Unlike in the Before Times, nearly every Hinge match I spoke with suggested a date, typically via FaceTime. FaceTimes are cost-free and come with almost no risk of wasting an evening—it’s much easier to politely end a FaceTime after only 45 minutes than it would be an in-person date. The only time commitment I made outside of the call itself was the five minutes it took to apply mascara, and I often scheduled two dates in a night to maximize my lashes.
I felt more in control on FaceTime because I could choose how my dates saw me. Initially, I feared that the ability to see myself would be distracting. Instead, I was better able to concentrate on what my dates were saying, as I didn’t self-consciously wonder if anything was stuck in my teeth or if my arms were held at an unflattering angle. The men seemed looser too. Previously, the unwritten rule of first dates had been to never say the word date, but the virtual dating experience was so unusual that we were quick to openly debrief. I felt vulnerable admitting to strangers that I was worried about my FaceTime dating skills, but we were all equally inexperienced, and many of them shared my insecurities.
FaceTiming had its downsides. Some men seemed to think that they didn’t owe women the same amount of respect virtually as they did in the real world, which was already a relatively low bar. One man didn’t show up to our date and never explained why. Another asked immediately if I’d be comfortable having sex during the pandemic. Yet another drunkenly called me in a towel and tried to flash his genitals. Fortunately, I could hang up and blame the Wi-Fi. Overall, though, because of the convenience and safety—COVID-19 is not the only risk women face when dating in person—I might recommend that daters always start with a FaceTime, even when the threat of the coronavirus has diminished.
After a successful FaceTime with someone, I’d schedule a masked and socially distant date. I felt stiffer and more awkward in a mask—I hadn’t realized how crucial a smile was until I tried to flirt without one. And when one man talked only about himself for two hours, I couldn’t deliver my most withering “Your words—they bore me” glare (the frown is crucial).
My dates and I had to navigate each other’s rules for this new normal. I’d had similar conversations with close friends, who were divided over how much contact was acceptable, but it was significantly more challenging with guys I barely knew. My desire to seem “fun” and “chill” on dates was incompatible with expressing my social-distancing boundaries. I seemed to offend one date by asking him to stand farther away from me. I apologized, as I’m often too quick to do, and then felt ashamed—I should be prioritizing safety.
After a few misses, I caught a good one. Sam and I FaceTimed for hours. He came over for a socially distanced date on my lawn, during which I called a doctor friend to ask about the safety of him using my bathroom. Sam patiently held his bladder during the call, and I gave him the okay. Near the end of May, we went on our third in-person date, and he brought up sex. He seemed to think it would be fun, and I agreed. But we got COVID-19 tests first.