How to Date Yourself During Quarantine (or Honestly Anytime)
While there are certainly advantages to spending the COVID-19 pandemic partner-less (read: you never have to go halfsies on that Tikka Masala takeout, which means more paneer for you—also, no quarantine-induced fights), frankly, it's not that fun all the time. Being single during quarantine escalates isolation to another level. For some of us, the ever-elusive end of this whole thing can make love feel ever more elusive, too. (You're not the only one. Here's how COVID-19 has changed the dating landscape.)
It may seem like everyone else has a special someone helping them survive this thing, and social isolation can induce toxic, exaggerative, and fallacious I'll-be-alone-forever-at-this-rate thoughts. But rather than focusing on a lack of partnered love (and falling down that spiral), consider using this time to focus on building up self-love. (And, just saying: One woman who lived to be 117 credited being single for her long and happy life.)
You have a freer schedule, a smaller social circle, and a whole lot more time to get to know yourself in ways that you perhaps never had the time for before. Here, relationship experts share exactly how to "date yourself" during quarantine—especially if you're not feeling all too positive or self-compassionate at the moment.
1. Give yourself some grace.
It's easy to give someone else grace when you care deeply about them—so make the effort to treat yourself with the same patience and respect.
"For many, spending so much time alone without the typical distractions of life pre-pandemic means coming face to face with yourself and your emotions in a very new way (maybe for the first time)," says Jessica Serber, L.M.F.T., a licensed marriage and family therapist at Mindful CBT California. "If you're feeling the effects of [quarantine] emotionally and struggling with the isolation, you are not alone, and your feelings are so, so valid." (More here: How to Deal with Loneliness and Isolation During COVID-19)
Serber suggests that you practice self-compassion by talking to yourself the way that you would talk to a best friend or, perhaps, a partner.
"It's so easy for people to become self-critical in times of hardship and loneliness," she says. "This can lead to a decline in mood and self-esteem, increased isolation, and feelings of hopelessness. When you notice yourself speaking from a critical voice, ask yourself, 'Would I say this to my best friend if they were feeling what I am feeling right now?' If the answer is anything but a resounding yes, don't say it to yourself. Replace these critical thoughts with some kinder, gentler words of support." (See: This Phrase You Say Often Is Making You More Negative)
Another way to practice self-compassion is by writing love letters to yourself, as you would write love letters to a partner.
"If you're feeling alone or like 'I am not enough,' create a love-letter box," says Patti Ashley, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Niwot, CO. "Write love notes to yourself expressing gratitude for qualities that you appreciate about yourself, and add them to your box. If you have a hard time thinking of anything you might love about yourself, think about some things your friends may have said in the past. Or think about something you might say to a friend who is a lot like you. Whether you believe it or not, you are lovable."
But make no mistake: You don't need to be all positive all the time. It's also totally okay to admit when you just don't feel good.
"It's okay to feel a little disappointed that your dating life—or lack thereof—may have been put to a grinding halt, and it's okay to feel like that sucks because, let's be honest, it does," adds Christy Pennison, a board-certified counselor, mental health consultant and the owner of Be Inspired Counseling & Consulting. "Let go of some of the expectations you have for yourself."
Acknowledging your feelings, accepting them as valid, and letting go can provide some serious relief during this overwhelming time, she says.
2. Consider the life you want for yourself.
When you meet someone you're attracted to, it's fun to fantasize about what a life with that person might look like. So take this time to consider the life you want for yourself instead.
"This is a great time to rediscover who you are and what you want your life to look like in the following weeks, months, or years," says Pennison. "Figure out what you feel is missing in your life and what you want to add to it."
After all, at some point in every relationship comes "the talk." You know—the long-anticipated conversation about where things are going. So perhaps it's time to have that conversation with yourself. (Consider writing it down in a journaling app or in an actual journal.)
"Have the 'where is this relationship going?' conversation," says Thomas McDonagh, a clinical psychologist, anxiety expert, and founder of Good Therapy SF. "The purpose of this is to identify the commitments you hold for yourself and to be honest about how well you are holding up to these commitments. The ask here isn't to be self-critical and judgmental. The purpose is to be helpful by providing honest feedback and realigning yourself with goals that you care about."
However, remember to practice compassion with yourself, in whatever direction you foresee yourself moving.
"Empower yourself with positive self-talk," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., author of Aging Joyfully. "Steer clear of the negative inner critic and the toxic voice of comparison [and] watch your neurolinguistics [how you perceive your own words]. Take care not to shame or 'should' yourself during this quarantine time (or any time). Let your vocabulary reflect an empowered, upbeat mindset."
