As lockdown continues to ease, virtual dates are starting to meet up in real life – but it’s leading to many people are feeling a new kind of dating fear.
Lockdown has presented all sorts of new challenges for single people: from coping with a lack of physical touch, to navigating those awkward first virtual dates. As lockdown rules continue to ease, so too does the dating landscape. Just as we started to get used to getting dressed up for a night in front of a Zoom call, we’re being thrust out into the real world to meet people.
That’s right: we now need to meet the people we’ve been virtually dating IN REAL LIFE.
According to research by Badoo, this presents another new dating trend in lockdown. The dating app reports that 60% of users are experiencing fear of meeting up – FOMU.
This means there is an underlaying fear when it comes to getting back on the dating scene. Reasons include the concern of catching or spreading Covid-19 (51%), increased social anxiety due to lockdown (38%) and feeling shy or unsure around new people (35%).
It also turns out that one in five people have actually enjoyed virtual dating. This is down to not having to worry about spending money (20%) or having to travel (15%).
But that’s not stopping people from getting out there. When the social bubble guidelines were announced last week, nearly a third of respondents had a socially distant date planned for the 13-14 June weekend.
Jess*, 32, nearly bailed on meeting the guy she’d been talking to when lockdown was eased because she felt out of her depth: “I was a lot more nervous about going on a date with him than I would normally be. I went on a lot of dates before lockdown and enjoyed going to my favourite bars with them – I do like a drink of a first date.
“So when we were arranging to meet in the park, I worried about the drinking situation: is it acceptable to have a few daytime drinks? I kept overthinking it.
“On the other hand, I had seen a few other people outside of my houeshold, so I didn’t feel too scared about being around someone new. As soon as we started walking and chatting it was fine, we ended up having a couple of cans of gin and tonic and it actually felt quite normal at first – apart from when I needed to find a toilet in a park.
“I guess the date was shorter than usual – two hours long. I did like the fact it removed the ‘shall we have sex and go to someone’s house?’ pressure off. That being said, I did want to kiss him. But I felt really really guilty after we kissed: I defintely wouldn’t have done it at the height of lockdown.
“I don’t think he’s the love of my life but I do want to meet him again just to have some fun.”
Meanwhile, Cat*, 32, is experiencing similar feelings ahead of her IRL date this weekend because of the amount of time she’s invested into talking to one guy: “To be honest, I’ve always felt FOMU about dating apps dates. But lockdown has added to it significantly because the talking period has been so greatly extended. With each day that goes by, sending messages and laughing via a screen, the expectation of what will happen when you meet grows and grows.
“What if, after all of this, it isn’t a rom-com scene where your eyes meet across the park and there’s an instant spark? What if you really don’t fancy them, or, GASP, they don’t fancy you? Or what if they’re just so unbelievably boring, or you can’t think of anything to say now that you can’t leave it an hour to reply?
“I’m also very freaked out by the fact that the commitment I’ve had to talking over the past few weeks makes this more serious than anything I’ve experienced in years, yet I’m very aware of the fact that I probably don’t actually want a relationship right now. Have I been lying to us both the whole time?
“I know that I owe nothing to him except the decency to turn up, and if I don’t like him I have every right to not continue whatever this thing is – but I don’t want to believe that the past however many weeks have been for nothing. It’s just one big anxiety cloud over my head.”
If these feelings are something you relate with right now, Dating Expert and Love Coach Persia Lawson has shared her top five tips for feeling your most confident while socially distance-dating:
Plan your date together in advance over video call
It’s always worth communicating with your date beforehand about how you’re both feeling about the current guidelines, and how you’re going to approach the date knowing the rules in place. It’s important to be honest about any nervousness you feel, especially as the chances are that your date is probably feeling the same. This will also enable you both to know what the other looks like and help break the ice so that you’re not going into the date totally blind.
A good suggestion would be to decide on a park that is in relatively easy reach for both of you. You can then each bring your own blanket, food and drink (and of course hand sanitiser!) – just be sure to position your blankets a good two metres away from one another. You could also choose to go on a socially-distance walk or bike-ride. As with normal dating, I’d also recommend creating a mental checklist of questions to ask your date, just in case there are any awkward pauses.
Connect on a deeper level
Whilst it’s totally normal to feel a bit nervous and out of your comfort zone when it comes to socially distance-dating again, this is actually a great opportunity to practice dating in a new way. Instead of the usual small talk about work and hobbies, why not try opening up about your experience of lockdown - including the more challenging parts? By sharing openly and honestly with your date, you give them permission to do the same - which means that you’re much more likely to cultivate a deeper, more intimate connection from the get-go. After all, true confidence is not about how well you’re able to hold it all together in the face of adversity, but how gracefully you communicate the truth of who you really are and how you really feel.
Celebrate a low-cost date
With very limited options as to what you can do (i.e. you have to be outside and maintain two metres distance), there will be minimal regret over picking a shoddy venue. Plus – you won’t have to shell out a small fortune for ridiculous meal or bar fees, deal with frustratingly long queues or suffer through the diners on the table next to yours eating or talking too loudly – the benefits just keep stacking up!
Embrace the novelty and find the lols
This is such a bizarre situation that it will certainly give you and your date a topic of conversation, if nothing else. I think the anxiety people are feeling around FOMU is as much about being out of practice of dating IRL as it is about contracting the virus itself. But, fear not, dating is really just like riding a bicycle - you never really forget. Remind yourself that you will (hopefully!) never have to date like this again in the future, so you may as well make the most of the novelty whilst it’s here. After all, one day this will no doubt serve as a hilarious story to share with your grandchildren!
*names changed at contributors’ request