In a pre-COVID world, it was a pretty simple situation when your first date went in for a goodnight kiss. Either you were into it and locked lips, or you weren't and had to swerve your head like a heavyweight champ avoiding a punch. Add in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, and things get a little more complicated. No matter how cute your date is or how much the sparks are flying, you may not feel safe sharing a smooch. Fortunately, dodging a kiss during a pandemic date doesn't have to be painfully awkward.
It's totally understandable if you don't feel comfortable kissing on dates right now. For one, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention still recommends putting 6 feet of distance between yourself and other people who don’t live in your household — and obviously, that's impossible to do when you're making out. Not only that, but you'd also have to remove your mask to share a kiss, and the CDC maintains that one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from getting the virus is to wear a face covering, particularly when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (such as going in for a kiss). The coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets — and that includes saliva.
With all of that in mind, it makes sense why you might feel uneasy about what to do when your date tries to kiss you. According to experts, navigating this tricky situation is as simple as having a convo before any kissing is likely to happen. That way, you're not stuck actually having to swerve out of the way.
"Clearly express any boundaries you have for your initial meeting — like what you need to feel comfortable when it comes to location, mask-wearing, and keeping a certain distance," says Evin Rose, a dating coach and creator of the workshop Get Unstuck & Onto your Path to the Love you Desire. "This will help you to relax and connect with that person, knowing that you've set up an environment that feels safe for you."
If you're worried that this convo might be off-putting for your date, consider this: Channa Bromley, a relationship coach and CEO of My Love Gurus, says that communicating your boundaries can actually be super attractive when done with grace.
"It says that you value yourself and have the confidence not to compromise oneself in order to gain the approval of another," she explains.
As an added bonus, Rose notes that this conversation can be an excellent opportunity to feel out whether or not you're on the same page when it comes to risk tolerance and cautiousness levels. Not only that, but she adds that it creates a foundation of honest, open communication from the start.
"That conversation will likely make it pretty clear, without needing to state it explicitly (and a bit presumptuously) that you're not down for swapping spit," she says.
As for when to bring this up, there's really no right or wrong time. Experts agree that it's best to have the discussion before your date might be apt to make a move (like when you're saying goodbye), because the potential embarrassment they feel when you unexpectedly shut them down might affect their response. You also don't need to lay out all your boundaries from the moment you first start chatting, either, if that feels weird.
If you find you're connecting in a way that has led to a kiss in the past — say, enjoying intense sustained eye contact — Bromley notes that's a good time to say something along the lines of, "I'm imagining kissing you right now and I really look forward to doing that, but I have some personal boundaries around physical contact to protect both of us due to the pandemic. I'd like to continue getting to know each other and take our time getting physical. How does that sound?"
"It is important your date understands the decision not to kiss is about your comfort zone surrounding the pandemic and not a personal rejection or sign of disinterest," Bromley explains.
Another thing to consider during a pandemic date is your body language.
"If you don't feel safe kissing someone new right now, you likely don't want to be sitting or hanging out in a way where you're all up in each other's faces," says Rose.
That said, don't worry too much about trying to send the right signals with your body. According to Rose, that's only going to lead to overthinking, and getting in your head too much can take you out of the present moment — which is where a connection happens. If you clearly communicate your comfort zone in a verbal discussion, your date should respect your limits without you needing to reinforce them. And by crossing your arms, turning your feet away from them, or otherwise exhibiting a closed posture, you may actually be sending the wrong signal.
"I really wouldn't advise using dismissive body language to cue that you aren't interested in a kiss due to safety concerns," adds Bromley. "Otherwise, your date will regard your body language as simply not interested, period."
Obviously, keeping your mask on for the entirety of the date is one way to avoid the chances that you'd need to dodge a kiss. However, experts don't advise wearing your mask solely for the sake of avoiding a kiss.
"If you feel safest and most comfortable keeping your mask on — do that," says Rose. "But if you're sitting out in the open air, and socially-distanced enough that you feel comfortable without masks on, I wouldn't tell you to keep it on just so you can avoid a brief but potentially awkward moment. Remember: no one can read your mind, and if you want to create opportunities for real connection in your dating life, you need to start communicating bravely and openly from the get-go."
So, if you're thinking about wearing your mask for the whole date, check in with yourself about your motivation for doing so. If it's because you're hanging out indoors or you plan on sitting close to each other, and wearing a face covering makes you feel safer, then by all means keep it on. If you're just doing it to get out of a potentially awkward conversation, then it's time to ask yourself: What am I so afraid will happen if I tell them how I feel? Maybe you're scared that your date will disagree with your precautions, or be turned off by your candid approach. The thing is, though, that you probably don't want to date someone who doesn't take health and safety seriously, and can't respect your comfort levels.
Whether or not you had a convo ahead of time about personal boundaries and physical contact amid the pandemic, there's still a chance that your date might try to kiss you. If that happens, Rose advises keeping your response simple and honest — such as by saying, "Oh, I'm actually not comfortable with kissing at this point, safety-wise."
"If you feel attracted to the person and would look forward to potentially kissing them in the future when you feel safer to do so, you can totally share that in a fun and flirty way," Rose adds. "Otherwise, leave it at that — no apology necessary."
And BTW, if it gets a little awk at any point, try not to stress about it.
"Being able to navigate the awkward moments together in a light-hearted manner says a lot about the connection you two are building," says Bromley.
Hear that? Being transparent about your boundaries, and sticking to your guns even when it's hard, can pay off. Besides, just think about the delayed gratification that will come when you finally do feel safe enjoying a smooch. Good things truly do come to those who wait.
Evin Rose, dating coach
Channa Bromley, relationship coach