Love in the Time of Social Distancing

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By: Mary Lou Jansen

When even close family members and lifelong friends must stay safely distanced, imagine how a pandemic can play havoc with any plans to date new people and pursue romantic relationships.

Will it be awkward meeting face-to-face for the first time while wearing masks? How do you demonstrate affection when keeping 6 feet apart makes it impossible to hold hands or hug? And where can you meet for the first time if such traditional dating sites as bars, restaurants and movie theaters are off limits?

“Growing Bolder” magazine reached out to Bob Thwaites for advice on how singles can still date despite concerns presented by the coronavirus. Thwaites chronicled his own awkward moments, dating faux pas and humorous encounters experienced years ago when he was middle-aged, recently divorced and ready to re-enter the dating pool. Even without the complications of COVID-19, he faced unknowns for which he was unprepared.

“I was married for more than 25 years and then thrust into this new world. There was no social media, texting or emailing,” he recalled of his previous courtships. “I had to jump into a new culture and make up for having my head in the sand.”

Newly single, it was time to toss out the married jeans, turn to online dating sites for initial introductions and discover why it’s better to reserve restaurant Groupons for dinners with friends and family, but not first dates.

The father of three eventually became adept at writing and responding to personal profiles posted on websites, but he didn’t quite find Ms. Right — at least not then. But he did compile enough anecdotes to write a book about his quest that was published under the pen name, Robert James. That collection of missteps made and lessons learned was titled, “Next! The Search for My Last First Date.”

Thwaites fondly recalls when successfully unhooking a bra was a big deal and condoms were the key to safe sex. “Now you don’t meet someone without wearing a mask,” he noted. Never mind about the bra when there are masks blocking the way for lips to lock for that always anticipated first kiss.

“Today, taking her mask off is the new first base. You can’t get through to someone’s lips with masks on. Hopefully, when the time is right for that first-kiss moment, you have already reached that point. If that mask is still on, it’s not going to happen. You are barking up the wrong tree,” he added.

Kiss or no kiss, reaching a mutual decision to unmask can mark a major milestone in terms of establishing effective communication and mutual trust.

“Part of getting to know someone is being able to see how they react to what you are saying,” Thwaites said. “Not being able to read their face and see their reactions can lead to misunderstandings. You need to have that conversation about ‘I will show you mine if you show me yours’ as soon as you are comfortable. Hopefully, especially, before that first date.”’

Meeting in a noisy bar may not even be an option; but it may also be a bad choice, because conversations muffled by mouth coverings can be almost unintelligible. Instead, consider picnics, parks or activities you can enjoy together, he suggested.

Today, Thwaites lives in Punta Gorda, Florida, and enjoys being in a committed relationship but still acknowledges that looking for love while looking out for COVID-19 eliminates some of the spontaneity associated with dating.

“We’re still looking for companionship, love or someone to share our lives with,” he said. “But now, we have to maintain some level of social distancing. Holding hands, touching someone’s arm or shoulder or showing any signs of affection are hard to do from 6 feet apart.

Nothing says, ‘I am interested,’ like reaching out to hold hands — if I have to put a glove on first. But relationships are not meant to be sterile. Affection and intimacy are contact sports that don’t happen in a bubble. Part of dating is taking risks by putting yourself out there, personally, emotionally and, with COVID-19, even physically.”

While having a thermometer handy to check each other’s temperatures is probably not the most romantic message to send, couples can still create boundaries and take their relationship to the next level when each one is ready.

“It’s really about respecting each other’s personal space,” Thwaites said. “COVID-19 doesn’t mean you have to give up dating or relationships. You just have to be smarter about them. Just take precautions and make wise decisions.”

To learn more, please visit www.robertthwaitesauthor.com

This article originally appeared in Growing Bolder Magazine. For more great stories like this, subscribe to the digital or print editions of Growing Bolder Magazine. All past issues of GB Magazine, including the one that features this article, are also available for our members. Find out how to become a member!

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