How Does It Feel to Be Dating Again?

Even in the best of times, dating can be a nerve-racking experience. The isolation brought on by the coronavirus has left many singles even more apprehensive (and simultaneously, perhaps, more eager).

Logan Ury, the director of relationship science for the dating app Hinge, calls the phenomenon F.O.D.A., or fear of dating again. “People are worried about their rusty social skills, not having anything to talk about,” she said.

Ms. Ury, who also ran Google’s behavioral science team, also notes singles who suffered from loneliness during lockdown are now prioritizing dating over their career, family, and friends after realizing that their jobs were not keeping them warm at night.

But, she says, the break from dating wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It puts everyone on the same playing field, she said, and resets intentions.

“Instead of feeling bad about rusty dating skills, or the fact that you don’t feel ready to get back out there, I would suggest starting by understanding that this is very normal and a lot of people are going through this,” Ms. Ury said.

She suggests mentioning these feelings at the beginning of a date to start from a place of vulnerability and connection.

Though some may be tired of screens, continuing to do a first date by video may also relieve some anxiety. “Video dates are this low-pressure vibe check,” Ms. Ury said. “It’s a chance to say, ‘Do we have chemistry? Do I enjoy speaking to you? Is there something about you that I’m curious about?’ So instead of all the time and money spent on expensive cocktails, and the long commute to the date, video dating is a really great step in between matching on the app and meeting up in person.”

Jake Bunger, a 27-year-old self-employed talent booker in New York City, has been using FaceTime to alleviate his anxiety about dating since taking a break for 14 months. The video meetings give him a better idea of whether he and his date are a good match, he says, fostering a connection without a lot of effort.

But now that most pandemic restrictions have lifted in New York City, Mr. Bunger has put video dating aside, and recently connected with someone in person. “We had two FaceTime dates and both just felt like it was time to meet up since we are both vaccinated and our favorite bars have indoor seating again,” Mr. Bunger said.

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He recalls himself feeling anxious to meet face to face after not going on an in-person date for more than a year, but luckily his match was in the same situation. “The date went super well and I think a lot of that has to do with us both not having dated someone in-person the entire pandemic,” he said. “We were super honest off the bat and told each other we might be a little socially awkward.” They arranged a second date. As for physical intimacy, Mr. Bunger isn’t holding back, so long as his partner is also vaccinated.

Alessandra Conti, a founder of Matchmakers In The City, a matchmaking service based in Beverly Hills, Calif., recommends that her clients not spend too much time on video dates. She and others compare dating to a skill set, or more so a muscle, that has to be consistently exercised in order to maintain.

While many of her clients have forgotten “how to do the whole dating thing,” Ms. Conti said, a pause from dating has also resulted in an unforeseen fresh start. “It strips people of their learned habits that clearly have been ineffective up until now,” she said. “Everyone has a clean slate and can reflect on what wasn’t working in regards to their dating habits, prepandemic. A lot of people are setting new, clear intentions.”

With so much time allowed to self-reflect and sit with oneself, many people are becoming more thoughtful about who they are, what kind of relationship they want to be in and what they’re looking for in a partner.

Even if it’s technically allowed, not everyone is rushing toward indoor dining. Mr. Bunger, who added the fact that he is fully vaccinated to his dating app bios, says he has also benefited from specifying that he is still open to meet in outdoor settings, like a park or garden. Despite the social anxiety he has developed over the last year, he noted that choosing active, rather than intimate settings, can ease some of the apprehension of dating and create “a more chill environment.”

Chanelle Gibson, a 26-year-old screenwriter in Atlanta, took a break from dating during the early months of the pandemic because of her preference for meeting people organically, rather than through dating apps. It wasn’t until October that Ms. Gibson officially rejoined the dating market after meeting up with someone from Instagram.

Months later, the experience is still anxiety-inducing for Ms. Gibson, who notes that venturing out into the world at all was already a stressful experience because of the pandemic. “Trying to find safe things to do and new ways to really connect was difficult,” she said. “I felt like all the people I was meeting were just seeking to talk to and meet any and everybody on a surface level instead of trying to really get to know me in a serious way.”

With fresh social anxieties and new ways to judge potential partners, Ms. Gibson’s mind-set around dating has changed a bit. “I think more people are asking themselves, ‘Could I quarantine with this person for months?’” she said. “Or, ‘How does this person handle emergencies?’ Now that we all saw so many relationships come together or crumble during quarantine, there are more questions to consider when you’re getting to know someone.”

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