Dating six feet apart: Virtual dates becoming new norm

Dates through FaceTime once seemed ridiculous but many people are seeking new ways to meet each other because of social distancing. (Photo illustration by Preston Crawley)

Provo resident Josh Woodland never would have gone on a date over FaceTime with a girl he had not previously met in person. But, with social distancing and fears of spreading COVID-19, in-person dates became an unlikely option.

Woodland said FaceTiming his date felt more normal than it would have before social distancing because it’s the only thing he can do to date right now.

Going on in-person dates isn’t out of the question for Woodland, but he said he feels hesitant to try because of how cautious everyone is. “I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.”

The FaceTime date went well and Woodland said he found it to be refreshing and exciting to meet and get to know someone new. Woodland said he and his date are considering meeting up for a hike sometime soon.

Woodland is among many in Provo who are finding it difficult to date and meet people. With quarantine and social distancing, the usual ways to meet people have disappeared.

BYU student Millay Davidson has gone on a few FaceTime dates. She and the boy she went out with first communicated over the phone and eventually moved to FaceTime.

“At first the phone calls were basically just us asking any question that popped in our heads to get to know each other. Eventually they turned into five hour long conversations talking about basically everything under the sun and realizing that we had a lot of shared interests,” she said.

Davidson said talking over FaceTime is nice because if she ever runs out of things to say, she likes to have a tab open on her computer of interesting things to talk about. Despite technology issues and lags in audio and video, Davidson said her FaceTime dates were meaningful and fun.

Many people often stress the physical aspect of a relationship. Davidson said because of past experiences, she gets nervous when guys make a first move too soon on a date.

“Having to talk over FaceTime and really get to know this boy before meeting him in person has really helped me feel like that level of anxiety over anything physical isn’t a hindrance to our relationship,” she said.

UVU student Matt Jones isn’t trying to meet anyone new since he was already in a relationship before the outbreak. He said the biggest challenge has been finding fun activities to do while respecting social distancing guidelines.

Jones said despite challenges, he’s been able to spend more time talking with the girl he is seeing, and they’ve both spent more timing getting to know each other’s families.

Those that were engaged when social distancing and restrictions were put in place had to make hard decisions regarding how to continue with their wedding plans. For BYU student Capri VanDerwerken social distancing altered the time she and her fiance would get married.

VanDerwerken and her fiance were originally supposed to marry on May 1. VanDerwerken said they are currently waiting for restrictions to loosen before they decide a new date.

The couple not only had to postpone their wedding but move home to separate states because of various circumstances. Though the main reason they separated is not because of social distancing guidelines, they are trying to continue their relationship despite the distance.

“The hardest thing is not being together,” she said.

Making plans has proven difficult because of differing work hours and schedules. VanDerwerken said it is difficult to plan because it’s unclear when temples will open or where she will be able to get her dress altered. “Literally everything is a big old question mark,” she said.

No matter the type of relationship a person is in, there are many challenges social distancing is creating.

Tammy Hill is a licensed marriage and family therapist and teaches a marriage preparation course at BYU. Her course requires participation both in and out of class. Her Spring Term course was moved online because of COVID-19.

Hill has taught online courses before, but social distancing required her to alter some of her assignments. One assignment students must do throughout the semester is complete a number of activities that encourage getting to know people and dating.

Hill revised these assignments by adding virtual options like participating in virtual museum tours together and playing games online using services like Kahoot or Jackbox Games.

There are many virtual dating activity ideas online, said Hill. One student sent food to a date using Doordash and they ate their food together over FaceTime.

Hill said she’s seen many ideas for gathering friends and not just dating. One of Hill’s students created a virtual book club where friends would listen to or read a chosen book and then get online for a discussion.

Social distancing is requiring people to put more thought in their dates and activities and plan ahead, Hill said. It’s forcing them to get creative.

Recent BYU graduate Abby Karren has gone on many FaceTime dates with her long-distance boyfriend, David. Karren said they’ve spent a lot of time just talking and catching up but also spent time doing a variety of activities together.

“A lot of times we’ll FaceTime and watch our favorite TV shows or movies together,” she said. “It’s fun because we’d both be doing the same thing alone, but we get to see each other laugh at the same jokes and freak out at the crazy parts.”

Karren said she and David have also made brownies together and even participated in a virtual escape room.

Even though Karren had known her boyfriend for many years before they started to do FaceTime dates, she does think they can be a safer alternative than meeting up with someone you’ve never met.

FaceTime doesn’t require Karren to have to let roommates or friends know where she is going, find a public place to meet, decide whether to drive together or separate among other typical worries and decisions.

“I’d much rather chat with a stranger from the comfort of my own home than out in the real world,” she said.

Social distancing provides more opportunities to take time to just talk to people and get to know them.

“It’s a great way to get to know someone without having to put so much pressure on ourselves to look a certain way or to spend so much money,” Hill said.

Almost all of the virtual dating ideas Hill has found are free. For some, spending money has been a source of stress or a deterrent for dating, but virtual dates present more affordable options.

As people try to date and get to know each other despite social distancing, Hill still recommends trying dating apps like Mutual.

Online dating is not what some may consider normal, but Hill thinks it may be on its way to becoming the new norm.

“As long as you are checking yourself that you’re not choosing to spend time with someone that only looks a certain way, it can be really great way to get to know a lot of people,” she said.

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