Ugh, Dating Right Now
LAURA: I've just turned 44. Um, I feel like I'm running out of time. I know people can get married aged 80 or whatever, but I would rather get married before that because I would like to have lots of athletic, um, mind-blowing sex with the person that I marry. And I can't really imagine doing that if I'm already in a nursing home when I meet somebody.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
MELANIE: You know, dating in general is hard.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot…
MELANIE: Um, but in the middle of a global pandemic…
And need to talk about more.
MELANIE: It's even harder.
I’m Anna Sale.
CARYA: Hi, Anna and team. Um, you asked what it's like to be single and looking during COVID.
This is a listener named Carya. She’s 36, and has been divorced for about three years. And, she was just feeling ready to get into another serious relationship when the pandemic began last year.
CARYA: It used to be that, you know, awkward conversations about safety would happen whenever you got to the point of being sexual with someone. And now I find myself wanting to know before I even go on a date with someone, things like you have roommates, what do you all do for a living? Are you all safe and wearing masks regularly? How often are you going on other dates? Um, and none of this even touches on the issue of the social unrest and racial tensions that have happened this year and how that's changed, what I want in a partner and the kinds of questions I ask before I consider dating someone. There is nothing like the whole world being figuratively and sometimes literally on fire to exacerbate your desire to find a partner to go through it all with. If I was to sum it up, I would say being single during COVID, um, I feel a sense of cautious desperation.
Cautious desperation. We heard that in the voices of many of you. In the messages you sent in about dating, and being single and not wanting to be right now. You want romantic companionship even more than you have in the past, while you feel less able to figure out where to find it. And, on top of that, you told us how hard it is to talk about this, the loneliness and longing, because it can feel embarrassing and unoriginal.
But you have a lot to get out. So that’s how this episode about dating is going to start. Listening to you, having your say... about, ugh, dating right now.
BRANDI: I think for people like me, who value connection and want to actually get to know people, this has been, very, very, uh, challenging.
MUZZ: There's no events really or anything going on. So, it's really hard to meet people. And even though I work in a grocery store, you know, everyone has masks on, and you just can't really see what people look like.
LAUREN: I love being single, but in reality, I’m, I’m freaking out. I want to get married more than anything in the world.
MELANIE: It has been almost a year now, since I've had sex, which is really, really difficult.
LAUREN: I try to date as much as I can, but I just can’t seem to find traction with anyone.
MUZZ: There's no events really or anything going on. So it's really hard to meet people. And even though I work in a grocery store, you know, everyone has masks and you just can't really see what people look like, you know?
HEATHER: There's no spontaneous kissing, there's none of that sparks flying situation.
LISTENER: it's a degree of what degree of risk are you willing to take, uh, for your own emotional wellbeing.
MELANIE: it's just really hard to like, you know, to trust people, to trust yourself, to, you know, navigate all of this. Um, which it was hard before and now it just feels nearly impossible.
April, in Rochester, New York, noticed the shift in her dating life a year ago, when the threat of COVID was just becoming more real.
APRIL: Right before the state shut down, a guy that I had been dating just casual, I'd been on maybe like four or five dates with him. He, um, he gracefully and respectfully told me that, you know, he was no longer interested in seeing me. Because every time he would call me or talk to me, you know, he would suggest that we, we hang out at, at my home, and at that point I didn't feel comfortable. So, you know, I politely told him like, listen, I'm not, I don't really want to invite you to my house yet. And he was like, okay, well, good luck. And so, really house dates are really the, the only best option people can do now, which puts me in a really weird position as someone that's trying to get to know someone. But I don’t know, it’s like, dating culture, mixed with pandemic, um, makes me feel really isolated. And I’ve been thinking about it even more and more, about finding somebody. It’s like I’m even more eager to do it, but I don’t know if it’ll happen.
Timing and pacing can be so important in early dating. For April, she’s noticed the way the pandemic’s made things move quicker than she’d like. For Melanie, in Brooklyn, hurdles from COVID have slowed everything down too much. Last fall, she met someone she liked, a friend of a friend, on a day trip to go apple picking.
