After A Year Of Being Antisocial, Real-Life Dating Seems Impossible
There’s never really been a time when heading out on a first date wasn’t completely nerve-wracking; an ordeal that can sometimes feel about as fun as a job interview.
Of course, unlike a job interview, the person sat across the table from you isn’t scanning your CV for gaps or spelling errors, prodding you about where you want to be in five years’ time when you’re not even sure what you want for tea that night.
No, with a first date, it’s far worse. Your personality is the CV, laid out awkwardly for scrutiny, eked out with small talk and clumsy scrambles for common ground, and scraps of connection. You can’t tell yourself it’s not personal, because it is. Excruciatingly so.
I’m an unfixable nerd who is completely at a loss when it comes to channelling the easy, swishy-haired charm of my more obviously attractive mates. A lazy eye stops me batting my eyelashes winningly, and I will always – without fail – find a smear of lipstick on my front teeth during a dash to the loo.
But after a few drinks or a successful grab at a mutual interest, I can be reasonably funny and chatty, with a few daft stories up my sleeve to help loosen things up a bit. Maybe, dare I say, I can even be low-key fanciable.
And so prior to the pandemic I was doing okay, sometimes even finding myself exuding more confidence than the person firing nervous, gaze-dodging questions at me from across the drinks tray. I’d even – miracle of miracles – finally managed to rid myself of that nervous first date knee tremble.
After a good couple of years of being single, I had begun to pick up on the nuances of the dating language. How to subtly show you like someone while carefully gauging their interest in you. How to wear a top that won’t make it too obvious when you spill pasta sauce down the front. And so on.
But now I – and many, many other single people – have been rattling about at home for more than a year, and I have to admit that my interactions with the outside world have become curiously flat.
I’ve never exactly been the life and soul of the party, but now the majority of my conversations are held during Zoom calls or WhatsApp and generally revolve around what we can and can’t do during the pandemic.
I’ve come to realise that I’ve become quite boring; gossip replaced by updates about my new air fryer or my taking up of daily runs. It’s been a year completely sapped of the juice and funny bits needed to lubricate silly, giggly all-night conversations.
In fact, I’m worried – after years of trying to build myself up as a confident, sociable woman-about-town – that I’ve lost the knack of socialising, and will end up forgetting how to order a drink or queue correctly. Most of all, I fear I’ve lost my already-limited powers of seduction.
Of course, I’m not alone with my quiet fears that I will ended up forgetting where my arms are supposed to go when I reach to hug a prospective love interest, or that I’ll end up panic-ordering a Bloody Mary with whipped cream or something equally bonkers.
According to dating app Badoo, FOMU (the Fear Of Meeting Up) is currently very prominent among single people, who are now looking beyond the lifting of lockdown restrictions and are tentatively beginning to warm up their flirting muscles for the summer ahead.
An apparent 77% of those currently pursuing online dating feel anxious about heading out on a face-to-face date, while 78% feel as if they’ve forgotten how to date IRL due to lockdown. And I completely get it.
A separate study from dating site eHarmony found that 22% of single 18-34 years old are experiencing FODA (Fear of Dating Again) after months in lockdown. Furthermore, 49% are fearful of post-April 12 dating due to a perceived loss of social skills, while 23% are worried they will still catch Covid-19.
UNILAD spoke with Martin MacDonald, CEO of Martin MacDonald Nutrition, who has been single for three years now after splitting up with his wife of eight years.
Prior to the pandemic, the single dad was able to connect with people through social media as well as at his speaking events, spaces which he found helped provide, ‘a totally non-pressurised environment’.
According to Martin, who wasn’t keen on the idea of Zoom dates, the pandemic has now gone on so long that things have ‘wax and waned’ in regards to how he personally feels about dating and relationships:
I’ve gone through periods of wanting to settle down a little more, then the idea of being able to just be socialise again makes me not want to date – it’s all a bit up in the air!
Although Martin is ‘very excited to be able to socialise and talk to people in real life’, he does have some reservations:
I guess the biggest reservation coming out of lockdown and returning to dating in real life post-lockdown is that everyone is going to be so busy doing all the things they haven’t been able to do for a year, including seeing family, seeing friends, travelling etc.
It’s probably a silly concern as there will be others in my situation, but it’s crossed my mind more than once that my life won’t change much having to run a business and look after two children. My free time to date in real life and the ability to be flexible to go out on dates is limited, so I will be ‘left out’.
Although many of us might be getting the beginnings of sweaty palms right about now, it’s clear there is a massive appetite for a summer of post-lockdown love, with almost 9-in-10 (86%) OkCupid respondents revealing they’re looking forward to getting back to dates IRL. So how do we prepare?
Michael Kaye, senior PR manager and dating expert at OkCupid, told UNILAD:
After months of being cooped up and dating virtually, ‘getting back out there’ and going on dates IRL may seem like a daunting prospect for many. We know the transition from simply chatting via text to an actual date can seem scary, with questions like ‘what should I wear?’ and ‘what do I talk about?’ running through our minds.
The good news is, dating is meant to be enjoyable and even when socially distancing, there are ways to keep the fun alive. And soon…a pub beer garden will even be an option for an IRL date!
Although Michael concedes that ‘socially distant dating might feel a little awkward to start with’, he added that this is ‘no different from the feelings we experience on many first dates’, with nerves being perfectly normal and natural.
Michael has advised having a chat with a mate or family member prior to a date as a way of putting your mind at ease, remarking:
They’re bound to give you some good advice and calm your nerves. No doubt they’ll be waiting patiently for a post-date debrief too!
We find that the most successful relationships are between people who share compatible views on topics that are important to them. Do you share the same passion for the environment? Are you both sports fans?
Are you a secret whizz in the kitchen? Getting to know each other’s passions before the date can give you the perfect excuse to bond over your favourite things together.
UNILAD also spoke with dating expert and podcaster Amy Ferris from the dating agency Love Generator Matchmaking. As a professional matchmaker, it’s Amy’s job to hook people on potential dates and ‘wait for the magic to happen’.
Offering a few helpful tips for those looking to get back out in the world of dating, Amy advised:
Take it at your own pace you are under no pressure to go on loads of dates and if someone makes you feel like you are you need to address that. Enjoy being allowed to go out! Plan fun dates where you can get to know each other and enjoy each others company.
Going on loads of dates may be fun but if you are serious about finding a partner choose maybe three people to date at anyone time. It depends on how serious you are about finding a relationship, or just going out and enjoying your self.
Addressing that all important first date, where a good first impression is key, Amy advised:
I think a fun or relaxed date is the best. Sometimes going out for dinner can be a bit full-on for a first date. Doing an interactive date is good if you really like the person and you are planning the date. Ask what they like to see if you can surprise them with a date they would really enjoy.
Of course, for those who are now looking for someone special in their lives to settle down with and start working towards big life goals, the pandemic has put a pretty big spanner in the works.
However, Amy said there are some silver linings to be found:
The positives are that now people are getting to know each other more instead of rushing into a relationship which is great as hopefully, it means you will be more compatible and suitable for each other.
Also after a year of isolation or little face to face contact more people now want to find a committed relationship.
Speaking personally, the knowledge that we’re all in this together does calm my nerves to some extent. Nobody had escaped these past 12 months unscathed, and we’re all going to be blinking a little bit as we head back out into the blinding light of the ‘new normal’.
No doubt there will be some hiccups along the way – as there has been for time immemorial – but just try to look after yourself, and think of any disasters as funny stories that you will one day look back on with amusement and nostalgia.
Oh, and always make sure to carry Tic Tacs.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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