Prior to 2020, hook-ups and one-night stands felt simpler. Easier. The supermarket shelves were full of toilet paper, hand sanitizer was rarely seen outside of the doctor’s office, and we were all happily unaware of the phrase ‘intimate partner visits’.
But COVID-19 changed all of that. Now, not only are we navigating big new changes in the way we work and socialise, but we have to think differently about hooking up and dating as well. While your romantic life may not have changed much if you’ve been in a monogamous relationship since before COVID began, those of us meeting new partners suddenly have a lot to think about. Are video dates as good as the real thing? What are the protocols for having a friend-with-benefits over to your house? And should you self-isolate from your elderly relatives for two weeks after that Bumble date?
Of course, you should always follow the health advice and directives of your local government regarding having visitors over to your house and going out to meet people. And it goes without saying that if you have any symptoms of coronavirus, you should cancel any dates you have planned and get tested immediately. But while our country’s Chief Health Officers are great at advising us on when to wear a mask or how to get tested, there’s no protocol for forming intimate connections in a global pandemic. So we’ve put together a guide for hooking up in the time of coronavirus.
Be honest about your expectations
One good thing that has come out of this pandemic is that some of us are feeling more confident talking about what we need and want out of situations. At work, with family, and in relationships, it suddenly feels a bit easier to speak up and assert ourselves. After all, we have been through a pretty harrowing and scary year—those ‘tough’ conversations just don’t feel as tough anymore. With this in mind, it’s worth being honest and open with your date about what you’re seeking from your meeting. Whether you’re looking for a soulmate, seeking a lockdown sexting buddy, or just after a one-night fling—tell the person (or people) you’re communicating with. They’re bound to appreciate your honesty and if you’re both honest about what you want, you’re less likely to hurt any feelings later down the track.
Get creative about communication
So the days of eagerly heading out to a bar or restaurant might be on hold for now, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to boring convos over a dating app. We have more ways to communicate these days than we ever have before—why not get creative? Send your date a hand-written letter or postcard from your city to theirs (swap PO box numbers if you don’t want to exchange addresses yet). If you live only a few suburbs away from each other, even better! What kind of postcards can you find to send from Preston to Brunswick or from Newtown to Leichhardt? You could also go one step further and send them a gift in the mail. Is it a bold move? Sure. But wouldn’t a bottle of wine, a plant, or a jigsaw puzzle totally make their day?
Consider virtual dates
At the time of writing this article, there’s relatively low community transmission of COVID in Australia. But if you’re immunocompromised, in close contact with someone who is, or if you just want to be cautious, consider video dates in place of real-world interaction. Chatting with a date or potential hook-up over video chat is guaranteed not to cause COVID transmission. It may not be quite as good as actually speaking to them face-to-face, but it definitely feels more intimate and conversational than text messaging. If your video date strays into the territory of sexting or sending nudes, remember the cardinal rule of receiving intimate photos and texts from a partner: never share them with anyone else. It’s a criminal offence to take or distribute photos or videos of someone without their consent. If a date trusts you enough to share a sexy selfie with you, it’s vital that you do not share or show the image to anyone else. Keep it for your eyes only.
Explore some long-distance options
If you and your lover or partner are apart during COVID, you can still find ways to be intimate even though you’re not in the same house. Along with virtual dates and sexy texts, you might consider some sexy devices that can be used with a partner over a long distance. Some vibrators are operable from a smartphone: your partner could download the app to control it while you use the device, and you could message or call each other while using it. Alternately, some apps enable you to watch a film or TV show at the same time as your partner, even pausing it on your screen if your partner pauses it on theirs. You don’t always have to have a hot and steamy night in—sometimes just curling up in bed to watch The Crown knowing your partner is watching the same thing, miles away, is enough.
Meeting people outdoors is less risky than being indoors with them, as the large amount of air and wind can help disperse coronavirus droplets. For this reason, you might want to catch up with your date outside at a picnic or beach date, or even a restaurant with a big outdoor terrace. However, being outdoors doesn’t prevent you from coming into contact with COVID, it just reduces your risk by a small margin. Even if you meet outdoors, don’t forget to sanitise your hands and wear a mask where necessary.
Be respectful of the people you live with
Before bringing any dates back to your home, you should have a conversation with the people you live with and set some ground rules regarding visitors. If your state or territory has limits on how many people can visit the home, always follow those rules—and talk to your housemates or family about how many people they’re comfortable having in the home as well. Decide as a household if you’re cool with people staying the night, using shared facilities like bathrooms and showers, and how you feel about visitors wearing masks. Your date should ideally have these same conversations with their household, and you should follow any rules they set.
Be honest about your exposure
Before hooking up with your date, it might be worth having a conversation about the amount of exposure you’ve both had to the outside world within the past few weeks. If you’re being super cautious and staying isolated and your date is out every other day socialising in restaurants or bars—or if they live or work in a COVID hotspot—you might want to know so you can make an informed decision about hooking up with them. Likewise, if you’ve been happily socialising with friends recently and your future date is preferring to play it safe, you might even consider limiting your social contact for a while before you hook up with them, just in case. It’s also worth being aware of what you’ll be doing in the two weeks after your date: if you’re planning to see an elderly or immunocompromised relative, we recommend staying on the safe side and limiting social outings in the two weeks beforehand.
Remember: this too shall pass!
Dating or not, there’s no denying that the pandemic has been tough on everyone. Many of us are dealing with job loss, reduced social contact, missing our families, and even the grief of losing a loved one to coronavirus. If you’re feeling sad, lonely, upset, or you just need someone to talk to, please reach out for help. You can call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1800 512 348, or 000 in the case of an emergency. Heaps of people struggle with poor mental health, and many more of us have days when we just need a friendly ear and someone to hear us out. Remember that the pandemic will come to an end eventually, and normal life will come back—even if it seems far away right now.