Getting up close and personal with someone you barely know is so last year. As states across America are at the beginning stages of reopening, and restaurants and bars slowly start hanging "open" signs on their doors, the person you've been flirting with online may finally ask you out IRL. So, how can you safely go on an in-person date, post-quarantine? Can you go on a socially distant date? Is that even a thing? According to dating experts, it very much can be.
"Some singles are wanting to awaken from their dating hibernation, while others want to take things slow," Carolina Pataky, relationship therapist and co-founder of the Love Discovery Institute, tells Bustle. "The choice is yours, but be aware that all choices carry consequences. Understanding this may provide you some guidance as to when and how you may want to proceed back into the world of dating."
As Erica Spera and Molly DeMellier, hosts of the dating and relationship podcast Shooters Gotta Shoot, tell Bustle, some people might have to be more cautious about meeting up than others. For example, in cities with fewer cases of coronavirus and fewer social distancing restrictions, some people will have no problem going on in-person dates again much sooner. "But in major cities that have been hit hard by the virus, like New York City, levels of comfort are going to vary for each person," Spera and DeMellier say.
So, if you're more comfortable going on virtual dates right now, don't feel pressured to meet someone until you're ready. Even with social distancing restrictions lifted, Julie Krafchick and Yue Xu, dating sociologists and hosts of the Dateable Podcast, recommend sticking to video dates for the first couple of dates anyway. That way, you're only meeting with someone you really want to meet. Why risk your health to meet anyone and everyone?
It never hurts to be careful. If you feel like you're ready to try dating in-person again, but you're still a little hesitant, here's how to go on a socially distant date, according to experts.
Establish Your Rules And Talk About It Before The Date
Before you meet someone in person for the first time, it's a good idea to get on Zoom or FaceTime and talk about your expectations for the date. For instance, Spera and DeMellier say that some people will only be comfortable in places where you're guaranteed to be six feet apart, while others will be comfortable getting physical much sooner.
"In a romantic relationship, physical connection is inevitable," Spera and DeMellier say. "Regardless, these boundaries should be talked about sooner rather than later. It’s all about comfort and being on the same page." Open communication is key to having a successful relationship, after all. Discussing your rules beforehand can put your relationship on a good track.
Limit Physical Interaction When You Greet Each Other
Before the pandemic, you may have given your date a hug, a handshake, or even a kiss on the cheek as a greeting. But now even a simple handshake can seem questionable. So, what do you when you first meet up with someone? That's something you may want to discuss with your date beforehand.
Greeting your date with a smile and a wave can work. If they try to go in for a hug out of habit, subtly remind them that you're practicing social distancing. There's no doubt practicing social distancing on a date will make some things seem awkward and unnatural, but try your best to just go with it for now.
"Your date will understand that you aren’t being rude, and you're just respecting their personal space as COVID-19 is still around," Maria Sullivan, dating expert and VP of Dating.com, tells Bustle. If anything, you can use that initial awkward moment to break the ice.
Pick A Date That You're Both Comfortable With
One of the best ideas for a date during this time is a walk or hike in the park. As matchmaker and dating expert, Susan Trombetti tells Bustle, this is a great date if you're in the early getting-to-know-you stage. You can stay six feet apart as you decide whether or not to "let them further into your space." Other outdoor activities like golf, tennis, and bike riding are also good date options if you're being mindful of social distancing.
Restaurant dates aren't that bad either as many places are limiting the number of people allowed in and are keeping tables six feet apart. However, bars and restaurants do still come with their share of risks. So, according to Trombetti, try picking a spot that has patio dining if you're set on having a lunch or dinner date. If it's really nice out, a better option might be to get your food to go and have a picnic date in the park. That way, there's a lot of space around you, and you can still enjoy a nice meal together while practicing social distancing.
Speak Up About Needing More Space If You're Dining Out
Establish Your Rules And Talk About It Before The Date
In a restaurant, tables may be placed six feet apart. However, a table for two doesn't typically give you a lot of room to practice social distancing. "While we’re all just trying to figure what dining out looks like, expect some challenges," Pataky says. "Remember that your safety and self-care come first."
According to Pataky, these types of situations can be great opportunities to speak up and talk about things that are uncomfortable. "Life will throw a number of obstacles your way, and learning to open up what you’re feeling, wanting, and needing is an essential part of effective communication." If you feel like a table for two is too small, try asking for a table with more space or ask if you can put two smaller tables together.
Ask Questions To Help Determine How Physically Close You Want To Get
It's not a bad idea to ask your date subtle questions about what they did during stay-at-home orders to get an idea of how serious they were about quarantine. For instance, "Did you get a chance to see any friends or family during that time?" or "What did you do on weekends?" According to relationship coach Tia Evagelou, their answers can help you decide how physically close you want to get to them during your date. If they didn't think it was a big deal to go to a crowded beach on Memorial Day weekend, you might want to stay six feet apart.
In addition to asking questions, you can also pay close attention to your date's behaviors to determine how close you want to get. For example, Aleeza Ben Shalom, dating coach and author, tells Bustle, it's important to use masks according to CDC guidelines. If you're going to remove your mask on the date, try to do it when you're at least six feet apart as "we have an obligation to protect those we are physically closest to, including your new date."
Stick To Your Rules On Hugging, Kissing, And Making Physical Contact
While kissing on the first date may not have been a big deal for you back in January, things are obviously different now. One of the biggest things to decide before you go on a date is whether or not kissing is OK. According to Krafchick and Xu, a general rule of thumb is to at least have three to four in-person dates before you put kissing on the table. That way, you've already established a level of trust. "Let your date know that you take this seriously, and most importantly, stick to your rules," Krafchick and Xu say. It's completely up to you to decide what's best. Someone who's worthwhile will respect your boundaries.
Julie Krafchick and Yue Xu, dating sociologists and hosts of the Dateable Podcast
Tia Evagelou, dating and relationship coach
Maria Sullivan, dating expert and VP of Dating.com
Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking
Aleeza Ben Shalom, dating coach and author