MELANIE: We kissed on the way back, which was nice. And then we agreed to go on another date. And he h, has antibodies. So, you know, we felt like he was a pretty safe bet. Um, and I, you know, went and got tested and with the hopes of, you know, us being able to go out and be intimate. Um, and then my test came back positive for COVID, and I had a pretty mild case. But then I was able to get tested again, test came back negative and I went, um, I actually ended up deciding to go home to be with my family in Connecticut. over the holidays, which was really nice, but obviously put a huge damper on dating. I kept talking to this guy, um, we would video chat a few times. And I basically just decided that dating was going to be on hold until I got back to New York. And then I came back and met up with that guy, who then, um, told me that he's seeing someone else. So that's how that's going.
So, there have been a lot of changes in your dating lives. And some of you are trying to figure this out without a lot of prior dating experience. Like Jacob, who is 22, and just graduated from college after having his first kiss last year.
JACOB: Before this pandemic happened, I had set myself a new year's resolution for 2020 to have six dates. And I got four in 2020. Which I didn't expect to get any once the pandemic happened. So I consider that a success, even though they were all remote. But it was clear that there wasn't going to be anything happening for me during this pandemic. Now that I'm stuck here alone and scared, I've been creating this narrative for some reason that I'm not masculine enough. And that's why I haven't had any sort of luck with dating. And I've really been trying to overcome that in this whole dating adventure, but the pandemic has put that completely on hold and it's really starting to put a bit of a strain on me. However, I'm still unsure when my current state is going to change. And really it all starts with me. It starts with me putting myself out there, getting back on the dating apps, because that's the only way that I'm comfortable with trying to meet people during this time.
Let it be said, however, that while the dating apps may be an option right now, they are not an easy fix, as Sam in Seattle is here to tell you.
SAM: For me, dating during the pandemic has been exclusively through the dating slash hookup app Grindr. I just moved to Seattle very recently in September for graduate school. Of course there's no bars, no gatherings. And it's been really hard to make friends and also just start dating people in a natural way. But the problem with Grindr is that it's a really hard environment to navigate. When you start messaging someone, they always ask, what are you looking for? And I never really know how to answer that question because honestly, I want to find someone to date and eventually become my boyfriend. And having this hookup app as my only line of defense in this new city, where it’s almost impossible for anything to last for me… has just been really difficult.
ARIEL: Hi, Death, Sex and Money. Um, I am 29 about to turn 30. Uh, I live in Brooklyn and I am a gay woman. Uh, I was dating a bit at the beginning of the pandemic, but I found it really hard to make a connection with anyone. Um, I think especially as a queer person, uh, it feels like a different kind of loneliness. Uh, I don't necessarily think of myself as just being a queer person individually, but I really feel like being queer means you're part of a community. And so much of that in my experience has been being in shared spaces with other queer people. Um, you know, and that's always where I've found the most joy in my identity. And that makes me really lonely and really sad.
Dating during COVID has just been a drag for a lot of you. There’s so much about it that you’re tired of. But there are some of you, though, who told us you’ve discovered some upsides to pandemic dating.
HEATHER: I think one of the good things though about COVID, even though you don't get dinner, is that people are being more honest and it's really encouraging people to have open honest conversations with their future, maybe potential partners.
CHELSEY: It's really sort of made me look at the different ways that I want to be in relationship, and feel much more intentional about choosing a relationship coming up. Um, whenever that possibility comes around again.
NELSON: Hello, my name is Nelson and I'm in New York City. I'm a 57 year old disabled retired attorney, happily divorced with three sons. I've been attending speed dating events since before COVID. At the in-person, uh, events, the first thing people would see about me is that I'm in a wheelchair. But since COVID, uh, the playing field has been leveled in that, uh, you only see people from the shoulders up. Um, but now with COVID, uh, I can share that, you know, later, and it allows people to possibly see that I have green eyes. Uh, and not that, um, just that I'm in a wheelchair.
Thanks to all of you who sent in your stories about dating right now. For those of you who are single and looking, let it be a reminder you’re not the only one trudging through this. And if Nelson and his green eyes got you thinking that maybe there could be something to trying to date right now, stick around. Because coming up, we’ve got a pep talk... from a dating expert.
