Over the past few months, you’ve become a virtual dating pro — between coming up with creative FaceTime date ideas and tweaking your app profiles to include a few timely references to the current circumstances. Now, as many states have begun reopening in varying capacities, it’s time to get honest with yourself about your comfort level when it comes to meeting up IRL. If you’re not ready to go on dates yet because of the pandemic, that’s completely understandable — and only you can decide when it feels safe for you to start seeing people again. The question is, how can you communicate your stance to your potential dates, especially if they don’t seem to have the same level of caution or concern about hanging out face to face?
There are lots of valid reasons why you might be hesitant to start dating again. Perhaps you’re immunocompromised or immunodeficient, or living with someone who is. Or, you may simply feel like you’re not ready to take that risk given current statistics around the pandemic. TBH, you don’t really need an excuse to avoid going on dates IRL — your health, safety, and well-being should always be a top priority, and if you don’t feel comfortable yet, then that’s all the reason you need to wait it out.
However, if you’re still actively using dating apps or began seeing someone shortly before stay-at-home orders began, you may be faced with a situation in which the object of your affection is ready to meet up before you are. If and when that happens, experts agree it’s important to be totally upfront about how you feel.
“If you're feeling apprehensive about dating, take comfort in knowing you're not the only one,” says Pricilla Martinez, founder of Regroop Online Life Coaching. “Having a conversation beforehand has a dual purpose of easing your mind, but also giving you a lot of insight on the kind of precautions they've been taking. If it doesn't seem like they had measures in place, you may not even be interested in actually seeing them.”
In order to share your position to your dates, Martinez recommends using whatever means of communication feels most comfortable, whether it’s text, Zoom, FaceTime, or a phone call.
“Let them know that given everything happening, you'd like to spend some time just getting to know them before actually meeting up,” she tells Elite Daily. “I think most people would understand wanting to take your time, and if they don’t, it's a huge red flag that they may not have been taking the last few months seriously.”
If your date asks you out on a specific in-person date, you can propose a virtual alternative. For example, if they were hyped up about going to a local bar with outdoor seating for drinks, you can try suggesting that you both re-create one of their signature cocktails at home, and then have a FaceTime sesh from your respective patio/lawn/yard. You can also start drawing up a list of whatever activities you’d like to do together once you both feel comfortable dating in person again. This not only generates some exciting anticipation as you get to know each other (delayed gratification is powerful, fam), but also gives you both something to look forward to down the line.
Pay attention to how your date reacts to your stance — because if they give you pushback by badgering you to meet up in real life or harassing you for not being willing to do so, experts agree that’s a big red flag.
“It's telling of the lack of precautions they probably had the last few months,” explains Martinez. “And if they are pressuring you to meet after you communicate your feelings about it, what does that say about who they are or how they respect your wishes?”
Dating coach Jess McCann adds that people who still seem eager to meet up (even after you’ve communicated your position) are ultimately just thinking about themselves and their own needs/desires rather than yours. If you feel up to doing so, you can try elaborating on where you’re coming from. For example, if you’re immunocompromised or have a live-in family member or roommate who is, McCann says you might share that info with your date to see if that helps them to understand your perspective better. To be very clear, you do not owe anyone any explanations, especially about personal details such as your own health or that of your loved ones. However, if you do feel like you want to give your date another chance, McCann suggests saying, “I understand that you want to meet up, and frankly, I'd love to meet up as well. It sounds like your level of risk is relatively low in this situation, however, mine is different and there would be a lot more complications if I were to contract COVID-19. So as much as I want to meet, I can't right now."
“Often the person who wants to meet up just needs to hear that you would meet up with them if the circumstance were different,” adds the author of Cursed?: Why You Still Don't Have the Relationship You Want and the 5 Cures That Can Transform Your Love Life. “This way they don't take your declining their invitation as a personal rejection.”
Once you are ready to meet up, Martinez recommends taking baby steps by avoiding any activities that involve large groups of people at first. After all, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is still recommending that people avoid crowded places. Immediately jumping back into things by hitting up a museum, restaurant, or bowling alley might feel overwhelming or downright anxiety-inducing. So, consider going for a walk or having a private picnic in a secluded area of a park — both great lower-risk ways to ease back into the dating world.
“There's still a lot of uncertainty, so if you're not ready to date, you don't need to justify that to anyone — including yourself,” says Martinez. “Take your time and start getting social with friends first, and then slowly add more activities and people as you get more comfortable.”
One day, when you finally do decide to meet up with someone face to face, it will be all the more rewarding and romantic because you waited until you were ready. Dating is already nerve-wracking enough, so the last thing you need to do is add more anxiety for yourself by disregarding your own comfort zone. The bottom line? It’s totally OK if you need a little more time before you resume dating IRL again — and anyone worth getting to know will 100% respect your feelings.
Jess McCann, dating coach
Pricilla Martinez, life coach