The Case for the Virtual Date

The dating zeitgeist agrees: finding the partner of your dreams means putting yourself out there. In any other year, a salient piece of wisdom for those having tough luck in the dating world would be to broaden your network and, in the process, hone your social skills.

Unfortunately, this isn’t any other year. This is 2020. We’re living amidst a global pandemic where societal responsibility mandates we keep the network broadening to an absolute minimum. What this means for finding romance varies from person to person. Some people have written dating off entirely until this is all over. This is an understandable stance, especially considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs prioritizes (and rightly so) safety before love needs. My goal, however, is to make the case that it is possible to meet both your safety AND love needs in the age of covid-19.

A Quick Word about the Online Dating Mentality:

Having the right mentality in online dating is crucial to putting your best foot forward. A dating app first date has a different objective from a normal one. Matthew Hussey put it best in his 2013 best seller, Get the Guy (a little outdated, but worth a read): “Normally when we meet someone we’re into, we arrange a date with them because there’s chemistry. With online dating, we arrange it to find out if there’s chemistry.”

Because chemistry is not a guarantee, don’t be outcome-oriented. Dating app first dates should be focused on the process. Have fun! Learn about someone new. Hone your dating skills. Think of every date under your belt as practice for the real thing when you’re sitting opposite your dream partner.

In the pursuit of love, rejection is always a possibility, especially in online dating. Not everyone is going to be your cup of tea and vice versa. The sooner you can stop seeing rejection as a personal attack and, instead, an opportunity for growth, the more successful you’ll be!

Cue the Virtual Date

Hear me out before you go into full-on-cringe-mode.

Dating apps, love ’em, or hate ’em, offer a safe and convenient way to meet new people during a global pandemic, which is nothing short of a miracle. Having heard every counter-argument, I’ll do my best to address the most common.

“What’s the point of dating if we’re not gonna meet in person, anyway?”

For the most cautious daters:

Perhaps you or someone you love is immunocompromised. Maybe you’re in an at-risk age group. Regardless of the reason, let’s assume there is no world in which you’re meeting another person until you’ve received an FDA-approved vaccine. Why date?

For starters, the day will come when you want to date again. Pragmatically speaking, virtual dating will keep your romantic skills sharp for when you’re ready to get back in the game. This time is also a unique opportunity to explore connections rooted first in an emotional and intellectual connection. Who knows? By the time you feel safe enough to date, you could already have a few people you can’t wait to meet up with!

For the dater who might be willing to meet up safely:

If you’re open to the idea of meeting in person, think of virtual dating as an opportunity to first cultivate a connection. Once you’ve learned enough about them to feel safe in person — perhaps you’ve both recently tested negative or quarantined for fourteen days — there are judicious in-person dating options. Yes, dating won’t look or feel exactly like it used to, pre-apocalypse. The wining, dining, and late nights dancing at bars will have to wait. Instead, have a pizza picnic in the park or enjoy an afternoon of outdoor bar hopping. I’ve even heard of first dates spent paintballing, which, honestly, sounds like a blast.

“If 93% of communication is nonverbal, aren’t you missing out on a huge chance for chemistry?”

Yes, body language is a HUGE factor in any interaction. Of course, you can’t touch someone over facetime, but you’re not exactly blind either. You can still suss out whether their smile is polite or playful or whether you’re leaning into the camera or crossing your arms, and whether they blush when you tease them or are immune to your charms. Does your text banter translate to verbal conversation? Energy is still very much exchanged on video dates. After thirty minutes or so, you’ll know whether you want to keep exploring that energy or not.

“In-person dates are just so much better.”

While I agree that in-person dates can be better, they aren’t always. Frankly, I think the virtual pre-date policy is genius and something I want to continue even after the pandemic ends. A list of reasons why a virtual first-date is better than an in-person first-date:

  • They’re safe. Virus transmission aside, at no point during this date will you feel at all physically unsafe. This is a huge plus, particularly for women, who are always taking a risk when meeting up with a total stranger.

  • They’re cheap. You could, and likely will, spend zero dollars on a virtual date.

  • They’re comfy. While I recommend putting in a little effort, you could be flirting with someone new from the comfort of your couch with your ugliest sweatpants on. Seriously, when else is that a possibility?!

  • They’re quick. No need to worry about transportation, waiting in line, finding a table, getting the check. You can be in and out of the date in under thirty minutes and ease straight back into watching Schitt’s Creek with your roommate. Talk about convenience.

  • They’re easy to exit. We’ve all been on bad dates. While I advocate for a positive mentality focused on getting to know someone new and practicing your dating skills rather than outcome, some dates are unbearable. It can be tricky to find an excuse to get up and leave in-person, especially if you’re in the middle of a meal an uber ride away from home. Ending virtual dates is as easy as hanging up! More on this below.

How to Make Virtual Dating Fun: Tips & Tricks

Hopefully, by now, you’re at least considering a virtual date. Here are my favorite tips and tricks for making the most of it:

Allow for silent pauses. Just like in-person first dates, there’s always going to be an awkward moment or two. That doesn’t mean it’s going poorly; it just means you’re both on a first date and probably a bit nervous! Getting comfortable with lulls, both virtually and in-person, does wonders for the energy of the date.

Talk about what’s happening TODAY. I find initial connections are better fostered when you talk about what’s going on in your life right now. These topics focus on getting to know who someone is rather than how their resume looks. The family tree and education pedigree can come later. A few examples:

  • Are you planning any creative outdoor trips to make up for all those missed weddings?

  • Are you reading any good books / watching any good shows / listening to any fun podcasts lately?

  • Have you started any quarantine hobbies?

Clean your room. Even if your virtual backdrop is spotless, you never know when a virtual date will turn into a virtual tour. Better safe than sorry. Clean your room.

Prepare a game/activity. If the conversation starts to lull, it’s always a good idea to have a game or activity on-hand. Here are a few examples, which can all be drinking games if you’re both enjoying a beverage:

  • Deal-breaker: You take turns describing a potential partner who is perfect for you in every single way except for one key feature, e.g., their fingers have an ever-present layer of Cheeto dust. Drink if it’s a dealbreaker!

  • Perfect Day: If travel were instantaneous and logistics didn’t matter, how would you spend your ideal day? Where would you go? What activities would you do? Who would you be with? What food would you eat? T