A Step-by-Step Guide to Dating in the Time of COVID

After screening a date with a few virtual hangouts, meeting outdoors while wearing masks is a safe next step.
Image Credit: Sanja Radin/iStock/GettyImages

As if dating wasn't already complicated enough, 2020 threw in a whole new curveball with a pandemic. In addition to trying to find the right app for your romantic goals, singles are now tasked with getting to know someone from a distance and planning dates that are not only intimate and engaging but safe, too.

Though it may take a little more time, investment and planning, it's not impossible to find love in the age of COVID-19.

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Here, we spoke with a psychologist, an infectious disease expert and two matchmakers to better understand the right steps to take to have a stellar date without exposing yourself or others to risk.

​Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Step 1: Ask Your Potential Date These 3 Questions

Once you digitally match with your potential partner, either through apps or a mutual friend, you should go through a series of questions to better understand their current lifestyle. While no one wants to be interrogated, it's worthwhile to weave these questions into your conversation:

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1. What's Your Approach to COVID-19, and How Do You Think Risk Should Be Managed?

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published reasonably straight-forward rules on how to minimize your risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19, not everyone in the country is following them. So before you consider meeting your date in person, ask about their approach toward the virus and how it's been managed so far, Jessica Stern, PhD, clinical psychologist and clinical assistant profess of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

"This can clue you into their philosophical mentality, which may or may not be aligned with yours, and can cue you into information about their perspective or lifestyle that you may want to inquire further about," she says.

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2. Have You Been Practicing Social-Distancing?

If you are someone who has rarely left your home or apartment, save for groceries or a long walk, you probably don't want to date someone who has hopped on a few flights and only wears a mask when required by a store. That's why this question is a necessity.

You'll want this question to open up the conversation to better understand where they've been recently — and more specifically, in the last two weeks — to determine immediate exposure risk, says epidemiologist Rashid Chotani, MD, MPH.

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Should you decide to meet face-to-face, you'll want them to produce a negative COVID test and then quarantine for two weeks, so if he or she isn't willing to do this, it's smarter to cut your losses now.

3. Who Do You Spend Your Time With Currently?

In so-called "normal" dating times, you probably wouldn't probe into who your love interest is hanging with, since hey, you just matched. In uncertain, turbulent times, though, it's worthwhile to understand who they are around, how often, and how large a bubble they are currently part of, says Stern. They may have roommates, they could have adopted a friend "pod" or they could live with at-risk parents you'll need to consider.

Because one of the trickiest truths of COVID-19 is that some asymptomatic people become super-spreaders, you need to know how many people your date is continuously around before you have in-person contact. Especially because 14 percent of the entire population has been infected, and of those, 80 percent didn't demonstrate symptoms, Dr. Chotani says.

Step 2: Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

Before you decide to move things offline with a date, it's vital to do some soul-searching and gut-checking prior to leaving your home.

1. How Do I Feel?

Sniffles? Sore throat? Lack of taste? A fever? If you have any symptoms that could be COVID-19, or you were around someone who tested posted for the virus, you should not go on dates until you know you're fully in the clear, Dr. Chotani says.

And if you currently live under the same roof as someone in a high-risk age group, you may need to find another place to stay if you plan on dating.

As Dr. Chotani puts it, being single has different responsibilities than it did pre-COVID-19, since you are not only protecting yourself but others around you, too.

"You must ask yourself if it is worth the risk for yourself and the other person you are planning to go out with," he says.

2. What Are My Boundaries?

You can't stand by your rules if you don't first define them. And before you decide to meet a stranger during a health crisis, you should have a confident grasp on your comfort level so you can communicate it effectively.

Even if these boundaries shift as the pandemic does, and as you get to know someone new, you should try to establish at least a blueprint.

"While you most definitely do not have to have all firm answers along the way and things may change at any moment or with any person as you continue to assess risk, it is important to have ideas of what is safe for everyone," Stern says.

What does this look like? Maybe it's going on a specific amount of virtual dates before meeting in-person. And then, having several outdoor dates before going indoors. And if things get serious, knowing when you would want exclusivity before removing the physically distant parameter.

"Being thoughtful about your boundaries can reduce the risk for everyone involved and can decrease anxiety and overwhelm of having to navigate this on the fly," Stern says. "Furthermore, it can be helpful to know what you are looking for in dating and how you plan to pursue that safely."

3. Am I Being Honest About My Risk-Tolerance?

Not only do you need to be honest with yourself, but everyone you currently spend time with, too.

While in pre-pandemic times, you likely felt like you didn't owe anyone any information about your dating life, it is helpful and respectful to give others a head's up if you're adding another person to your quarantine pod, Stern says.

"While this may be awkward or seem unnecessary, it can potentially reduce risk and the possibility of tougher conversations down the road," she says.

You should also know your own risk indicators and be mindful of the signs you're pushing yourself too far. Maybe you are comfortable with kissing if you know the other person isn't seeing someone else. Or, you will hold hands, as long as it goes no further than that.

