COVID has made finding love a lot more challenging than it needs to be. Isn’t it hard enough? The use of dating apps has surged in times of lockdown, but as restrictions ease, taking a new relationship offline can be intimidating. We have some advice for you.
If you are single and looking for love, your recent efforts to meet a romantic partner would have been challenged by the pandemic lockdown. Many dating apps have reported a surge in users and messaging usage, but it has not been possible for many who have made good connections to take the relationship “off-line”.
Despite the limits 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 (IRL).
The built-in distance of online or phone 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?’
With lockdowns being eased, opportunities to move from virtual dating to IRL are emerging. Modern dating, whether online or IRL, can be a risky, vulnerable and confusing endeavor at the best of times.
So how do we navigate this transition and explore if someone is right for you? How do you keep your feet planted firmly on the ground and not get swept up by the seductive hope of romance fueled by how well you got along online?
Keep arrangements relaxed and uncomplicated
Meet for coffee or a simple meal in a social environment. Allow for an opportunity to escape if things are not going well. 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 IRL can be more confronting if there has 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 IRL? If they say they enjoyed a movie, ask what it was they enjoyed. How do they respond when you ask more meaningful questions?
Meeting IRL 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, make judgemental comments about others, or other unexpected disappointing behaviours.
People can express likes and dislikes just to gain our approval. Do they have a solid sense of themselves and can they hold their own opinions and values, while letting you have yours?
What happens when you talk about vulnerable aspects of your life?
Maybe you are 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?
Trust your instincts
If you feel “negatives”, listen to them. 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
Allow time to reflect on how the IRL meeting went and to absorb your responses. Wait before inviting them home or involving friends and family.
Meeting people online is exciting and nerve-wracking. It is good to have a friend on hand to double-check your thinking and experiences, just as you would with real-life dating. If you find that a more neutral discussion would help to keep you grounded in your personal goals and the process the toll waiting to have the relationship you want takes on you, debriefing with a professional might help.