From dating fails to fiancees, anything is possible with some apps, willpower and willingness to meet halfway
By Gena Mangiaratti
Online dating apps. Masked meet-ups. Walks on the beach in the bitter cold.
This is dating, since the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to maintain physical distance from anyone outside what we have come to think of as our quarantine “bubble.” For those of us who were single when the pandemic started or saw a relationship end in the world of COVID, this bubble consisted of just ourselves, and if we are very lucky, an animal or two or three or four. (Some of us finally adopted our first pet during the pandemic, but that is a separate story.)
I put out a call to people in the New England area to share their pandemic tales with me. Here are some of the gracious responses that detail the challenges — and boons — to dating in our current era.
Not many options for a while
Kelsy Allan, 32, started seeing her significant other just weeks before the lockdown, having met him via the dating app Hinge. Though they were already part of each other’s quarantine bubble, their meet-up options — with her in Guilford and him in Eastern Massachusetts — remained limited.
“My ideal date would be going to a bookstore, or going bowling, but these were not options for a while during COVID,” she said. “Eating in a restaurant was also not an option for a while.”
Instead, they hiked in very cold weather and picnicked in less-than-ideal conditions.
“We were very familiar with all the parks in the halfway point between,” Allan said.
Some of their most memorable outdoor get-togethers included taking his sister snowboarding for the first time, hiking Mount Monadnock (“I got in much better shape from hiking Monadnock many times,” Allan said) and, in its own way, hammocking by a lake in the deep summer.
“We tried to have, like, a nice romantic date with hammocks by the lake in summer, and forgot it was summertime in New England and got eaten alive by mosquitoes, which was memorable, but maybe not in a good way,” she said with a laugh.
Masked at first, then they got closer
Her friend Dawn Worcester, 31, of Cape Cod, said her default first date became a walk on the beach with her dog.
“It would be, like, so cold and windy. You’re just dying to go and sit and have a coffee inside,” she said.
If there was a second date, she and her partner would go to a restaurant, wearing masks when not at the table.
“I think we masked up the first couple of dates,” she recalled. “Once we started to connect in a deeper way and hanging out at each other’s houses, we didn’t.”
She mostly found people through online apps such as Tinder and Bumble, which she said presented challenges.
“I consider myself a really intuitive person, and I found myself not being as intuitive with these online connections,” she said, noting that many people use the online platforms exclusively for validation and hooking up.
There’s an app for that
Alyssa Barton, 31, of the Worcester, Mass., area, has found herself using dating apps less frequently under the constraints of the pandemic.
“I have some family trauma that has shaped my dating life; I tend to have trust issues with men and can be incredibly self-conscious,” she said. “I despise online dating since it appears to be incredibly superficial. In person, I am much more attracted to personality and little quirks, while I feel like online is all physical.”
At one point, she connected with a man who lives about an hour and a half away from her. After chatting for a couple of hours, they began to arrange a date — at which point he asked about getting a hotel room afterward.
“I tried to play it off, and neither agreed or denied the request. The next morning, the day of our date, he completely deleted and blocked me,” she said.
She suspects the individual was either unhappy with her vegetarianism, was simply looking to hook up, or both.
“I feel like people are much more up-front with what they want with the pandemic going on,” she said. “No one wants to waste their time, if they can’t get what they want.”
Worcester, who is friends with Barton and Allan, met her boyfriend in March 2021. When the two went together to get vaccinated against COVID-19, they lightheartedly called it a date — but the day of their first shots ended up being the day of their first kiss.
“We always joke about that,” she said.
From date to fiancee
Mandy McCullock, of Dummerston, said for her and her now-fiancee, whom she met through Hinge shortly after the lockdown began, the initial constraints set by the pandemic suited their own personal boundaries.
“We’re both people that don’t jump into relationships. We don’t go out. We’re not drinkers,” she said. “We were both really serious about looking for somebody and wanting that to be a potentially long-term deal. I think, because of the pandemic, it really did force us to be able to communicate well and use our words.”
She said with a laugh that the first thing that struck her about Bethany, her fiancee, was that she could articulate herself well through writing, taking care to use proper punctuation and grammar. With Bethany in Boston and their options for meeting in-person limited, they found themselves talking everyday.
“It certainly made us realize — we were talking about this not too long ago — about friendships, and people that are really there in your life, because you keep in contact with the really important people. You check in on them and they check in on you,” McCullock, 40, said. “It made a really big difference in who is just facade, and who is just, really, really there.”
They had their first in-person date, a hike in an equidistant state park, about a month after they started talking. They went on several more hikes, and began officially dating some weeks later.
“I really knew that she was it, and some people are like, ‘Oh, it’s really fast,’ and other people are like, ‘You know when you meet that person’ … it’s so true. You just know it’s a really deep connection,” she said.