When in doubt, Stern recommends running your risk tolerance by friends and family members so you can talk through it in a safe place.

"The beauty of the virtual date or 'pre-date' is that you can screen the other person to see if they are worth meeting in-person and can also check their COVID-19 philosophy and approaches upfront before meeting them."

Step 3: Plan a Date That’s Both Safe and Intimate

Dating during COVID-19 may look different than during "normal" times, but it can still be fun and intimate.
Image Credit: Yazgi Bayram/iStock/GettyImages

When you decide to branch out and get to know a fellow single on a deeper level, you'll want to create an atmosphere that's not only COVID-safe but intimate. After all, it's not worth the investment if you're both going to sit quietly and not interact in any special way.

Here, some ideas for your planning:

1. Have a 'Pre-Date' Via Zoom or Facetime

By now, you've likely found your groove on Zoom if you've dialed into countless work meetings from your "office." Though it may feel more awkward to go through this routine with a person you're interested in, Stern says it's more important than ever to have a "screener" video date (or three) before deciding to meet in-person.

"The beauty of the virtual date or 'pre-date' is that you can screen the other person to see if they are worth meeting in-person and can also check their COVID-19 philosophy and approaches upfront before meeting them," she says.

And you don't need to sit there with an agenda and a presentation like you would in your professional world. Instead, get creative, Stern recommends. By sending each other takeout, playing a game, doing a virtual wine tasting or another shared activity, you connect on a more sensual level, allowing you a bigger glimpse into their personality and your compatibility.

2. Try to Stay Outdoors for the First Few Dates

Though the colder weather in many parts of the U.S. may make this more of a challenge, it's safest to stay outdoors for the first few dates, Stern says. When you jump to in-person and indoors too quickly, you may both feel uncomfortable for your own health, which stints the romance from growing.

"The trick is to inquire first from the other person what their comfort level is," she says. "Indoor dates may be appropriate after several conversations of boundaries, caution and safety measures have been explored, and assuming both individuals are aligned on their comfort level and have determined they are doing things safely."

By staying virtual or within Mother Nature's safety, you can have these crucial discussions without fearing you'll contract the virus in a busy restaurant or bar.

3. Enjoy an Outdoor Drink or Meal — but Keep Your Mask On

And stay six feet apart. This may feel and seem impossible, but it's doable if both parties are invested in the budding relationship.

When it comes to having an intimate date during COVID, daters don't have to be physical to create closeness, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking Susan Trombetti says. Sitting on two different benches, sipping champagne through a straw in a park will likely cause you to chuckle at the situation, and hopefully, find some common ground.

4. Do Something Active

Speeding up your heart rate through physical activity with a date may make it flutter in other ways.

Trombetti says to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and go ice skating. Not only do you naturally keep a distance, but you'll appreciate wearing a mask to keep your warmth. And though cheesy, it may remind you of happier times or feel-good films.

"It brings to mind romantic moments in movies and just seems so intimate while sipping hot chocolate and enjoying a date," she adds.

If you're not talented on the ice, a hike or nature walk can also help you connect to your date, says licensed marriage and family therapist Hanna Stensby, LMFT.

"Hiking is a wonderful way to have time to talk in a quiet location. You get to have a shared experience in nature and the opportunity to explore each other's interests," she says. "It can also be a way to try something new together if you haven't taken a hike before."

Step 4: Determine if You Can Let Them Into Your Bubble

Once you have had a few socially distanced dates, you may start to explore physical contact with your could-be new boyfriend or girlfriend. Though it's OK to move forward to the next stage of dating, you'll need to take several health precautions before allowing them into your bubble.

1. Make Ground Rules — and Ensure You Agree on Them

First and foremost, Stensby says it's very important to be upfront and transparent about how you're taking precautions to socially distance.

"Make sure you are both on the same page and establish trust. And remember, this does not happen instantly," she says.

Once you have been on enough dates to where you feel comfortable setting expectations, you should talk about what you're both willing to "give up" to allow the relationship to grow. This may mean not seeing certain friends or family members, agreeing to quarantine if you do, and so on.

2. Get Tested

If you're on the same page and have agreed to follow the rules, it's time to get tested, Trombetti says. This simple-yet-vital act can alleviate concerns about the risks of letting a new person into your space.

You'll need to quarantine for 14 days afterward, so you don't expose yourself to any additional people or circumstances that could put you at risk for contracting COVID-19. Once this two-week period is over, you're both feeling healthy and you both have a negative COVID test, you can reunite for some physical intimacy.

3. Listen to Your Gut

There's a reason this dating advice has lasted through generations. We all have a sense of how we feel around someone else. Ask yourself: Do you trust them? Do you believe what they're telling you? Do you believe they will have your best interest at heart?

Stensby says if what they say matches their actions for a period of time, physical contact may feel like a good idea. If it doesn't, let your gut lead.

"It's important to stay within your comfort level, so never push yourself to move faster than you feel comfortable," she says. "If you purely want to do social-distance dating without physical contact, that's absolutely a choice that should be respected."

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.