What to know when you decide to take things off of FaceTime.

By Korin Miller
July 13, 2020
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Dating can be nerve wracking under even the best of circumstances—but dating in the age of COVID-19 comes with some pretty serious and important questions about safety and comfort levels.

Whether you've been with someone for a while but don't live together, or are interested in meeting someone for the first time, there are certain precautions you need to take while dating during the coronavirus pandemic. Throw changing local regulations into the mix—and, of course, your own anxious feelings about coronavirus—and it can be seriously confusing whether it’s OK to put yourself out there.

So how can you get your dating needs met while making sure you’re still doing your best to lower your COVID-19 risk? Here’s what you need to know—including how to stay safe if you do decide to schedule a meet-up.

So, is it safe to date during COVID-19?

Here’s the thing: Short of staying holed up in your home 24/7, nothing you do right now is going to be zero risk. The same is true for dating, although it’s definitely a little riskier than, say, going for a walk in your neighborhood with a mask on. “People are going on dates during the pandemic and there’s never going to be a way to get the risk down to zero,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Health. “There’s definitely going to be risk involved unless you stay six feet apart, and I don’t know how fun of a date that will be.”

You probably have this memorized by now, but it never hurts to recap: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding close contact with people who don’t live in your home to try to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. And, when you have to be around others, the CDC says it’s important to cover your nose and mouth with a mask.

That’s kinda the opposite of what you’re going for with dating. “In general, most dating activities are incompatible with social distancing,” Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Health. Certain situations, like going to each other’s homes, dining out at a restaurant, hitting up a bar, and doing pretty much anything indoors are never going to be as safe as, say, having a picnic outside with masks on, Dr. Watkins says. And, of course, getting intimate is definitely a high risk activity.

Before you freak out, keep in mind that thinking about risk and dating isn’t a new thing, given that there’s always been a risk of contracting an STI, a cold, the flu, and a slew of other infectious diseases from the people you date, William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Health. It’s just that the stakes are a bit higher with COVID-19.

How to date safely in the age of COVID:

Your safest options right now are dates via video chat or phone call, Dr. Watkins says. But, sometimes that's not quite enough to truly get to know someone. And while dating in person isn't necessarily the safest thing to do these days, that doesn’t mean you can’t be as safe as possible—or at least lower your risk levels—when you do it.

Figure out your comfort level upfront.

No matter what your dating situation or relationship status, it’s important to make sure the person you’re seeing is on the same page as you. “You ought to have a conversation about this,” Dr. Schaffner says. “If you’ve been really careful, you’d probably like to date someone who has also been careful.” Even if you’re in a relationship, you want to make sure you and your partner are on the same wavelength about safety and risk tolerance. “You should make it known what your risk tolerance is,” Dr. Adalja says. “Some people are more risk tolerant and will have no difference in how they behave; Others are not very risk tolerant and will make a lot of changes. It’s going to be different for every person.”

Get tested.

Testing for COVID-19 can only get you so far, given that you can take a test and be infected while you’re waiting for your results. But it can help offer some peace of mind, Dr. Schaffner says. “You should consider testing, but remember the limitations of a test,” he says. “If you’ve been out and about, having a test—even if it turns out negative today—might not predict what will happen the next day.”

Hash out where you feel OK dating.

All the usual dating spots like bars and restaurants aren’t the safest places to go these days. If you can, take your date outside. “Being outside is less hazardous than being inside,” Dr. Schaffner says. Even sitting outside at a restaurant is better than eating indoors, he says. If you’ve been with someone for a while but you’re not in the same household, it may actually be safer to keep things to your homes, given that you’re going to be swapping spit and more. But, again, you have to figure out what you both feel comfortable doing.

Consider a virtual first date.

Yeah, it’s unconventional, but doing a Zoom or FaceTime chat to get to know each other first isn’t a terrible idea right now, Dr. Watkins says. If nothing else, it will help you both suss out if you’re into each other in a low-risk setting before you decide to step up to an in-person date, he says.

Keep it one-on-one.

“Avoid going out in groups,” Dr. Watkins says. “One-on-one [dates are] less risky in terms of COVID-19 transmission.” Keep in mind, though, that you don’t know if the other person is infected and doesn’t have symptoms “which means they can still pass the virus to you,” he says.

Take it slow.

If you’re already in a serious relationship, this doesn’t really apply. But if you’re seeing someone new, there’s really no reason to rush this, licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?, tells Health. “Once upon a time, courtship was patient—letters through the mail, courting visits on front porches, chaste kisses after many dates,” she says. “Maybe it's back-to-basics time.”

Don’t neglect your own emotional needs.

It’s normal to feel lonely right now—especially if you’re single. “For people who want to meet people, enjoy meeting people, and want to find a partner, the pandemic is a mess,” Durvasula says. “Loneliness may be a trigger for people with existing mental health issues, and loneliness can also result in negative mood states.”

If you’re really, really ready to date, Durvasula recommends keeping in mind that there are options, even if you’re both super risk-averse. “Walks with masks, picnics outside…committing to quarantines and then coming together,” she says. “As this thing drags on, people are making tactical calculations on mental health versus COVID risk and I get it. So, if people can find a sweet spot of not being foolhardy and finding workarounds to meet someone new, we may see some very special love stories come out of this pandemic.”

Ultimately, it’s so crucial to talk this out with the person you’re dating to figure out if you’re on the same page. “It’s going to be different for every person,” Dr. Adalja says.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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