When you decide to meet, be sure it’s in a public space, not an intimate one.
- Note how careful your love interest is in protecting himself and you against the virus.
- If you feel you’d like to take the liaison to the next step, you should both get tested for COVID-19.
- Once you get negative tests, “do what you will,” she says. But keep in mind that there’s a gap between the time someone is tested and the time they see you again. A lot of interactions may have occurred during that period of time, and the person may be exposed to a COVID-19 carrier. So, share your timelines.
- If you choose to become intimate, consider taking STI tests.
- If the person you’re with feels these conditions are too rigorous, you can either walk away or enact your passions anyway. “Is it worth it?” is a question to ask yourself.
Tips from the CDC
When it comes to social interactions outside of your home (like dating), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends approaching any interaction with caution.
• In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
• If you decide to engage in public activities, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions such as hand washing, wearing a mask, and social distancing.
• Keep these items on hand when venturing out: a face mask, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if possible.
To find out professional recommendations for daily activities and interactions, visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at cdc.gov and the Arizona Department of Health Services website at azdhs.gov.