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What it’s like to go on a first date post-lockdown

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEXI LAPHOR

WORDS BY EMMA ANVARI

Mask and all.

The world of online dating can be complicated and overwhelming at the best of times. To absolutely no one’s surprise, these challenges have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

If you’re reading this and live in a state outside of Victoria, or another country entirely, you probably won’t fully understand how completely and utterly bizarre the last few weeks have felt.

After spending 112 days in an all-restricting lockdown, things you’d once never think twice about now feel surreal and almost uncomfortable.

That’s exactly how I’d describe what it felt like to get ready for my first ‘first date’ with a stranger out of lockdown: surreal and almost uncomfortable.

As someone who has always been extroverted (see: feels recharged from being with other people) and is physically quite affectionate, I surprisingly developed what you’d describe as ‘social anxiety’ in lockdown.

Every time I was elected by my household as the designated grocery shopper, I would find myself holding my breath as I walked past people, bringing my arms close to my chest as I tried not to touch them, and walking with great speed just to make it all end faster.

Suddenly seeing people everywhere after more than 100 days of spending 85 per cent of my time alone in my room was overwhelming. I have never experienced such a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Just the mere thought that I had been in multiple mosh pits earlier in the year now seemed absolutely preposterous.

So when my Hinge match asked me out for a bite to eat, it took me a second to process what that would mean. Unlike other people who started dating during lockdown, I had put it off for safety reasons. 

I’ve always been a “whatever happens on a first date happens” type of person, meaning if the vibes are right I’m down for a cheeky pash. But could whatever happen? Just because we’re out of lockdown, that doesn’t mean the pandemic has disappeared. I was conflicted.

I had put off dating in a pandemic for so long and suddenly I was thrust into a world of question marks.

What was this date going to look like? Can I touch them? Do I hug them when I see them or do I need to stand six feet away? Can we kiss? Do I ask them if they’ve been tested for the virus? What if they ask me if I’ve been tested? How will they react when I say I haven’t? Where can we even go? And the big one: how do I look cute in a mask?

On top of all of this, I’ve always been a firm believer that you should not go on a meal-only first date with someone you’ve met online. But guess what we Victorians now have no choice but to do? Have a meal-only first date with people we’ve met online.

You’re probably wondering how it all went.

First of all, the fact you can take your mask off to eat is a huge plus (and is obviously essential if you’re planning on putting food in your mouth). Once the mask is off everything feels somewhat normal, unless you’re particularly paranoid about getting sick, in which case perhaps hold off on dating for a while.

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t occasional silences at brunch that were somewhat awkward and slightly too long. But honestly, this is nothing out of the ordinary for a first date and it’s why my no meal rule exists. Thankfully, my chatterbox brain came to my rescue the few times it was necessary.

Overall, the date went surprisingly well. I hugged him when we met, we later held hands on our post-meal walk in the park and even eventually kissed. Perhaps I’ll be questioning my no meal-only first dates rule in the future.

Despite being a worrisome and stressful affair in the lead-up, the date itself was quite ‘normal’. Not normal as in boring, but normal as in outside of having to wear a mask and occasionally whipping out some hand sanitiser, there was not too much out of the ordinary.

Yes, I would’ve preferred a hands-on activity like mini-golf or bowling or rock climbing. But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and I think we made the best out of a difficult situation.

You’re probably thinking, that’s all well and good, but what happened to your social anxiety? Good question. With each trip I make outside and with each day of double donuts (no new cases, no deaths) I find myself relaxing a little more.

This week, I took public transport for the first time and it was beyond strange. My friend and I looked at each other and agreed that this re-introduced normalcy almost made it feel like 2020 – a year pulled straight from a bad science fiction film – never even happened. But it did, and it’s still going.

112 days is a long time. That’s 2,688 hours, which means Melburnians spent 30 per cent of their year with only four reasons to leave their home.

While other states came out of lockdown and started to live their normal lives, we were still at home. Because of this, I think this general sense of strangeness at being around people will still exist even come Christmastime. 

Would I do it again? If it came to it, yes, I would be willing to go on another first date while this virus is still running rampant across the globe.

It really wasn’t as strange as I thought it would be and so long as you communicate with the other person what you’re comfortable with, it should be fine. That being said, if we started to get spikes in the number of cases in Melbourne, I may just change my mind.

For now, for my fellow stress heads, I’d recommend gauging within yourself what your boundaries are and then biting the bullet. We have spent far too much of this year by ourselves and deserve to get out there and have some fun – mask and all.

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