Dating - Why everything is freezing, and not just the weather

Now it’s 2021 and nothing is as you envisioned.

TÊTE-À-TÊTES like this one at a Tel Aviv Port café seem a thing of the distant past (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
TÊTE-À-TÊTES like this one at a Tel Aviv Port café seem a thing of the distant past
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Dear Matchmaker,
How do I continue… ?

“It was freezing.”
Nine months into COVID dating, this is now the first thing I hear when I ask about the dates I set up. On top of all the other hardships of dating in general, and particularly dating during COVID, now dating is freezing temperature-wise. Dating, however, has been “freezing” in other ways long before the weather turned.
• Masks and social distancing. With every date you must weigh the trade-off of seeing your date’s face against the risk of getting COVID. You’re not quite seated two meters apart at that table for two. There is nothing casual or natural about walking two meters apart: Strangers walk in between you, one of you is off the sidewalk and into the street, and you essentially need to shout and strain to hear the conversation. It is very hard to create a connection with anyone, let alone decide if this stranger is marriage material, without seeing his or her entire face. Gone are the smiles, facial cues, flirtatious facial expressions and everything else you use to decode on a date.
• There is nowhere to go. Literally. All date ideas begin with the word “outdoor.” You fill in the rest: café, walk, bar, rooftop, etc. It gets dark so early now, and worse than the cold, rain or snow is the wind. Not just because it makes it feel colder, but because of what it does to your hair! There are outdoor restaurants with heat lamps, but they don’t make it warm enough. You both feel bad spending money on a nice restaurant in this weather. You still worry that even outdoors the next table is a little too close. If you are on the more modern end of modern Orthodoxy, or not Orthodox, you toy with the idea of doing a date in one of your apartments. But modern or not, that’s not really who you are and you do not want to compromise your values and risk giving off the wrong impression. It is just too soon for that at this stage of dating.
• The rules are different. It is very hard to navigate the emotions of dating with social distancing. From sitting in a car together masked to not having the hello and goodbye hug (for those of you who are not shomer negiah, abstaining from all touch until married) – everything is so different and does not feel right. The “mask hug” is awkward and certainly does not give that little surge of oxytocin connecting the two of you that a pre-COVID date hug used to do.
• Mann tracht, Gott lacht (Man plans, God laughs). Whether you just graduated college and were planning your move to your first real apartment, or you finally finished grad school and were going to interview for jobs but everything is now on hold, or you moved into a new apartment with new roommates but are afraid to get out and socialize, or you just lost your job, or maybe you were finally ready for a serious relationship but COVID has put everything on hold, 2020 was supposed to be the year you were going to focus on finding “the one,” and now it’s 2021 and nothing is as you envisioned.
• A positive test. You venture out despite all of this and date. That first date goes to a second, third, fourth, and just as you’re getting cautiously optimistic, you learn you were exposed to someone who tested positive and you must now test and quarantine, and you need to tell your date who was already nervous about COVID. There is no better way to say it: buzzkill, the strain that crushes the spark and excitement of your new relationship only four dates in, barely far enough along past the point of being strangers.
• Everyone else is moving forward. Everywhere you look, friends, relatives or just strangers on social media seem to be thriving in life and dating. Why do they seem to move through COVID unaffected? Nine months into COVID, dating feels entirely out of control. Deep down you know that the right one will come, at the right time, and everything will fall into place, but sometimes you don’t entirely believe it.
• There are positives. Surprisingly, in fact, COVID has had some positives for dating in terms of how you date, who you date, and who you decide not to date. You’ve delighted in the creative date ideas: drive-in theaters, crafts and art projects, bonfires, picnics with board games, long drives to scenic walks, or even just grocery shopping together (yes, on a third date) and enjoy the respite from nonstop first-date drinks. And on those long car rides or walks, you’ve had the opportunity to have deep conversations without the distractions of bars, restaurants and the usual city buzz; conversations you would previously never get to so early in dating, and you’ve been able to create some deep connections right away.
 •  You feel more ready. In a recent OU Magazine interview, SawYouAtSinai founder and CEO Marc Goldmann noted that it is the social distancing and the lack of the usual social life that have led many to re-prioritize finding a spouse.
Your friends have scattered and are socially distanced from you. Without them around you realize that what you really want is “the one” to quarantine with, not your friends. You are searching for the one deep, meaningful and romantic relationship.
Perhaps you’ve opened yourself up to others you might not have considered dating before (and vice versa). After all, in COVID, it is often low-risk – just phone calls to start. Some of you have felt vulnerable and reached out to an ex to try again. Others have felt bold and confident and decided to explore dating a close platonic friend (you know, the one you promised each other would marry if you weren’t married by a certain age). And some of you decided to date that person you know is interested in you and checks off all of your boxes, but you had avoided dating, fearing a lack of chemistry. Others have dated someone missing one of their criteria that seemed so important, that suddenly doesn’t seem as crucial anymore. And some of you have discovered the ability to let go of a fictional crutch or backup plan that’s actually held you back from being able to meet and accept “the one.”
Secretly, you relish the opportunity, the additional time you have to focus on the emotional, mental and non-physical connection.
Or you may have dodged a bullet. You’ve had time to think about what matters most to you and identify who you should take the time to get to know and build connections with and, importantly, who you should not.
So nine months into undoubtedly the worst year of many of our lives, masked up and bundled up in layers like a Norwegian, resilient, you persist, schedule another outdoor date (tentatively because of the freezing winter weather, of course) and focus on the conversation, and hope for this to be “the one” with the very warm and cozy relationship.
And you don’t give up hope.
The writer has her own dating coaching business, providing dating coaching geared to the needs of traditional to Orthodox clients, and helps clients create online dating profiles. She also volunteers as a matchmaker on SawYouAtSinai.com and maintains a dating advice blog, The Matchmaker Diaries.