Is that a COVID-19 mask you're wearing or are you happy to see me?

Coronavirus has changed dating and presented new challenges to those looking to find love.

Virtual relationships, online dating and social networking concept - woman sending kisses with computer monitor (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Virtual relationships, online dating and social networking concept - woman sending kisses with computer monitor
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Dating can be challenging during the best of times, but during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become crazier than ever, say Israelis who are trying to find a new relationship in spite of the virus.
“It’s added a whole new layer of oddness to the dating process,” said Baruch (like all those interviewed for this article, he requested that his real name not be used), a divorced dad in his fifties who lives in the Jerusalem area.
In addition to all the usual realms in which daters look for compatibility – religion, politics, family situation, level of seriousness about making a commitment, etc. – there is now a new metric to be considered: how strict each of the two are about observing the virus regulations.
“I had a date with a woman where we went for a walk on the beach together,” said Baruch. “It was really hot and she wanted to sit in my car with the air conditioner on. She was upset when I said no.”
Baruch said he had problems with several women who didn’t like the idea of masked dates, including one who was a nurse, which surprised him. “I thought she would be more realistic about the risk of getting infected.” When he insisted, the nurse put on her mask.
Said Moriah, a Jerusalem woman in her mid-20s who works in the arts, “I do Zoom dates and before we meet, I ask whether the guy would agree to wear a mask, and meet only outdoors.” For Moriah, these questions are a good screening device. “A nice guy will agree to this,” she said. “And if someone doesn’t understand the risk of the coronavirus, there’s not much to talk about.”
Moriah, who describes herself as an optimistic person, does find that there are some pluses to the current situation.
“You get to know all different aspects of a person, and you can see whether you might have an intellectual match. I love scientific discussions for example, so it gives me a great opportunity to see whether it won’t be boring with this one,” she said.
But the problems of dating during the pandemic don’t only involve masks and hand sanitizer. Timing and the uncertainty of determining if there is genuine chemistry when chatting online are two stressors that come up frequently.
Lior, who works in hi-tech, had one Zoom date with a woman just before the second lockdown began, and he really liked her.
“I can’t wait to meet her in real life,” he said. But even after the lockdown ends, Lior said he and the woman would weigh carefully whether and how to meet up in real life, since they both care for elderly parents and don’t want to endanger them.
“There’s always a risk,” he said.
Another issue is that, while he enjoys their frequent conversations, “You just don’t know what the chemistry will be until you are actually with the person.”
Baruch echoes this sentiment. “I have no interest in talking on Zoom ad infinitum,” he said. Normally, after just one or two brief phone chats, he would decide whether or not to get together with a woman. During lockdown, chats are all there is.
For Jackie, a divorced mother in her fifties who works in design, the lockdowns pushed her into making a dramatic decision about a very new relationship.
“When the first lockdown started, I had been dating this man for just a little over a month. And I really, really liked him, but a month is not much time to truly get to know someone.” Still faced with the prospect of not seeing him for weeks on end, they decided that he should move in with her and her 23-year-old son.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “He and I had to figure out how to get along together, plus suddenly he had to spend a huge amount of time with my son, at a time when normally I would just have been deciding if the time was right for him to meet my son over dinner.”
There were some uncomfortable moments – “A lot of uncomfortable moments, to be honest” – but in the end, it worked out and they feel fairly relaxed about living together through the current lockdown.
Another issue that can come up is when those who are dating belong to different risk groups.
Amy, a woman who is 70, had been seeing a man who is 45 for about two months before the coronavirus crisis began. During the first lockdown, they met occasionally but with the skyrocketing infection numbers that led to the second lockdown, she made the difficult decision to stop seeing her boyfriend throughout this lockdown. “It hurts, but getting sick would hurt worse,” she said.
For Michal, a university student, if things aren’t going to get physical, “Why bother?” She follows the rules so she doesn’t think there is any point to dating right now. “Most of my friends think I’m crazy,” she said. “They’re hooking up just the way they did before the virus. Only now they don’t meet for coffee or a drink, they just go right to one of their apartments. My friend says, ‘Once we’ve kissed, we’ve already been exposed to the virus, so why not just go to bed?’”
Given what Michal’s friend said, perhaps it’s no surprise that Ynet reported during the summer that statistics show there has been a significant jump in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Israel. Dr. Itai Gal wrote in the article that there were 860 cases of chlamydia reported from the beginning of 2020 until the end of June, as compared with 664 during the same period the previous year. And practitioners caution that statistics never reflect the true number of those infected with STDs since many people do not seek treatment.
Even without STDs, there is a new, unpleasant conversation that some have had to have with people they’ve dated, notifying their dates that they may have been exposed to the virus. “I’ve been in bidud (quarantine) twice, and one time I had to tell a woman I dated. She was not happy,” said Baruch.
Many Israelis singles are looking back longingly at the dating scene before the virus.
“I’m hoping in a few years, we’ll look back at this like we did being in a sealed room with a gas mask in the First Gulf War, like it happened in a different life,” Baruch said.