LOGAN URY: People have this vision of love as something that's natural and organic. And how could you capture it, and how could you apply, you know, theory to it? And my reaction to that is that love is this natural thing, but dating is not and dating is a skill. And so like anything else, dating is something that you can actually learn about, get better at, and improve.
I want to tell you about something special I got to be a part of recently. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been working on a book for quite a while, and it is finally coming out in May. It’s called Let’s Talk About Hard Things. And something that I didn’t expect about book writing is how much I would need to ask for help from other writers who’ve done this before. Because it is a really hard, really relentless, and really complicated process.
One person who’s been really generous and helpful to me is the writer Kelly Corrigan. You might know her from her bestsellers The Middle Place or Tell Me More. She’s based in the Bay Area like me, and she also has two kids. But hers are nearly adults. So we’ve talked a lot about writing and work and also about family, motherhood, and identity.
She told me that when she was publishing her first book, the writer Anna Quindlen was a mentor to her. You know Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, author of more than 20 books. And Kelly had the idea to get the three of us together on Zoom for a special five-episode series on Kelly’s podcast called Kelly Corrigan Wonders. The first episode dropped this week and it will run all through March. You’ll get to hear us read some of our writing, including excerpts from my upcoming book I’m sharing for the first time, and we compare notes across three very different moments of family life—me in my 40s with little kids, Kelly in her 50s with a teenager and a college student, and Anna Quindlen in her 60s with grown children and grandchildren my kids' ages. The working title for Kelly’s series was "Between Two Annas," which I thought was very funny! And talking with these two women was really what I needed in this moment, when it can be so hard to find perspective when so much about family feels so claustrophobic and intense. There’s a link to this series in our show notes, or just search for Kelly Corrigan Wonders wherever you listen to podcasts.
On this next episode, we take you to a strip club in El Paso called The Red Parrot, where you’ll meet a dancer, a customer and the owner, and hear how the pandemic is changing how all of them interact.
JESSICA: I like to refer myself as a therapist. Who's strips the stripper therapist. Um, a lot of, a lot of these gentlemen, just, you know, and I've never noticed that until now, but a lot of them have a lot of things going on and I feel like I've gotten to know them further than the dollar amount.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
A lot of you, you told us, are tired, worried and worn out from dating. Logan Ury understands this. She lived it.
She is the director of relationship science for the dating app Hinge and has a new book out called How To Not Die Alone. She spent her 20s working at Google and dating the wrong people. Like one guy she met at Burning Man.
LOGAN URY: Just imagine a guy who looks like Keanu Reeves' better looking younger brother, and just the Burning Man is this alternate reality already. And so you're, you're out on, you're out at night and everybody's wearing white and there's amazing music being played. And then we just meet this guy and, you know, you have this great kiss. And I just feel like I fell like head over heels for this person. And even though, like, in retrospect, it sounds so silly. Cause it's like, we were basically on the moon and like, I don't think that what happens on the moon, like really should apply to real life. But like when we got back from the moon, and then I was like, okay, I guess now we start dating. And like, he just wasn't interested. And like, a serious relationship and I just took that as a challenge. Right? I just took it as like, well, I like to go after things that I want and I'll make a plan and I'll show him my value. And, you know, I was basically applying the book Lean In to trying to date this guy. And it doesn't work!
And even though romance did not blossom with Burning Man Keanu, the fling did help Logan realize that she wanted to find ways to use her behavioral science background in her love life.
LU: I was single and I was using the dating apps and I was struggling and I was like, I really want to find a way to take what I know and take this decision-making theory stuff and apply it to dating and relationships. And so that's what I've done ever since.
And so I've worked as a matchmaker. I've worked as a dating coach doing one-on-one dating coaching. Now I work at the dating app Hinge and then I just wrote this book taking the best of two fields of research. It's, as I mentioned, behavioral science, how we make decisions and then relationship science, what we know about love.
AS: Okay. I love that. I want to slow down that a little bit. Tell me more. Tell me more about that. Like, how do you, how do you become a good dater?
