I Went On First Dates Via Video Chat During COVID-19 Quarantine—Here's How It Went
I wouldn't say I have a particularly active dating life. In terms of going out and trying to date people, well, I suck at that part. Even when I've spent hours swiping on dating apps, I've often struggled to agree to meet up in person. There's so much noise on dating apps. (And, true story: They can damage your self-esteem.) Besides that, I've always been the kind of person who accidentally falls in love—falls for a friend, meets someone on a trip, gets a crush on a friend of a friend who happens to be in town. This whole contrived, formulaic dating thing seems to take the fun and spontaneity out of it, at least for me.
Still, like most people, I like the idea of dating. I like that the option is there. So when Mexico City—where I'm currently living—got its official stay-at-home orders in March, I was not particularly stoked about the end of my dating life. For all their flaws, after all, dating apps are at least a good way to get out of the house and meet people who could potentially become friends (which was important for me, as someone who was three weeks into living in a new city and knew almost no one). I feared my growing social circle would freeze, at best, and deflate, at worst. (See: How Coronavirus Is Changing the Dating Landscape)
So, I devised a plan: To force myself to get out there (metaphorically, of course), I challenged myself to go on video first dates, then pitched a story about it (hello, you're reading it), to hold me accountable to actually doing it.
While the experience, on the whole, has been a mixed bag, I've surprisingly found myself to be a believer.
I find the whole prelude to setting up some FaceTime extremely laborious. No one, myself included, seems to have mastered quarantine text flirting. Dating apps are awkward under even the most normal of circumstances, but usually, the initial painful small talk only lasts for a few messages before you agree to meet up for dinner, drink, or—please hold judgment—a Super Tuesday watch party with the Mexico City chapter of Democrats Abroad (a terrible first date idea, I know. I...have no excuse. I just didn't want to watch Elizabeth Warren's defeat alone, OK?).
The idea of cringing through all those initial terrible messages to meet only virtually takes all the romance out of it for me. So while I've matched with dozens of guys on Hinge and Bumble, the process of getting to that "let's video chat" point is so unappealing to me that I've only gone on three video first dates. And only one of those was with someone I matched with post-quarantine. Even still, here's the spoiler: So far, it seems to be worth the hassle. (Related: Dating Apps for Health and Fitness Enthusiasts)
My Video First Dates
Date 1: The Stateside Baker
The first date was with a friend of a friend. Let's call him Dave. He lives in Maryland, a state I currently have no plans to visit. But it's quarantine, right? We're not even supposed to see people who are in our own cities, even if they live across the street, let alone date them. That means literally everyone is geographically undesirable.
I FaceTimed Dave from my iPad on the roof of my apartment building, which I thought would be a more interesting background than the plain white wall in my bedroom. But as it turns out, Dave and I both love baking, and as he's a paralegal and I spent a couple of years as a crime reporter, we had a lot to talk about. The conversation flowed easily. I don't know how long I expected a first video date to last, but I certainly didn't consider the rapidly setting sun when I guessed that natural lighting would make me look better on video. As I faded into the silhouette of an anonymous source on a true crime show, I awkwardly cut it off and said goodbye. While we haven't set up a second date, Dave seemed great, someone I would definitely want to hang out with in real life. We've continued to text each other about our random quarantine baking projects, which I've enjoyed.
Date 2: The Local American
My second first date was with a guy from the U.S. living in Mexico City. We'll call him Brad. His Hinge profile says he's looking for an "unconventional girl" who "won't shy away from a healthy debate." Naturally, my nerdy opening line was, "Hola! Former high school debate captain reporting for duty." He took the bait, and when we agreed to video chat a few days later, he sent an actual invitation to my email address with a Zoom link—and an end time. This was to be a 30-minute date. Shortly before calling in, he texted to suggest that we not spend any time getting ready for the call. "Just come as you are," he said, "and we'll give each other the benefit of the doubt that we'd normally look 20-30 percent better in our non-apocalypse states with normal haircuts, makeup, etc." I agreed—but then immediately changed out of whatever frumpy house outfit I'd been wearing into a tight, black tank dress.
We chatted about our work, our travels, the classes he is currently taking. Our very official date ended with a summary of the call: I am interesting, Brad declared, or at least I am good at pretending to be so. He finds me to be good-looking (thank you, Zoom touch-up feature). We should do a socially-distant, in-person date, he said (I declined for fear of possible transmission), and we agreed to chat again soon. Brad was nice. He was interesting. He suggested we try psychedelic drugs together, apart, on Zoom, as an alternative to going for a walk in the park. (I declined this, too, much to the disappointment of some friends who encouraged me to go for it and record the call.) If times were different, I might have agreed to meet up for dinner, to see if there was an in-person spark that Zoom couldn't convey. But our texts have been infrequent since our call, which I'll blame on myself, and our conversation has mostly fizzled.
