Covid is a jealous partner – It doesn’t want you to date anyone else
by Sam Castell-Ward
Finding a partner has always been harder for me than it appears for most people. When you add people not being able to get close or touch each other, starting a new relationship seemed even more of an impossible dream.
The best way I’ve found for relationships or other intimate situations between people who are ‘more than friends’ to begin is when people suddenly feel closer and start holding hands or touching each other in whatever way they feel comfortable, like you can both feel that you want to be closer. Feeling that this wouldn’t really be possible; I didn’t know how I’d find a relationship, if I could even get a date in the first place.
I was told I had to do that thing called ‘shielding’, where you stay home for twelve weeks and not touch anyone or anything anyone might’ve touched. This led to me taking the virus much more seriously than most people seemed to be taking it. Noticing whenever I thought someone touched their nose, being scared to touch the TV remote and refusing to leave the house.
I read articles saying dating had changed due to the virus. They mentioned how a lot more people have using online dating, due to the first lockdown making it harder to meet people. I was already using dating apps at this point, but sadly, things seemed the same as they were before; no one liked my profile or replied to my messages. It didn’t seem like dating had changed.
I was really worried about myself; about how I’d cope with not being able to hold a girlfriend’s hand or be physically close with a woman in any way at all with my situation and the social distancing rules. My conscience told me I should take the situation seriously, even though most people seemed to not care and mix with people socially everyday.
Although I got better at being by myself, the fact that I couldn’t mix with friends depressed me and I was further and further depressed by how I couldn’t find a girlfriend.
The issue of not seeing friends was eventually solved when a friend agreed to a video call after I persistently asked him. This led to having regular video calls with a group of friends. Though this improved my mental health, I knew trying to find the equivalent of these video calls with a new girlfriend would be a lot harder.
On dating websites, nearly every woman’s profile I found stated that she wanted to meet in person and I ended up having to relax my position on mixing with people so I could go on a date, when I finally got a response from someone.
I didn’t think it would be safe to share physical affection with my date, so I found it even harder than I usually do to give off signs that I liked her or interpret any signs that she liked me. I’m autistic and I find it very hard to give off or interpret signs that are meant to show if you fancy someone.
Although I thought my date might be giving a sign that she liked me when I saw her touch her hair, she said she only wanted to be friends when I asked her on a second date.
Because of my shielding, the lockdown and social distancing measures, I felt everything was against me even more than I usually did. I nearly always had far too much anxiety to approach a woman in public; but now I knew it wasn’t even an option, I felt even more trapped in the state of being alone.
When I managed to go on dates, I found them more difficult than usual; as I’d found that doing things such as touching hands could lead to holding hands and other affection, which usually made you feel closer and made the date more likely to end up in a relationship. I found that feeling like this touch wouldn’t be possible, I wouldn’t be able to have a date lead to a relationship. I didn’t think I’d be able to start a relationship if I had to achieve one with body language, words or tone of voice when I’m not the most confident with talking to people or with giving or interpreting these signals.
I thought it might be safe to hold hands if you used hand sanitiser before or afterwards and I did eventually manage to hold hands with women on some dates. Some of these dates were feeling exactly like other dates that hadn’t led to relationships because we felt distant, but as soon as we had physical contact like holding hands or our legs touching as we sat opposite each other, it suddenly felt like we were really close and like we were falling for each other..
When being reminded that people tend to feel closer and more connected to you if you make eye contact, I tried to focus on looking at the gaps in between my dates’ eyes – My eyes hurt if I stare at someone’s eyes, so I look between their eyes, but it still hurt to focus on looking at the gaps between their eyes if I wasn’t looking off to the side (something I hadn’t realised I was doing so much). It appeared I’d have to deal with physical pain to present myself as a potential partner.
Something else that helped with feeling comfortable on dates was drinking. On a date where I felt tense from the moment we met, I suddenly felt at home as soon as I felt the sensation of the alcohol touch my mouth when I started drinking. I felt confident talking to her and being in her company for the rest of our date.
During the second lockdown, I was able to find more women who were open to having video calls and I found that through video calls, as well as audio, video and text messages, it was possible to feel like you’re physically close to someone. It almost felt the same as being close to someone in person, as long as you knew that the intention of physical contact was there; such as if you told each other you’d like to hold hands, cuddle etc. I also found that being more forward and daring with suggesting affection earlier on in messages and calls seems like it may help. Establishing the intention to physically touch and feel close; it appeared that doing so may make me come across as a potential boyfriend, while not stating that I’d like to physically touch a woman made me come across as just a friend.
My experiences with Coronavirus restrictions and dating have shown how important touch can be in romantic relationships; but adaptations like instant messages and video calls have shown me that you can still feel close to someone if you’re willing to try what’s safe and what you’re comfortable with.