LU: Yeah, I mean, and I could nerd out on all of this, but I'll just basically say like, dating, as we know, it is something that came about around the year, 1890. And there's a great book about this called the labor of love for my friend, Maura Weigel, and so dating, as we know, it is a very new thing, right? 1890 online dating started in 1994 with kiss.com and then match.com a year later. And the dating apps have only been out for around 10 years. So if you're really thinking that we are in the middle of a gigantic shift in, in how we meet people and how we do partner selection. And in trying to find love within a marriage, like these are all very new things. And why I start with that is because. If you're finding this hard, then it's not just you. Dating is harder now than ever before. And some people might argue with that, right? They might say, but if you're an LGBTQ+ dater, then you have amazing apps. And if you're over 50 and these are what we call thin markets, people who, you know, it's not as easy to find someone or know someone single, like in that demographic, but I argue that because there's so many choices because the decision is up to us because our identities are ours to define. There really is so much pressure, such high expectations and just a lot of choice. And that makes dating today really, really difficult.
AS: When I think about dating being a skill, and then I think about, if I'm someone who wishes I could date in the way that we could in 2019 and just don't know how right now, like what are the ways that someone can brush up on their dating skills during this time with the constraints that we have because of the pandemic?
LU: Yeah. So the first thing I would say is that, um, dating is something that you have to do with an audience. It's like stand-up comedy. If you're writing jokes, that's just writing. Um, it's not standup comedy until you're in front of an audience. And the same thing is true with dating. The other thing is, is that from a behavioral change perspective, It's really hard to change your patterns of behavior. We tend to do one thing and keep doing it. And this is sort of the status quo bias, right? We just keep doing what we're doing. And it really takes a jolt to our system to make a change. And for most people that happens with something like a big breakup or maybe all of their friends are getting married and they start freaking out. But the pandemic is also that jolt. It's a way to look at your life and say, I'm on a path. Do I like where I'm headed. If I don't like where I'm headed, then I need to change direction. And so you can think about this as a moment to become more intentional about who you are, what you're looking for, what kind of people you're going to go out with and how you're going to go after it. And so yes, video dating is more awkward than meeting up in person. Yes. Video dating means that you can't, uh, make eye contact in the same way or see if you like someone's smell or, you know, give someone a hug at the end of the night, but there really are a lot of advantages to, to this sort of slow dating and getting to know people.
AS: One thing that we've heard, I heard from people so far listeners of ours who are single and who are trying to figure out dating right now is the strangeness of not having a public place to spend time. Like a next stop, you know, after you decide there's a connection and you want to spend more time together, it's sort of like you're in a park, maybe you're on a park bench masked, and then you have to decide, oh, am I going to go to his apartment now? Like, like there's... it's sort of a zero to 60 kind of situation because you can't just like, go for that extra round of drinks at the next bar in the way that you could pre-pandemic. Like what would you say to someone who's like, ah, like what, what new conversations need to happen at that stage to figure out what's going to happen physically?
LU: I would say like, that's a completely normal feeling. Everyone is making it up as they go along. And this really is, this really is, is challenging and something new that we're all figuring out. So just first I would want to normalize it. Um, In terms of advice, I would say, um, how can you use this as a moment to actually have a hard conversation with someone? And so one part of my book is I talk about how couples can either decide or slide through relationship transitions. And that means either, um, you have a conversation and you're intentional, or you sort of just say, "well, my lease is up and I spend a lot of time with you, should we just move in together?" And the research shows that couples that decide their way through these transitions are happier, have more successful relationships and even have more sex. And so it's great to decide. And so usually in dating, you don't have this decide conversation until around the time that you DTR or "define the relationship." And that could be a few weeks or a few months in, but with the pandemic, you actually are forced to have a hard conversation earlier, right? You say, will you be wearing a mask when we meet up? Um, what has your quarantine procedure been who's in your pod or even something like, Oh, can I kiss you? You really have to ask that question. Can I, you know, can I approach your face and kiss your lips? And so...
AS: That's really funny.
LU: It's just different and it's like...
AS: Yeah. That particular wording would not have occurred to me pre-pandemic. Can I approach your face...?
LU: I, I...right. I mean it's just so weird, it's like lots of people were kissing lots of other people and now it's like, Oh my God, the idea that like our saliva would be intertwined, like feel so intense and so....
