For the past few months, drinks and dinner dates have been out the question. Instead, singles have been confined to swiping on dating apps, sliding into DMs, or having flirty phone calls in their pyjamas.
Whilst many will be eager to get back in the dating game IRL, others may find it a shock to the system – whether it’s the pressure of socialising in person again, panic around finding the right outfit, or worrying they’ve lost their flirty charm – it’s a completely normal reaction. We’re a bit out of practice.
Women are bearing the heavier load of this social dislocation compared to men, found research by dating app, Bumble, with 61% of women feeling worried about dating. “The pandemic has turned our social lives upside down and more than half our community felt a sense of disconnection from those that they’re close to, never mind new people,” a Bumble spokesperson tells HuffPost UK.
“When it comes to dating, it’s natural to feel a bit anxious, but it’s important to be kind to yourself – everyone feels the same.” So, after months of restrictions, it’s time to change the post-lockdown dating game. Here’s how.
1. Focus on being in the present
One way to reduce anxiety before your date is to pay attention to the present, rather than getting in the weeds worrying about the future. “Focus on the here and now,” Dr. Marianne Stout, psychologist at the Anxiety Treatment Center of Austin, tells HuffPost UK. “Instead of panicking about hypothetical situations, anchor yourself in the current moment and work on the things you can control.”
The more you can be in the present – with an open mind about how your date might go – the more you’ll enjoy yourself and connect with the other person. Don’t fret about awkwardness, lapses in conversation, or not knowing what to say – the less you worry, the more the conversation will flow.
2. Take the pressure off
A year confined to our homes may have turned some of us into introverts, but there’s a way to build up courage to meet face-to-face again.
To start with, change your intention of what going on a date means to you, advises dating expert at Match, Hayley Quinn. “Don’t think, ‘Omg is this my chance to finally meet The One?’ – that would heave pressure onto anyone!” she says. “Think: ‘When I go on this date, my intention is to have fun and be curious about this new person I’m meeting.’”
And remember: everyone’s in the same boat. As we relax back into a more ‘normal’ dating scene, it’ll get easier. Promise.
3. Give yourself a self-esteem boost
Dressing up makes you feel better about yourself – it’s a fact. So if you’re looking to boost confidence on a physical level, putting on your favourite clothes can communicate to both yourself (and your date) that this is a special event, says Raffael Krause, expert at the dating app Luxy.
4. Master the art of small talk
Small talk can be painfully boring and uncomfortable. Not only that, but it stops you from actually breaking the ice and getting to know each other. But it’s inevitable, so go easy on yourself when it comes to the idle chit-chat.
“We’re increasingly seeing too much pandemic talk will be a social faux pas,” says Krause advises. “After all, it’s not very sexy. Try focusing on the exciting things ahead. What’s your date most looking forward to doing in the coming months? Where would they most like to travel to first? These sorts of questions will also help you better understand their interests and passions.”
Quinn says a good tip is to only ask questions you’re genuinely curious to hear the answer to. “If you first met online, you can always circle back to something that caught your eye on their profile or their bio, to begin with,” she says. “This will show you truly paid attention to them, rather than being a mindless swipe.”
5. Tackle the Covid situation on its head
Some may be comfortable bouncing back to physical touch and intimacy, but others will find the transition harder. Don’t be afraid to discuss your boundaries.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is to be upfront and embrace the awkwardness that comes with Covid,” Krause adds. “To prepare your date, simply mention how you feel over the phone or by text and what distancing, mask-use and other boundaries you’d like to keep to during your date.
“It need not be a serious conversation, just state how you feel and they should understand. If they don’t, they’re not the right person.”
6. Shake off the nerves
Butterflies in your stomach? It’s totally normal to be nervous, remember it’s not just you, your date is likely to be nervous, too.
“Often first date nerves come from a story we have in our minds about dating; this person could be our only chance – we better get it right this time, or that the other person is going to judge us,” says Quinn. “None of these things are true!”
Remind yourself this is just a mutual opportunity to get to know someone new. “And don’t create any extra stressors for yourself like running late or not knowing what to wear,” adds Quinn. “Give yourself plenty of time to get to the date location, and choose your outfit in advance of the day.”
First date ideas
Traditional dating venues have been shut down, which has spawned a whole host of creative new ideas. From Bridgerton-style walks around local areas to picnics in the park and even shopping tripsto the supermarket together, think outside the box on romantic date plans.
“With summer around the corner, there are so many lovely outdoor dates you can try,” says Quinn. “It could be an alfresco dinner in someone’s garden or a picnic in the park.
“If you prefer activity dates you could try a bike ride, outdoor swimming or a sport – anyone fancy a game of tennis? Outdoor dates (particularly the sober ones) create a great opportunity for you to get to know someone in a way that’s authentic and a chance for you to show off your skills to a potential partner.”
Most importantly, have fun! An initial date doesn’t need to be anything more than just an opportunity to spend time together, meet new people and gauge if there’s enough mutual intrigue to want to see each other again. That’s it.