COVID Chronicles: Dating Behind Mask(s)

COVID Chronicles: Dating Behind Mask(s)

They say there are plenty of fish in the sea. There is also a lot of trash in the sea. But every now and then, a beautiful piece of sea glass does wash ashore…

Now we all know that dating in this age is hard. Dating in a large city is harder. Dating in a large city full of people focused on their own ambitions is even harder. Add a pandemic, civil rights movement, employment/financial changes, and endless political and social issues on top of it and you have dating on X-Games mode.

It is only natural that the era of online dating allowed us singles to still be able to “thrive” during the last few months. During B.C. (Before COVID) times, you’d swipe/tap on your dating app and possibly end up with a roster of men/women. Some did it to find the best partner for what they hope can be a lifelong commitment. Some did it to just have fun and enjoy being single. Whatever the reason may be, the modern dating landscape has always been a wild playground. You never fully know what you were getting yourself into and with who, but were somehow always over-equipped with knowledge about that person thanks to the Internet. Situationships often failed to grow into relationships because people were distracted with other social obligations, other work/hobbies, or other potential matches. Not everyone was very honest with who they were seeing and what they were doing, and NOBODY was honest about who they were. The only thing we all had in common was we always believed there is something “better” out there for us.

 How COVID Changed NYC’s Dating Landscape

The dating landscape in New York City has changed a lot from March till now. Before, dating was a basically a 3D chess game. Quarantine changed dating into a simple decision tree. For those in relationships, people took the risk of quarantining with a boo, allowing them to accelerate into a next level of their relationship with no major outside distractions. Unfortunately, quarantine also broke up some couples who realized they truly don’t see a life together whether it was because of living habits or different values (although they’ll probably thank COVID for that later). But for the single ones on the apps, you’ve probably been seeing what I’ve been seeing which is conversations escalating from hello to the following within a few exchanges:

  1. “Btw, I’m only looking for something casual even if it’s virtually carried out.”
  2. “I would love to talk on the phone/meet up 6ft apart and see if we are compatible at all in the long run.”

It seems like a no brainer that the majority of people you meet would fall into one of two options. However, during B.C. times it was nearly impossible to get people’s intent out of them. If you asked, you were met with vague answers for different reasons. Some genuinely didn’t know what they were looking for and hoped to figure it out as they go. Others did not want to scare/lose someone with their answers. So why did it take quarantine for people to realize nobody should be in the business of wasting time, especially others’ time, and be honest with their intentions? Why did it take putting on a mask to take off our masks? 

I think it boils down to physicality. While it’s important to meet in person as unrestricted as possible to get a gauge of physical chemistry and attraction, it often gets in the way of things. I always knew that if I added a physical relationship into a relationship, it would make things difficult especially if the guy wasn’t right for me. We all have gotten ourselves tangled in a situation that needed to end but didn’t because “the sex is just too good!!!” While it didn’t take me very long to realize that the physical aspect of a relationship is rarely ever worth keeping someone who takes away from your life more than he/she contributes, it’s not an easily learned lesson.

Now don’t get me wrong. Physicality is very important in a relationship. You don’t buy a car without test driving it first, or seeing if it even fits in your garage. I’m just stating that it cannot be the strongest or only connection you have with someone you are thinking about pursuing.

So here we are in a position where we can’t meet someone in person and give into desires of the flesh. We have to establish a foundation for the relationship the traditional way (and arguably the right way). This means we can’t lean on flirty moves or sexual acts to secure a place in that person’s life. The idea that you have to talk about yourself to someone to build a relationship seems elementary, but the sad thing is we have become a very carnal society. We often let our physical drives override our headspace and muddle out the important voices. Being restricted by literal distance (many people are temporarily moved out of NYC or back home with their parents) or social distancing forces people who fall under #2 intention to not be distracted by physicality and actually focus on connecting. At the end of the day, two people’s mental and emotional wavelength must match at the same or higher level as their physical wavelength. Otherwise, the relationship is not sustainable. People are finally starting to see that.

