Looking for love is challenging enough – let alone with the added challenges COVID-19 has brought with it. As restrictions continue to ease, taking a new virtual relationship into the real world can be intimidating. Here’s our advice.
If you used a dating app during the lockdowns of the past few years, you’ll know how challenging it can be to take a relationship off the app and into real life. You may have expected that the easing of restrictions would make things easier, but if the reality is turning out differently, you’re definitely not alone.
Despite the limitations of the online environment, we can get to know quite a lot about someone and make a strong connection without meeting up in real life. The built-in distance of virtual communications can make us feel safer and more willing to self-disclose in a way that creates ‘intimacy’, but this often happens out-of-step with what we might disclose when dating IRL. The essential question here is, “How well can you really get to know someone online?”
So how do we navigate this transition from online to offline, and explore if someone is right for you? How do you keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, and remember that just because you got along well online, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily “click” in-person — and that’s completely ok?
Keep dates relaxed and uncomplicated
Meet for coffee or a simple meal in a social environment. Allow for an opportunity to leave if things aren’t going well, and don’t put too much pressure on your date. Take it as it comes and if it doesn’t go to plan, don’t dwell on it. Simply assess and move on.
Just because you connected online doesn’t mean you know the other person well. Treat it as if you are meeting for the first time because, in some ways, you are. Meeting face-to-face can be more confronting if there’s been shared nude exchanges or online sex that will demand integration of online experience with the IRL sensory experience.
You may feel shy and want to go slow after a rushed start, or you may be keen to rush after a slow start! Either way, give yourself time to catch up.
Prepare ‘getting to know you’ questions
Draw on what you know so far without being interrogative. What information will give you a better picture of who they are as a whole person? If they say they enjoyed a movie, ask what it was they enjoyed. How do they respond when you ask more meaningful questions?
Observe their manners
Meeting in real life may reveal more about the person than you had anticipated. They might watch everyone else and not give you attention, answer phone calls and texts mid-conversation, make judgemental comments about others, or other unexpected disappointing behaviours. Observe these behaviours and make a call as to whether you could live with them or not.
Appreciate clear boundaries
Sometimes people can express likes and dislikes just to gain our approval. Do they seem like they have a solid sense of themselves and can they hold their own opinions and values, while letting you have yours?
See how they respond to vulnerability
Maybe you divulge that you’re not getting on well with a work colleague. Are they kind, listen, and offer support? Or do they offer advice and tell you how to ”fix” the situation? Or dismiss your concerns as silly or overreacting? Do they show their vulnerable side? These are all good indicators of how they would be in a relationship.
Trust your instincts
If your gut feeling is picking up a lot of negatives listen to your instincts. Do they accept you for who you are, or are they critical in some ways and want to change you? Do you have common interests? If they talk with disdain about others, let that be a red flag. You may ignore a gut response and later regret not listening to it at the time.
Take your time to reflect
Afterwards, allow yourself some time to reflect on how the date went and to absorb your responses. If you think it’s helpful, you may want to debrief with a close friend, who can double-check your thinking and experiences. If you find that a more neutral discussion would help to keep you grounded in your personal goals and the dating process, debriefing with a professional might help.
If you’re feeling burnt out with the dating process, or would like some advice on improving your communication or relationship skills, we offer a range of in-person and online services for individuals.