The virtual first date keeps people distant, but it also can enable more intimacy. Picture: Flickr.com
The virtual first date keeps people distant, but it also can enable more intimacy. Picture: Flickr.com

The awkward intimacy of virtual first dates

By Lisa Bonos Time of article published Apr 2, 2020

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Washington - Priscilla McGregor-Kerr is about to have a first date while dressed in pajamas. On a Thursday night, the 25-year-old Londoner dabs a bit of concealer under her eyes, fills in her eyebrows and runs a mascara brush through her lashes. She'll put on just a bit of makeup, not a full face, she decides, because her date knows she's "not going or coming from anywhere."

She strives for a quarantine look that says: I'm trying, but not too hard. She adjusts her bedside lamp so that there's a nice glow and pours herself a glass of gin-infused rosé.

When her date arrives, he's drinking the same brand of wine. They spend three hours talking about their personality types (she's an extrovert, he's an introvert), playing a drinking game and sharing their love of the US version of "The Office." It goes so well they decide to meet again the following week, in the same place, where they can't touch or inadvertently spread the coronavirus: FaceTime.

Before the pandemic, online dating sites and apps were pushing for video meetups, but the medium hadn't taken off. Now, out of necessity, video apps are becoming the hot spots for first dates, forcing daters to reinvent norms and endure an entirely new form of awkwardness and miscommunication. Is their WiFi really that spotty, or are they just not that into you?

The virtual first date keeps people distant, but it also can enable more intimacy. You can talk until your battery dies or someone falls asleep. You can see if your date keeps their room messy or makes their bed. It's also a good match for this moment of economic uncertainty: It's cheap and easy. You don't need to impress your date by snagging a reservation to the trendiest restaurant in town. You don't even need to be in the same town. You need only half an outfit.

Dating from a distance also removes the question, "Am I going home with this person?," notes sexuality and relationship educator Logan Levkoff. "I'm hoping that this really is an opportunity for people to think [beyond] the superficial qualities we think are so important."

Dating apps are trying to help the FaceTime-reluctant get comfortable with virtual meetups. When Hinge users open the app, a pop-up notes that 70 percent of members are "down for a digital date." 

Dating from home is even being packaged as entertainment. Fans of the Netflix hit reality show "Love Is Blind" have started their own low-budget spinoffs, trying to match more Camerons with Laurens by pairing up singles and broadcasting snippets of their phone dates on social media. 

"Love Is Quarantine," created by two Brooklyn roommates, is in its second go-round, which features senior daters. "DC Is Blind," a Washington version, launched on Wednesday.

A video chat allows two people to pay attention to one another without the usual distractions at a bar or restaurant: a television blaring overhead, or a bartender who's cuter than your date. But you'll need some privacy. .

Even a virtual date requires some planning. Matchmaker Tammy Shaklee suggests cleaning up the corner where you're going to Zoom or FaceTime and choosing a backdrop that represents your personality. It's a bit like creating a good dating profile. A writer might sit in front of his bookshelf, or a musician might set up with her record collection right behind her.

Whatever you do, don't show up in sweats, which makes you look lazy, Shaklee says. And resist the urge to Skype from bed, which feels like a hookup situation. 

Drink out of a nice glass, not the chipped mug from your university, Shaklee suggests. Add a spritz of perfume or cologne, even though your date can't smell you. "You're hosting your future partner in your space," Shaklee says. "Light a candle, have a fragrance. If you feel it, they will be able to sense it."

The Washington Post

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