by Amelia Quint
Coronavirus lockdowns may have started easing, but the way we date has changed for good. For many, the past few months have shown that virtual dating doesn’t necessarily have to be secondary to ‘IRL’ meetups. It’s entirely possible to meet your perfect match from the comfort of your couch — but it does, of course, take a little getting used to, especially if it’s completely new to you.
So, how do you recreate the electricity of an in-person first date? Is it possible to feel sultry when you’re video chatting from the same room you’ve been working in for the past three months? It can be tough to feel intimate when you’re dating virtually, but it’s definitely not impossible. There are plenty of ways to access that spark when you’re connecting long-distance.
Pre-lockdown, a big part of “going on a date” was choosing a location and connecting in a new environment. So how do you set a romantic scene without leaving your space? Gabrielle Alexa Noel, creator of Bi Girls Club and online sexual health advocate, says you have to be intentional. “It’s definitely important to set the mood or it’ll just feel like a regular phone call.” she says. “I pick a date, time, and activity with the person and try to stick to it. I establish that I’m dressing up a little. I go to a nice area in my home.”
She says preparation is a surefire way to get into a romantic headspace: “It gives me a lot of the same excitement and nervousness, which makes it feel a lot like an in-person date.” It’s a small gesture, but putting on an outfit that you know looks amazing can bring on the same butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that you get IRL, even while you’re in your own room.
In the same way, thinking up fun things to do together from afar requires more effort — but in Noel’s case, that’s been part of the fun. Social distancing started very early in her relationship with her girlfriend, and while they were quarantining in different homes, they found cute ways to flirt from a distance. Not sure where to start? Send a present that shows that you’re paying attention to what they’re into! Early on, her girlfriend gave her a bottle of her favorite wine. “That showed me that she was thinking of me, but also that she remembered something about me,” she says. “That felt very intimate.”
Ashley Manta, sex educator and founder of the The Cannasexual, says you’ll both have a better time if you go the extra mile to make it a sensual experience. Your best bet is to start “getting the senses involved and getting yourself talking,” she says. Manta offers a simple script for this: “You can ask them, ‘I would love it if you could spend at least five minutes describing you space using as many of the five senses as possible.'” Whether it’s the texture of the chair you’re sitting on, the scent of your home, or the ambient noise in your surroundings, these little things paint a mental picture that’s so much more romantic.
If it doesn’t feel natural at first, don’t worry! Manta believes it’s essential to embrace awkwardness. “Don’t feel like you have to be something or someone that you’re not,” she says. She got the same advice from her instructor at a pole class, an activity she says was both empowering and nerve-wracking until she took it to heart. “Whatever you’re doing, you can make that sexy,” she says. “The amount that you’re willing to lean into it is what makes it authentic.” Basically, if you’re feeling anxious, own it! Your partner might be feeling the same way, so your openness could be what sets them at ease.
Dr. Rhea Merck, psychotherapist and Senior Instructor of Psychology at the University of South Carolina, agrees that in order to spark romance when dating virtually, you have to be patient with the process. “Chemistry develops in lots of ways, but the difference I think is…giving it more time to really get to know one another and figuring out how to really spend time with this person.” Dr. Merck says that we take in a lot of non-verbal communication that we don’t even recognize most of the time, and communicating without that will take more concerted effort.
Noel affirms that in the absence of those physical cues, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t click right away. “This is new terrain for a lot of people, so be compassionate with yourself,” she says. “Remember that there will be awkward silences or talking over each other because you’re connecting through a screen…and that’s okay! It can still be a blast regardless.” And if we’re being honest, those charming moments of awkwardness are what first dates are all about! If you can laugh with them through the meet-cute jitters online or IRL, you’ve found someone truly magical.