On a Personal Note

I spent some time wondering why it took a pandemic to reset expectations of dating. Somewhere in my 103947th hour alone, I realized it’s because people are spending a lot more time with their thoughts, allowing them to understand not just what’s important to them or what they want but also what they truly need in life. In my COVID situationships and conversations, I’ve found that I no longer fantasize or romanticize a guy to this Prince Charming potential (that they probably don’t even know how to reach). Instead, I evaluate if the guy and I have the same or at least similar values. Next, I determine what is reasonable to expect from each new guy I “meet” and what the situation would permit given the world’s state. I simply try to get to know the person and see if they’re someone I’m willing to invest in in the future. If I see any signs that it wouldn’t work out, I walk away.

There’s no point to me just “having fun” as I’m not looking for a pen pal or FWB but a true connection. The last time I decided to give someone (who in the real world didn’t stand a chance) just because he was so “nice” and I was bored in quarantine, the joke was on me; I was the one who got her time wasted doing what I’m going to cruelly call charity work. Not again, Satan. On the flip side, if I click with someone during COVID, there’s no use being angry about distance (and the smaller windows of communication that comes with it) or about inability to move things forward to extenuating circumstances. If someone is worth my time, we’ll chat until the day we can hang out safely. (I know… Not being overdramatic or fantasizing about every guy she meets? Who is she?!) 

Overall, I’m a tad jaded and bitter about dating, probably more than I should be. I’m much more realistic (read: pessimistic) about things and certainly don’t miss my days as a hopeless romantic. But at the end of the day, I still want to find love. So after some serious reflection, I stopped constantly expecting the absolute WORST in guys I talk to because of my past. There comes a point in life where you are more aware of how to reverse your trauma or prevent history from repeating itself. You start learning what you can and cannot tolerate when triggered and aren’t afraid to be very vocal about it. I reached that point somewhere in June, and it allowed me to cut strings more easily, block the people that were draining me, and not make excuses for poor behavior. It has also allowed me to stop romanticizing every person I meet as my Prince Charming. I have faith that the right person will come into my life at the right time. As fun as 3D chess sounds, I don’t want to play anymore. It’s a simple decision tree for me now if I meet anyone: yes or no. And if I can’t figure which way to go, I just wait it out. In times of uncertainty and distress, true colors alway show, which is why we have been seeing what lies behind the masks of those around us. After all, we can only comfortably wear one mask at a time, right? 🌚

And lastly, I know a lot of you wanted a seething exposé on my 2020 men or a hint of who is in the dark corners of my phone log. However, Bianca has decided to let me take the reins on this post, so I’m keeping you in the dark…with me. Let’s just say, some I’ve blocked many, and the rest of the saga is still being written.

*sips tea*

Post COVID Dating

Despite everything that is happening in the world, I hope this is realigning the spine of society to a better postur and form. In terms of dating, I hope the trend of open communication (especially calling and FaceTiming instead of text messaging) and quality conversation continues even past quarantine (if that day ever comes). Most people spend time with others doing activities or being entertained by a third party instead of having solid heartfelt conversations nowadays because socializing has become a way of releasing stress. We forget that lasting interpersonal relationships are maintained through genuine connection and alignment of values, not just proximity or physical chemistry.

If you’re also dating around in NYC during coronatime, please be respectful of the pandemic. There are definitely ways to see someone in person and maskless safely, so if you’re going to do it please take those extra measures. If you’re in a city of high COVID breakouts, please don’t venture out. Trust me, the beautiful sea glass will still be on the shore waiting for you to find it. And if not, the streets are always there! 😜

Until next time, bisou bisou…

Erica Huang
Erica Huang

Based in New York City, Erica Huang is the creator and voice behind Bouge & Rouge. This blog is a playground of her thoughts where she invites you to join her on her journey through her 20s. Erica shares her lifestyle, fashion and beauty tips, adventures, and personal thoughts with the goal of inspiring others to always persevere and be unapologetically yourself.

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