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Rewriting the Rules of Love: Navigating Dating during the Pandemic

By Damona Hoffman, Certified Dating Coach and Host of the Dates & Mates Podcast

For 15 years I’ve been coaching singles on how to navigate the ups and downs of modern dating. Working with clients of all backgrounds in multiple countries has enabled me to see the patterns in the way we date. This has led me to develop a dating system that is easily repeatable and has led hundreds of daters to successful relationships.

Since I began my practice, there have been only two major disruptors to the dating process that have required me to modify the system: Tinder and COVID. Online dating was always one of my primary modern dating tools, but Tinder, and the apps that followed, made online dating accessible to all and forever impacted the dating landscape. Free, easy-to-use swipe apps brought love to people who otherwise would have been shut out of the dating pool due to divorce, geographic isolation, or age. Also, people from ethnically, socio-economically, and geographically divergent backgrounds who would never have connected in person were able to meet. For my clients, the benefits of dating apps far outweigh the frustrating factors.

My program looks at the dating process as a 5-step funnel. If someone’s love life isn’t flowing, I simply look for the hole in the funnel, patch it up and let a relationship flow in.

THE FIVE STEPS ARE:

Mindset: We all come into relationships carrying along our past. This sometimes includes prior relationships, limiting beliefs, and lack of clarity about what we want and need in a relationship.

Sourcing: The place you look for dates can have a direct impact on your dating success. While dating apps are the most powerful tool in your dating toolbox, there are a number of other avenues that have become underutilized in today’s world.

Screening: There is a process for filtering through potential dates to ensure your dating choices are in alignment with your relationship goals before you make the investment of time or money on a date.

Presentation: The image you put forth must line up with expectations and you need to present yourself in a way that is attractive to the kind of people you want to date.

Follow-Through: The way you communicate after dates to signify interest and move the relationship forward is crucial to dating success.

Now we are facing the second major dating disruptor of the last 25 years: COVID and quarantine dating. Though the dating funnel remains the same, the usual process and timeline has shifted completely. Through the first few months of quarantine, the sourcing of dates was almost 100 percent online. As the pandemic continued, however, I’ve encouraged clients to return to a dating method as old as time: asking friends for introductions. This provides an additional dating filter by getting a personal reference before taking the risk to move offline. Meeting someone at the grocery store doesn’t have the same allure now that everyone is wearing masks.

With the inherent risk that comes from dating during a pandemic, singles now have to engage in a new process to be able to properly vet dates and determine if they are not only compatible, but also safe to spend time with in person. To achieve this, the speed of dating has slowed and new steps have been added to the process.

THE STAGES OF DATING ARE AS FOLLOWS:

Phase 1 – Online Matching and Introduction: The speed of matching is still just as quick as before, but I find that daters are slower to move to the next phase of texting and ultimately dating virtually or in-person. Try to have patience and release expectations of someone being immediately available and responsive. Everyone is processing isolation and quarantine in different ways.

Phase 2 – Texting: This stage, which used to drag on for weeks or months, has contracted now since a call or video date is less risky than a traditional date. Before, people had to weigh the value proposition of an in-person date based on the investment of time and money. Now that those factors are removed, there is less pressure on this decision and singles are speeding through this part of the process.

Phase 3 – Real-Time Virtual Communication: I have been a long-time advocate of the phone call prior to the first date. It is impossible to assess someone’s true sensibility or compatibility over text, yet many people were skipping the phone call before in favor of speed and efficiency. Now phone calls have once again become an accepted phase in the dating process and a lead up to a video chat date, which is now the replacement for the quick first coffee or drink.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR A VIDEO CHAT DATE:

  1. Prevent your video chat date from feeling like another work Zoom meeting, by making sure you prepare yourself as if you are going to a real date. Don’t squeeze someone in between sessions, but rather set the scene to make a good first impression.
  2. If you met through a dating app, be sure to re-read the person’s profile first and come up with three things that you are curious about prior to meeting up.
  3. Ease the awkwardness of meeting a stranger over video chat by adding an activity to the date like playing a game or planning to sip and paint together.

Phase 4 – Social Distance Date: Once you have met virtually a few times, you will need to meet up in person to see if the connection is real within 4-8 weeks. Most catfish situations come up when the daters have never met face to face so I encourage clients to move offline as soon as it feels safe and comfortable.

SOCIAL DISTANCE DATE IDEAS:

Pick a place where you can comfortably stay 6 feet apart and/or wear masks. Some popular social distance dates are:

  1. Hiking: Exercise boosts endorphins and the increase in hormones could actually make you feel more attracted to a date. Boating: Many docks are offering short-term rentals now and boats have always been a romantic date choice.
  2. Picnicking: This is a classic date that can take place in a variety of locales. For maximum safety, you should each bring your own food and beverages.
  3. Botanical Gardens: If your favorite indoor museums remain closed, look for outdoor gardens or parks where you can take a walk.

Phase 5 – Life-Blending: Once daters assess the safety of someone through a social distance date, the next choice will be when to meet up masks off. It’s a big decision to double your bubble, but once this occurs, relationships in quarantine accelerate faster than average primarily due to other relationships and connections being restricted right now.

For months singles have waited for things to return to normal. Now, more than ever, those who are uncoupled have felt the weight of their decision to stay single or the frustration of being unable to find a suitable partner. However, we are in the new normal, and dating will not return to the old model anytime soon.

The positive side of this shift is that it has slowed down the dating assessment phase. What had become a rapid-fire round of swiping directly to a date and the inevitable ghosting that followed has been replaced by more mindful conversations and meaningful connections.

I’m hopeful that a careful consideration of compatibility for mates on a deeper level than just physical attraction remains after this unprecedented period in time. Swipe culture has led to rampant dating fatigue and dissatisfaction. Pandemic dating gives us an opportunity to reset the tempo and prioritize shared values and goals, which are a better predictor of long-term compatibility than butterflies and instant chemistry.

Damona Hoffman is a dating coach & media personality who starred in two A+E Networks’ TV series: #BlackLove and A Question of Love. She’s a regular contributor to The LA Times, The Washington Post, NPR, CNN Headline News (HLN), BET.com, and more. She also hosts and produces the weekly podcast, Dates & Mates with Damona Hoffman.