LU: Part of that is like being in a relationship, one of the things that matters is can we make hard decisions together? Can we talk about the hard stuff? And now new couples are having to have that conversation earlier. And I think that let's say somebody just isn't good at having that conversation with you, well, that's actually really good data. And maybe like this isn't the kind of mature person that you want to be with.
AS: Can you tell me how do you open a video date? So it doesn't feel like a zoom meeting from work. Like what, what are the ways to open that interaction? Because I imagine that's the most awkward part, like, ooh, where do we start?
LU: It's true. No, that's true. So what I would say with this is that, uh, the date doesn't really just begin when you log into that video date, it actually begins beforehand with your mindset. And we have tons of research about the importance of mindset and what you're bringing into the date matters so much because our expectations of things truly define what ends up happening. And so for that video date, somebody should start by getting into the right mindset. And that means don't schedule your last work meeting from five to six and then your date at six o'clock because of course that's going to feel like you're literally just zooming into the next meeting. I would take at least an hour. I would change my clothes, maybe shower, redo your makeup, whatever you want to do. Um, do something that gets you into a good mindset and really start from a place of this is something different. And this is just a small technical thing, but I wouldn't use zoom. Why not use FaceTime or, or, or something else where it's like, you're holding your phone. It doesn't feel like you're exactly at work. And then I would say, you can start the date by saying like, I'm a little nervous, or this is my first time doing this. That's actually a way to just break the ice. And the other person can say me too. This is my first video data as well. I guess we're the last holdouts. And you're kind of bonding over that connection. And so, I think just acknowledging that it's a little awkward is a good, is a good place to start. Just starting from a point of like real people talking versus the small talk. It really cuts down that awkwardness and I know it's easier said than done, but it's just, can you be yourself? Can you show that person who you are? Can you do things that, that lower, that lower your nerves and can you really show up as you are versus like I am in date mode and what would that look like for you? And I think that for people, they would just see such better results with that. I know it's a pandemic. I know it's challenging, but just really. Try a video date. Try again, hang on one. Try seeing how it feels. Maybe you'll like it more than an in-person date. Maybe it'll actually play to your strengths and you're never going to wake up and be a hundred percent ready to date. That's a myth. You have to get out there and start dating and learning how to get better at dating and figuring out what you want. Someone out there who is just as imperfect as you is out there dating, and they are getting better at dating and that when you wait until you are so-called perfect and a hundred percent ready, which doesn't exist, you are underestimating two things. One, the fact that you need to get out there and get better at dating and that this is a skill that can be developed over time. And two, you're not getting a chance to figure out what kind of person you like. What that person ends up looking like might be totally different than what you expected, but be open to people surprising you and be open to the fact that if you're putting in work, then you're doing it right.
For Logan, she found that by letting go of her Burning Man Keanu fantasies, and focusing instead on how she felt when she was on a date and who made her feel like the best version of herself. Turned out for her, that was a coworker, whom she had considered just a friend.
LU: We would have lunch almost every day. And, you know, I'm sure being my proactive self, I was aware of when he ate lunch and I would, I would pop in there and it's actually funny, he would, he would often be sitting alone listening to fresh air.
AS: Oh, what a sweetie.
Logan: I know. What a sweet, like twenty-seven year old guy, obsessed with Terry Gross, what a good person.
That’s Logan Ury. Her new book, How To Not Die Alone, is out now.
If her pep talk was helpful… and if you end up putting some of it into practice and notice any shifts in your dating life, let us know. Our email is email@example.com. And if nothing changes and you just need to vent, we’re here for that too.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. This episode was produced by Afi Yellow-Duke and Anabel Bacon. The rest of our team includes Katie Bishop, Emily Botein, Yasmeen Khan, and Andrew Dunn. Our intern is Emily Tafur.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I’m on twitter @annasale, the show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And wherever you listen, be sure to subscribe to our show so you never miss an episode.
And thank you to Rudy Rubio in Piedmont, California, who is a sustaining member of Death, Sex & Money. Join Rudy and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
And if you've been inspired and are looking for a place to go on your next date during this pandemic, we want to leave you with one tip from a listener named Heather.
HEATHER: I've done all kinds of dates. I've had a first date at Costco, highly recommend.
I’m Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.