Dating during the Covid-19 era adds new challenges for those looking for love and lust partners. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Patti Britton, co-founder of Sex Coach U, about her insights and views on starting and maintaining intimate relationships in the era of Covid-19. She had a lot of rich ideas and shared some anonymous stories from clients about their dating and relating discoveries during this time, some of which may be relevant to you or to your clients.
A couple weeks ago, we shared an essay on kissing during the pandemic, inspired by a part of this interview. Now read a part of our conversation that relates specifically to dating in the Covid-19 era.
How to Date Safely During the Covid-19 Era
Inara de Luna: How can we safely date during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Dr. Patti Britton: I know from speaking with clients that there’s a lot of anxiety about dating in a Covid-19 world. People in the dating scene are wondering:
“Where have you been? Are you really using safe guidelines? Can I trust you when you wear a mask? Are you always wearing a mask? One that is protective enough? What kinds of activities are you engaging in when you’re not with me? To do your job, are you talking to people you don’t know and are they standing close to your face? Are they in close enough proximity that they could put you at risk? Then you come home to me or you date me and I don’t know that you’re really safe and you may not know because you could be asymptomatic.”
The whole idea of asymptomatic carriers and potential spread makes it difficult to determine if someone is safe enough to interact with. And how do you establish criteria? How do you even implement and introduce questions about social behavior when you’re dating someone new or you’re dating someone that you’ve really developed a trust-based relationship with. But how does that person work and interact with other people?
I have a client couple who’ve been dating for over two months during the Covid-19 pandemic. He went away to be with family and assured his partner that he would be employing safe Covid-19 behaviors, such as wearing a mask. When he gassed up his car, he would wear rubber gloves that he then disposed of in a trash can. Gas stations are renowned for being dirty and potential contamination zones. He said he would use a device for urinating in the car on a long car trip and or he would only use restrooms with gloves on, dispose of the gloves afterward, and wash his hands copiously. All of the safer behaviors that the CDC has been teaching us he assured her he had employed.
However, he then went and saw many members of his family, and because there’s a familiarity with family and a sense of trust—does the girlfriend know whether or not he took his mask off for a family dinner? Does the girlfriend know whether he hugged his family members with whom he was very close and assumed if they said they’re not infected that they aren’t? What was the level of risk-taking and what was the level of safer practice?
So when he came back from his trip, she was very anxious about to what degree was he employing safe measures and could they re-establish where they left off? This is the big critical question. How safe are you? You have to establish your own safety guidelines for yourself, and you have to be able to trust the other person if you’re in an ongoing relationship. If you’re dating a lot of new people, this is a different subject.
Inara: So how does this relate to people who are online dating and want to eventually meet in person?
Dr. Patti: If you’re dating a lot of new people, you’re going to have to first establish a communication style virtually. Then if you decide to meet them, how do you do so? Do you meet them in a public place? Maybe in a parking lot on folding chairs set six feet apart with masks on, sipping your coffee under the mask? Do you allow only outdoors meetings? How quickly do you escalate physical contact? These are the kinds of questions that you have to ask.
Inara: Seems like a lot to worry about, on top of the nervousness of meeting someone new.
Dr. Patti: I think people are probably spending more time texting first, then moving perhaps to a telephone or video chat before meeting. Because you’re highly anxious about transmission and/or face coverings, there’s an additional level of anxiety about first dates. You may feel more awkward. You may be more nervous, and that’s natural. Give yourself some slack in terms of how you literally feel, how your nervous system is feeling, when you do move to that point where you actually meet a date from online in real life.
I’m a big advocate of meeting outdoors, if you can. Make that first date outdoors and get creative. You can go sit in a park or, like one of my clients described how they met their online beau in real life early in the pandemic by sitting on camping chairs in an empty parking lot six feet apart. There was a coffee shop that was open and they were able to get coffee. They sipped their coffee under their masks but did not get closer than six feet, while at the same time, they got to know each other and they got to take off their masks and show their faces to each other. They kept it playful and light, and were respectful of the pandemic at the same time. Not minimizing it, not denying it. Not making it wrong, but agreeing that there’s an alliance that can be formed during a crisis like this one that maybe, in some odd way, allows us to feel closer to strangers because we’re desperate for human contact and social connection.
And so there’s a gift in this pandemic. It’s slowing us down. It’s allowing us not to escalate into relationships that maybe we wouldn’t want to escalate under other circumstances. And it’s giving us a way to align around an enemy on the outside that we’re both facing together, which creates a sense of harmony and a sense of oneness.
Inara: Oh, I like that reframe.
Serial Dating & Friends with Benefits
Inara: Okay. Next question is about serial dating during the Covid-19 era versus friends-with-benefits, and how to manage multiple partners.
Dr. Patti: That’s a big one! If you’re a serial monogamist, then you probably have established a deeper communication and greater levels of trust and honesty with your lover. And if that’s the case, then you might be willing and able to escalate to safer sexual practices and/or have sexual behaviors that don’t require condoms or contraceptives depending on your age and your circumstances.
Because we are living in an era in which we’ve been deprived of social contact and human touch, it’s easy in some ways to fall into a friends with benefits relationship with a prospective lover that might include sex, however you define sex. It might include non-penetrative sexual activities, including merely putting your hand on another person or being held by another person, escalating all the way to full penetrative sex with all of the side dishes that go along with it.
But there’s so much trepidation about transmission through non-sexual interaction, such as talking or singing near someone. We’re experiencing a sense of avoidance about human contact and that’s causing a sense of loneliness and aloneness and deprivation from human touch. I think it’s very easy to slide into a variant of just wanting to be with another human being in a social situation, whether it’s sharing a coffee at a patio cafe, or having dinner or drinks at a cafe bar (if a bar is open), or bringing them home with you.
During these challenging times, we have to expand how we think about safer sexual guidelines. We still need to avoid unwanted unintended pregnancy and unwanted, unintended STIs or STDs. But now we’re at a different level of risk, which is the risk of contracting a potentially fatal upper respiratory disease. You have to exercise caution because it’s the simpler social encounters and activities that put us at risk for Covid-19 far more than the sexual behaviors.
And sometimes quickly moving into a friends with benefits arrangement can feel safer than serial dating the same person and escalating to a full sexual relationship. It’s now easier to escalate to genital contact and avoid face-to-face transmission of Covid-19 in this crazy era that we’re living in right now.
Inara: We’re living in an upside down world.
Dr. Patti: It IS upside down! I like that concept, that we’re living in an upside-down world right now because upside down is exactly what’s happening. It’s literally an upside-down world where you can’t say hi to someone without a mask on but that person could be parallel to your body upside down in your crotch.
Continue the Conversation
We’ll continue sharing more excerpts from the interview with Dr. Patti in the coming weeks, but now we’d love to hear from you! Join us in our public Facebook group, Sex Matters, and share your thoughts about dating and relating during the pandemic. How are you advising clients who are longing to meet someone or start dating?