3. Ask yourself deeper questions.
One surefire way to get to know someone you're dating is by asking them questions that go beyond the surface. But when is the last time you took a deep dive within to ask yourself those questions?
"In dating, there is a strong focus placed on getting to know your partner beyond what can be found on the surface," says Serber. "Explore deeper questions about yourself related to your core values, what defines you as a person, your passions and interests, and what's important to you in a relationship."
Besides, being grounded in who you are is a game-changer when it comes to dating, she adds. You need a strong individual foundation on which to build an intimate relationship down the line.
Another way to get to know yourself is by exploring your relationship and sexual history.
"Dating typically involves getting to know one another's histories by sharing stories about the people and events who figure prominently in our lives," says Elizabeth Brokamp, Ph.D., a psychotherapist at Nova Terra Therapy PLC. "It's only fitting, then, that in 'dating yourself,' you take some time to honor your own past."
Re-visiting your past doesn't have to be limited to looking at old photos or school yearbooks; instead, Brokamp says you can reach out to the important people who've made an impact in your life [such as friends and family], make a music playlist inspired by your past to help you recall memories, research the cultural and societal events that shaped the world in your birth year, or reread a list of books that have had a profound influence on you. (P.S. If you're hearing from your ex during quarantine, you're not the only one.)
4. Treat yourself to something special.
You don't need a partner to go on a date; treat yourself instead.
"When loneliness, isolation, or negativity set in, I see many people turn on themselves in times when they need support and care the most," says Serber. "You deserve to be treated to the finer things in life right now—not just once you're partnered."
There's no one right way to treat yourself, of course.
"Consider your ideal date, and then go do it," says Alexis Moreno, CEO, consulting psychologist and health correspondent at DC Radio. "If it's cooking or going out to dinner, what would it be and where would you go? What music would be playing? What scents do you enjoy? If it's a movie, what's one that you love, would want to share, or haven't seen yet and wish you had? Take the time to truly explore what romance means to you."
You know that mental list of things you're excited to someday do with a future partner? Stop waiting to check it off; doing the items on your list on your own can feel really empowering. Sure, COVID-19 may be stopping you from going on that trip you always wanted to take with a partner. But you may still be able to hike up to that sunset lookout point that your coupled-up friend told you about or picnic at that super-scenic park nearby with your favorite cheeses and some homemade sangria. (Good news: There are ways to get the mental health benefits of travel without going anywhere.)
Just make sure to carry the respect for yourself to really commit to whatever it is that you decide to do.
"When you have dinner, set the table with nice linens," says Judy Ho, Ph.D., a triple-board certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist. "Pour yourself a glass of wine, put out nice silverware, put the phone down and don't watch TV; actually have a mindful experience dining 'in' with yourself. Give yourself a spa treatment at home, light some candles, put on relaxing music. Do the things that you always loved about nice romantic dates—but do them for yourself."
In the same vein, get ready for yourself just like you'd get ready for a date.
"Practice self-care the way you would if you were regularly going out to work or out on dates, and you'll feel much better about yourself just by taking a shower and getting dressed," says Patricia Celan, M.D., a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University. "Who do you need to impress? Yourself—because you deserve it, and it's great for your mental health."
5. Practice self-pleasure.
A major part of intimate partnered relationships is the physical factor. While nothing can truly simulate touch from another human being, there are ways you can practice self-pleasure instead.
"Masturbate and explore your body," says Ann Dypiangco, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in La Canada Flintridge, CA. "Maybe buy yourself a new toy. Have some fun. Remember, you are reacquainting yourself with what you like."
Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a family and relationship psychotherapist, also recommends masturbation because it reduces stress, helps to relieve depression, increases self-esteem, and can even have positive effects on your immune system. (And those are just some of the benefits of masturbation.)
If you already regularly masturbate for self-care, consider some ways that you can make doing so even more special right now. Maybe this means buying yourself a new sex toy to incorporate into your self-pleasure routine or experimenting with different erogenous zones, perhaps with the help of toys that you wouldn't have typically considered (think: anal or nipple toys, instead of your usual clit stimulator). Or maybe it simply means lighting candles, burning incense, playing romantic music, practicing mindful masturbation, or listening to hot and heavy audio sex stories via empowering female-founded apps like Dipsea. (More free online erotica, right here.)
But maybe masturbation isn't your thing, and that's okay. You can still wake up with an affectionate self-hug, says Walfish. It sounds cheesy, but trust; you'll enjoy it. "Crisscross your own arms in front of your chest and embrace yourself, rubbing your upper arms in an up-and-down motion," she explains. "This is a warm, affirming gesture," even when you're doing it to yourself, she says.
However you choose to engage in self-pleasure, be kind to yourself, forgo all judgment, and take the time to learn about your desires.