When Social Distancing Ends, How Do You Take A Relationship From URL To IRL?

Originally Published: 
side view of african american couple having conversation during date in coffee shop

There's no way around it: First dates are always a little bit awkward. But if you finally meet someone you've been dating online after social distancing ends, you may realize you've forgotten how to be an actual human who goes on actual dates. Instead of hiding behind a screen and thinking up witty remarks, you'll be face-to-face and chatting in real-time. How will you be your charming self without the ability to turn off your camera? And what if the chemistry just isn't there? The transition can definitely be a bit harsh.

"The nature of video calls lend themselves to partial anonymity," Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. While you may have had engaging conversations online, you can't say you truly know someone until you've assessed their vibe. It may feel like you're back at square one, as you relearn each other's rhythms, and figure out how to talk and be together physically.

"There is also the potential for a false sense of security," Klapow says. "The sense that you know the person so well because of all the video interactions and then when you see them — and can’t control the environment — all of this can come rushing in quickly." It can make for an awkward situation, he says, even though you've already "seen" each other 100 times on Zoom. But there are ways to adapt and adjust.


Manage Your Expectations When Meeting For The First Time

When you take the loneliness of self-isolation and mix it with the fear and uncertainty we've all been experiencing during the pandemic, it can mean forming fast and intense relationships online, Elisa Robyn, Ph.D., a relationship expert with a background in psychology, tells Bustle. "We might feel that we are falling in love with the person," she says, "when, in fact, we are just so happy to have a connection."

It's possible you'll realize, once you're face-to-face, that things feel flat or less exciting, Robyn says. You never know how you'll react to someone physically, so be willing to let go of the romantic image in your head, and instead, go with the flow. "The distance can create a sense of romance, [or an overly romantic] interpretation of the person," Robyn says, which could dissipate once you're together.

So, treat your first date as you would any other, and be realistic. Take the pressure off yourselves by keeping the date fun and casual, and focus on getting to know each other even more. Meet up for coffee, go for a walk in the park, and be honest with yourself about how it all feels. If it doesn't work out, that's OK.

Talk Beforehand About Your Boundaries

It's not easy to predict what dating will be like after quarantine. It's possible some people will feel uneasy about meeting up in person, while others will want to dive back into the physical side of things, so don't be afraid to discuss your boundaries before meeting up.

"Your needs and limits for the kind of social activities you feel up for may be different than that of your date," Dr. Kate Balestrieri, a licensed psychologist and sex therapist, tells Bustle. "It is OK if you do not yet feel comfortable with physical or sexual intimacy, or if you are."

Be clear and honest with each other from the start, Balestrieri says, because even though many people will be looking to make up for lost time in the bedroom, discussing consent, boundaries, and intentions are always key to a healthy, satisfying sexual encounter.

Call Out An Awkward Moment

Talking online is often easier than talking in real life because you have time to get creative, all while being in the comfort of your own home. But rest assured, "if you've been maintaining good spontaneous conversation over video chat, you're probably going to do just fine once you do meet in person," Kristen Thomas, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist, tells Bustle.

If things do go awry, however, and you find yourselves sitting silently on a park bench, call it out. Say something like, "Wow, I'm so glad we are meeting in person. I didn't expect to be this nervous after all our video chats, but I'm happy to be here right now with you."

As Thomas says, this will allow you to both take a deep breath, laugh it off, and move past any initial awkwardness.

Keep Getting To Know Each Other

While it may be tempting to talk exclusively about COVID-19 — and you can certainly share your experiences thus far — try not to let it dominate the conversation.

"Talking about this virus is about all people seem to talk about these days," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "While you still want to acknowledge this, use the time together to talk about your interests, hobbies, and values so that it's more than just a COVID-19 briefing."

Chances are you've already talked online about your likes and dislikes, but this is your chance to go deeper. And, as the world starts opening back up, you can even make good on all the plans you daydreamed about while isolating at home.

If you can, take your date to your favorite restaurant or start the initial phase of planning your first trip together, even if it's just a quick weekend "getaway" in your own town. "See if your interests line up," she says, and have fun with the process.

Give Yourselves Time To Adjust

If you really and truly hit it off on Zoom, but feel a bit unsure about each other in person, consider giving it one or two more dates before calling the relationship quits, Klapow says. "The transition from video to in-person will take some time," he says. "The adjustment period may be less than ideal." But the right relationship will continue to feel right, whether you're talking on Zoom or face-to-face.


Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist

Elisa Robyn, Ph.D., relationship expert with a background in psychology

Dr. Kate Balestrieri, licensed psychologist and sex therapist

Kristen Thomas, certified sex coach and clinical sexologist

Lauren Cook, MMFT, clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy

This article was originally published on