Date 3: The Spontaneous Londoner
The third date has, so far, seemed to be the charm. It was the most spontaneous, most natural, most promising, and most unlikely: Not only are we separated by quarantine, but also the Atlantic Ocean. We matched on Hinge back in February, two weeks before he was planning to visit Mexico City from London. But the day he arrived here was the day I started getting really worried about COVID-19, the day after I decided I'd been out for my last in-person soiree with friends (note: that week, confirmed cases in Mexico were still only in the double digits nationwide). Going on a date with someone who'd just arrived from an affected country seemed like a terrible idea, so I refused to meet up. He flew back to the U.K. abruptly, as did many travelers that week, and I assumed that was that. But then my deadline for this story quickly approached and I was still one date short of my goal, and I figured, why not. Maybe this would be the hilarious flop I'd been hoping for.
In spite of my having quarantine-shamed him via Instagram messages, he agreed, and we spontaneously started an Instagram video chat in the middle of a weekday. The conversation flowed as if we'd already met, and 45 minutes flew by. We talked about our families, travel, politics, cooking, and loneliness during the quarantine. He held his phone out the window when London started its nightly cheer for healthcare workers so I could hear it, too, and it was lovely to see his mood brighten as he joined in. I was sad to cut our call short when my dying cell phone battery reminded me that I needed to get back to work. Just over a week later, our second video call (also spontaneous), lasted three hours. There have since been a third and fourth. 'I wouldn't mind visiting London when this is all over,' I keep thinking. 'What kind of excuse can I come up with for that?' That is not where I expected this video dating challenge to take me.
Had our first meetings been in real life, I very well may have gone on several dates with any of these guys. But it seems pretty clear to me now that a simple gut check is the best way to decide how to move forward when dating virtually. Do you feel the minutes ticking by, or are you seamlessly switching conversation topics in a state of flow and shocked to discover how much time has passed? Are you eager to plan a second call, or do you find yourself putting it off? Do you want to see them again? Does it feel easy? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, go for round two. (Related: 5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Sex and Dating, According to a Relationships Therapist)
I can't say yet whether quarantine dating will lead to anything at all in real life. But perhaps the benefit of "dating" in quarantine is that it's possible to achieve deep emotional intimacy long before sex adds a layer of complexity. And who knows—maybe, when this is all over, it'll make sense to keep video dates around. After all, going out on a lot of dinner dates takes a lot of time, energy, and money (and maybe also waxing). Why not test the waters first before you even shave your legs?
Virtual First Date Dos & Don'ts
I'm no expert, but I can tell you that these few video chat first dates taught me a lot about how (and how not) to make this a worthwhile experience. Hopefully, my lessons can help you skip ahead to the good stuff.
- Do find a quiet, private place to talk. Turning on a fan in your room can create white noise that offers a bit more privacy, and stepping out onto your front step, balcony, backyard, fire escape, or a quiet corner of your neighborhood can also give you that peace of mind.
- Don't send a calendar invitation with an end time. Plan ahead with a time and "place," i.e. FaceTime vs. Zoom vs. Google Hangouts vs. HouseParty (make sure your room is "locked" so random friends don't barge in unannounced), but try to trust each other that you can figure out how to show up without needing to hit "accept" on an iCal invite.
- Do take into consideration that if you're sitting outside, and you're chatting in the evening, the sun might set on you.
- Do consider socially distant activities you can do together virtually. Airbnb has new Online Experiences that allow you to virtually take a yoga class with an Olympian or a cooking class with a family thousands of miles away. Google Arts & Culture has thousands of museums whose collections you can "visit" virtually via high-res scans of the world's most famous paintings and 360-tours of galleries. If you live in different cities or neighborhoods, consider doing a socially distant FaceTime walking tour.
- Don't keep video dating someone out of boredom. If you find yourself struggling to keep up a conversation or dreading a date you've set, it's probably a sign it's time to move on.
- Do follow each other on social media before you chat, if you're both active on a given platform. This can give you a window into each other's lives that texting fails to convey. It may help make you both feel a little more at ease, more like you've sort of already met than like you're going into this totally cold.
- Do make sure you feel comfortable in what you're wearing. While many people delight in Zooming pantsless, I personally can't take myself seriously if I feel like I'm wearing a costume, which is what it seems like to me when I'm wearing totally incongruous things on the top and bottom. While I wouldn't recommend going to the trouble of shaving your legs for a chest-up FaceTime, I would recommend dressing as you would if you were actually going out on a date, to help you get in that mindset.