When’s the last time you were friends with someone first before getting involved? High school? College?
Pandemic times are the slowest of times and for most singles feels like end times. For cup half-full folks like myself, it’s the best of times for dating. Why? Because as a straight woman swiping on the apps, more matches are happening and much less ghosting. With more time on our hands and fewer things to fill it, the convos on the apps are continuing on for days instead of dropping off after a couple of pat lines. (Hinge, one of the apps I’m on, reports a 30% spike in messaging and Tinder reports chats have been 25% longer). Most notably, with social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates— not to mention fear of contagion—hooking up is tabled forcing a “friends first” dynamic, which arguably builds a stronger foundation for a healthy relationship and a bonus for singles like myself seeking a LTR.
Admittedly, this wasn’t my initial reaction to the pandemic. It was more like, the coronavirus is c$ckblocking me! Just a scant few weeks before my area went under lockdown, I had finally gotten back on the dating apps with the zeal to swipe-my-fingerprints-off until I found my person—a momentum that usually lasts a month or two before I delete the apps entirely. I had promised myself, this time will be different! And it was. Just not in a way I could have ever fathomed.
As the first days of the quarantine ticked on, every time I liked a guy’s profile we matched. Overnight, I had ten matches. Then fifteen. I hadn’t uploaded a new hot photo or tweaked my profile stats in the least. Even more to my surprise, the majority of those matches wrote to me the same day. The need for human connection was at an all-time high and the avenues to do so at an all-time low. The conversations over messaging felt mutually supportive.
Opening liners were how are you holding up? instead of u up? Conversations were also more real. You got laid off? I got laid off too. That level of off-the-bat vulnerability and genuine human concern would have never flown pre-pandemic.
Why this is a good thing
Most women I know prefer a slower pace physically than is expected in our sleep-on-the-third date (or earlier) culture. We’re also more likely to open up and be less guarded with dates when we don’t feel as if they just want to hook up with us right away. When I checked in with one of my single girlfriends up in Vancouver, who was swiping under Canadian lockdown, she admitted to loving that “men had to have actual conversations and call me.” As a woman desiring partnership, for her “going slow is how you build and in particular, things like phone calls is the foundation. Whereas normally that part is shaky at best, if not skipped altogether, which results in things crumbling.”
It’s not just us single ladies who feel this way. One of my favorite matches messaged me, “There’s something refreshing and maybe conducive to building a stronger foundation about gradually getting to know someone without the pressure of in-person dates, questions about physical/sexual progression up front.” Of course, not all men (and women) are loving this time of delayed gratification when accustomed to more instant kinds. One of my matches complained about how horny he was and tried to engage in phone sex with me on our first phone date. However, unlike pre-pandemic experiences when I lay down my boundary against engaging in sexual talk before meeting IRL, this man didn’t instantaneously disappear. He now texts me every day and often sends me pics of the food he’s cooking for dinner.
Which brings me to my second point. The quotidian is a good way to get to know someone. It builds familiarity and comfort.
These are important qualities for a woman to feel safe, and women’s primary concern in dating is safety. While it’s bonding to have shit-is-real pandemic conversations, consistent contact without physical contact can also build attraction and trust. Haven’t you ever had a crush on a coworker—someone you normally would have dismissed as a romantic interest in your first few encounters—that develops over months of working with them? But then gradually over time of mundane daily exposure you become wildly attracted to their personality or how smart they are or how kind they are. And then, boom, you have a crush.
Most people, myself included, burn out on dating apps because we make quick judgments and don’t give people long enough to emerge with the traits we’re actually looking for beneath the surface. Then we (me!) complain that there’s no one good online. With COVID-enforced slow dating, time and space allow for us to be more open to what’s interesting about this person or to discover that we have more in common than initially meets the eye.
Waiting to have sex
When hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are released during intercourse, or other intimate contact, pesky biology has set us up to bond with our sex partner, even if they’re just for the night. It becomes harder to notice (or act on) red flags with the person we’ve just started dating when we’ve become chemically bonded. Women produce more of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which may explain why I’ve seen even the most liberated women be devastated from being ghosted after sex.
Moreover, for all genders, when physical intimacy happens before you’ve built a level of trust and comfort with someone, it’s harder to have the important conversations that need to happen before sex. Like asking about someone’s STD status or revealing a history of sexual trauma. These sexual wellness questions are often skimped on in a first-date hookup.
While waiting to get physical may sound like a nineties throwback to The Rules, it’s now trending on Netflix. For any fans of “Love is Blind,” who wouldn’t want to end up like Cameron and Lauren? Their relationship that resulted in marriage was fostered in an isolation pod with quarantine-level rules of no physical contact. Netflix’s spicier “Too Hot to Handle” has a $100,000 celibacy challenge for its libidinous contestants in an attempt to force them to develop meaningful relationships.
I’ve also noticed the trend of waiting six weeks to three months before sexual activity in “conscious” circles. On a recent episode of The Luke Storey Lifestylist Podcast, a health and wellness podcast with millions of downloads, host Luke talks about his choice to not be physically intimate with his current partner until after they were monogamously committed. He admitted to being “very afraid when I was dating to express that because modern women don’t really understand that let’s date for a while and not have sex until we’re together… what year is this dude, are you serious?”
Yet many modern women deep down, or expressly, do want to wait until they really know the other person—or know that they’re sexually exclusive—in order to have a more heart-centered physical experience. Rather than holding out on sex as a manipulative or withholding dating tactic to get something, it’s being adopted as a wellness strategy for both genders seeking healthy and secure human connection. Which during this chaotic time, who isn’t?
Friends-first or slow dating isn’t always easy and there are definitely frustration points. It’s the opposite of convenient but like with the slow food movement, it tends to be healthier and more sustainable—not to mention tastier when the wait is over. Even as the country opens up in fits and starts, contactless six-feet-apart dates may be the norm for a while.
If you’re single, don’t be disheartened. Lasting connections are better built on slow starts and slow dating may very well be the fast track to your person’s heart. And here to stay, at least until the pandemic slows its roll.
Previously Published on anasaldamando.com