By Cady Drell
As the COVID pandemic still rages in some places and a semblance of post-pandemic life has emerged in others, it can be tricky to figure out how to approach your own safety and comfort when it comes to dating right now. Depending on the number of new cases and the vaccination rates where you live, meeting and going out with new people might seem far more doable now than early in the pandemic. But even if things seem less risky at the moment, there are still some gray areas of post-pandemic dating that Bumble’s community is learning to navigate. For instance: Does it still matter if your match went to Mexico for spring break 2020 while you were quarantining? Should you still be talking to new matches about their approach to masks? Here’s how to work through deciding whether the way that your match handled the pandemic still matters and how to deal.
Firstly, it’s important to recognize that there’s a wide spectrum of how people view safety when it comes to COVID; some behaviors that seem acceptable to one person could still be a no-go for someone else, and that’s fine! What matters is that you figure out what feels comfortable to you, and what kind of behavior you’re okay with a potential partner engaging in. “It’s ok to trust yourself that when you think something is a big deal, it is,” says Lane Moore, author of the book How to Be Alone. “It’s really about being on the same page as a date. For one person, somebody traveling during this pandemic is a huge dealbreaker and for another person, they might say, ‘Well, I also traveled, and it’s fine.’” Before meeting up with a match, take the time to think critically about what safety precautions still matter to you (Do you want to only meet outdoors? Would you feel more comfortable getting COVID tested before getting intimate with someone?), and then go from there.
Once you know your own comfort level around some of those gray areas, you’ll want to make sure that you know where your potential date falls on that spectrum. Sometimes their approach to COVID will be readily available for you to see, like if a match has a Vaccination Badge or a photo of themselves in a mask on their Bumble profile. You can also peek at their Instagram to get a sense of how they’ve been handling the pandemic. And if you want to weed out anyone who isn’t on the same page as you about travel, masks, or vaccines, just say it right on your profile. “If it’s important to you, put it out there,” says Bela Gandhi, founder of Smart Dating Academy. “But when you do say it, try to say it positively instead of from a judgmental space.” For example, if you want to make sure your next date is all-in on vaccinations, write something cheeky on your own profile like, “Turn-ons: you cooking for me, and being vaccinated.” Making your views clear can help attract matches who feel the same way.
To bring up topics that aren’t on someone’s profile, use questions that prompt them to share more, but that allow you to sound interested rather than accusatory. For example, questions like, “Have you been able to get out of town at all this year?” or “How’s the vaxxed life treating you?” Once you get the conversation started, according to Gandhi, the best way to find out how a potential date deals with (or dealt with) COVID precautions is to get curious. If they mention doing something that you might not be comfortable with, rather than jump to conclusions, “You can say, ‘Well, why would you do that? What made you think of that approach?’” says Gandhi. Understanding not just the other person’s action but their specific reasons for taking it, she adds, should move that action from the gray area to the black-and-white area. You can also suggest hopping on a video call right in the Bumble app to more casually ask their thoughts about pandemic safety and get a better sense of how they react to your questions.
Remember that even if differing approaches to the pandemic might not seem like a huge deal in the moment, how seriously somebody took things like Center for Disease Control requirements and mask mandates can be an indicator of their values. Through having that conversation, you may find that you and your match don’t share values that would make you compatible partners further down the road. Don’t be afraid to preemptively bring up your concerns before agreeing to meet up with them in person, and don’t assume that you’re both on the same page. “I did go on dates with two unvaccinated people without knowing,” says Phoebe*, 28. “I thought at that point that everyone had been vaccinated so I didn’t ask right away.” One of these dates told Phoebe that they were waiting to see how other people reacted to the shot. “So I just asked, ‘What is your thought process with this?’ We talked it out,” she says. Phoebe’s date explained to her that their reasons involved feeling like they were low-risk because they worked from home, and hesitation about vaccines as a person of color, since Black Americans have a long history of mistreatment by the medical community. Their explanation helped Phoebe to feel comfortable enough to agree to a second date. Nevertheless, she says that she now asks about vaccination status ahead of time.
You also may discover through that communication that you and a date are more compatible than you realized. Anna*, 31, recently explained to a match that she wasn’t comfortable with his first date selection of mini-golf because she knew that the location was indoors and got really crowded. “I was nervous when I responded to him that way, because I was worried he wouldn’t want to go at all,” she says, though she acknowledges that her comfort would still take priority. But when her date told her that he completely understood her concerns and instead suggested an outdoor garden, it actually made her like him more. By giving her date leeway to respond after making her boundaries clear—rather than assuming that his first venue choice said something negative about him—Anna felt like their bond deepened, since he clearly took her concerns and comfort seriously.
Ultimately, dating in the wake of the pandemic, or any time, comes down to understanding your own personal boundaries and sticking to them. By knowing what makes you feel comfortable on a date, you’ll be able to speak up when something doesn’t seem right and recognize when someone is actually valuing your feelings and respecting your boundaries.
*Names have been changed.