Has Quarantine Ruined My Ability To Date IRL?

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It’s been a long, hard, weird year, much of it marked by quarantine, and I’m not ashamed to admit I have completely forgotten what life was like before militant hand-washing and mask-wearing. As New York begins the cautious process of reopening, it’s not anxiety that plagues me, exactly; it’s more of a general sense of befuddlement at how the world works. I’m still not reverting to most of my pre-pandemic habits—no crowded C train rides for me, as long as my bike holds out—but even the little things deeply confuse me.

“So I’m just supposed to…sit at a table? Near other people? Instead of in the park? And drink?” I whispered to a friend on our first venture out to a bar in our Brooklyn neighborhood last weekend. I expected her to roll her eyes, but she was as uncertain as I was about how the whole process worked. (Honestly, I hated every aspect of it, except for the Cuomo-mandated PB&Js we were issued with our cocktails.)

Seeing as I can’t even seem to transition back to a casual bar visit with a friend without confusion, there’s another hallmark of so-called normal life that’s looming over my head: dating. I’m a single, 27-year-old woman who would ideally like to not be single one day, which tends to require some effort of the putting-on-a-good-bra-and-inquiring-about-another-person’s-line-of-work variety, but even the act of seeing more than one or two of my friends at once feels wild right now, so how am I supposed to take a chance on a stranger?

It’s not necessarily the risk of COVID-19 transmission that worries me—I’ve been getting tested regularly, and New York’s infection rate has fallen enough to make me feel reasonably comfortable getting a masked, distanced outdoor drink with a new person, so long as they’ve also recently tested negative. (If you haven’t had the “Hey, so when was your last nose swab?” conversation with a potential partner, you have a real treat in store, let me tell you.)

What really stresses me out about the prospect of introducing dating back into my life is the ritual of it all. I’ve spent the last five months either completely alone or seeing close friends only over Zoom and in outdoor areas. How do I transition from interacting only with people who know my birthday and my childhood AIM screen name to getting to know a whole new person? Suddenly, the fact that I used to regularly meet up with strangers—inside of bars, no less!—and while away an evening in their company seems incomprehensible.

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