Looking for love? Singles share tips for first dates while social distancing

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L. isn’t the biggest fan of online dating. A burlesque performer who hosts cocktail events, the 31-year-old Orlando resident had some negative experiences when she tried it several years ago and stuck to making connections in person. “I assumed I would meet someone through my events,” said L. (Like several people who were interviewed for this story, she asked not to use her full name.)

Then March rolled around and all of L.’s planned social engagements dried up. Looking to make a new connection, L. jumped onto dating app Hinge. And like many other singles have been saying about the world of internet matching in the time of coronavirus-mandated lockdowns, she discovered something. “It’s gotten better,” said L.

In a way, says dating expert Michelle Valentine, it’s more like dating before the internet. “It’s forcing people to go back to old-fashioned dating,” said the Tampa-based matchmaker.

Valentine is the author of “How to Find Love Online,” and has been hosting her advice show, “Michelle Valentine TV,” for 20 years. “I was talking about online love before online love even existed,” she said. “You would have to talk to that person on the phone. There was no texting. You couldn’t send pictures.”

Without the ability to make a physical connection (at least not without breaking social distancing rules), many singles are finding not only is the online dating pool more patient than in the past, but it’s also getting bigger. “There is a much larger presence on online dating, especially the gay specific apps,” said Stephen Jennings of Sorrento.

“People have to have more of a human connection,” said Valentine.

But then the question arises, what do you do once you’ve made that connection? This is where some creativity comes in.

“My first date (after the outbreak) was a morning date,” said S. of Windermere. Having only returned to the dating scene after a separation in October, S. actually met her first match out for coffee. Well, sorta. “We had to go through the drive-thru individually and get our coffee and then we parked in our separate cars and watched the sunrise.”

S., 49, said the date was nice though it didn’t work out with the guy. But as more and more restrictions were put in place, she didn’t even feel comfortable with that level of going out. “This is the new normal,” she said. “We all have to get used to this.”

Valentine recommends keeping dates virtual. Once you have had a couple online or phone chats, you need to set up a video date. “Schedule it the same way you would a regular date,” she said. “We need things to look forward to.”

Valentine notes a number of apps and online services that work for virtual meetups, including Zoom, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts and Skype. “There’s lots of technology for this now.”

When L. clicked with someone, they finally “met” on Discord, an online community often used for gaming. “We watched a movie and then we played ‘The Sims,’” she said. They had split screens that showed both the other person’s screen and their face. “I noticed out of the corner of my eye as we were watching the movie and the game he was watching me. It was very cute.”

Valentine says to treat the date like you would any other. “Get dressed up exactly as if you were going on a date,” she said. “And not just from the waist up.”

Another tip, use the background to showcase yourself. “If you’re an avid reader, sit in front of your bookcase,” she said. “Maybe put up some flowers.”

Valentine’s strongest advice, though, is about your attitude. “Don’t take it too serious,” she said. “This is not the time for grilling. It should be lighthearted and fun. Don’t use them as your therapist.”

Ultimately, Valentine along with many of the singles looking for love see some positives to this distance. “Take the potential relationship slowly,” she said. “Time is on your side.”

And don’t stop dating, Valentine said. Keep making connections. “That way, when this is over, you’ll have a whole list of people,” she said.

That’s how it’s working out for Jennings, who has been in regular conversation with four matches. “People are upping their game,” he said. “It’s raising the bar for all social interaction. It will be interesting to me to see if the bar falls back down.”


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