You think someone’s cute. You both love craft beer. You arrange to meet at a local brewery. Then, suddenly, you’re 10 minutes into a date that you wish would end immediately.
Bad dates are always disappointing. But the stakes are higher now.
In the current pandemic, you risk contracting COVID-19 from someone you’ll never see again.
So how can you lower this risk of getting the coronavirus and ending up on a bad date? Ask questions — and plenty of them — in advance.
“You want to get a sense of what the person is up to, their tolerance to risk, if they’re having a lot of contact with other people, and how attentive they are to what’s going on with the pandemic,” says Leslie Kantor, a professor and chair of the department of Urban-Global Public Health at Rutgers University. “A key thing is to find people who are similar to you."
Asking dozens of personal questions can feel uncomfortable, especially when you’ve only met through Zoom. But it’s important to prioritize our health right now, for ourselves and for everyone that we could potentially put at risk.
The bonus, says Kantor: “This can be another dimension of getting to know someone that’s often revealing of how well you’ll get along post-pandemic.” Here’s what experts say you should ask virtually before meeting up:
How did you spend last weekend?
Did your date spend Saturday out on a solo hike or at a large family party for their cousin’s birthday?
“You can figure out a lot just through regular small talk,” says Kantor.
Ease into risk assessment before diving into more personal territory.
What do you do for work?
People who go into work every day naturally assume more risk than those who can work from home.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t date the teacher going to school every day,” says Michael LeVasseur, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University. “Adding that risk [into your life] might be worth it, but you might have to change other things.”
Be prepared to adjust your social life when you take on more risk. If you start dating an essential worker, for example, you may need to switch hangouts with grandma to virtual ones.
What precautions are you taking?
You want to be on the same page in your approach to the pandemic.
Additional questions you might ask include: Are there any situations where you don’t wear a mask in public? Are you dining at restaurants? How are you getting around the city?
If you’re taking Ubers every week and your date has committed to commute by bike only, that’s a pretty good sign you might have some compatibility issues, says LeVasseur. Again, look for people whose behaviors match your own tolerance for risk.
How many people are you hanging out with in person?
The more people someone sees face to face, the higher level of risk they introduce into your life.
“You should be your own contact tracer right now, with a list of people you’ve interacted with,” says Neal Goldstein, assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University. “If a person can’t recall who they’ve been interacting with, that’s a red flag that they’ve been around too many people.”
Other red flags include attending larger group gatherings and hangouts without social distancing and masks. Get some further context, too. Are they in a friend pod? Are they going to brunch with their buddies or sticking to park hangouts only?
What kind of rules do you have in mind for when we meet up?
You’ve got your thickest mask on. And your date shows up wearing a bandanna. Now what?
Agreeing on details in advance helps minimize awkward and unsafe situations that can be harder to address in the moment.
“If they don’t want to wear a mask, I’d take that very seriously because it tells you they’re probably not wearing one in many situations,” says Kantor. “Think about it like safer sex — if you won’t wear a condom, you’re not going to have sex with me, and if you won’t wear a mask, you don’t get to date me.”
Are you going on dates with other people?
It might feel early to ask, but you need to know how many other people you could be exposing yourself to through this person.
Ideally, you’d only see each other, and if it doesn’t work out, you’d wait at least two weeks before meeting up with someone new.
What are you doing for the holidays?
One of the main drivers of coronavirus spread is small social gatherings.
“Some of the biggest risks many people are going to take are Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Kantor. “If they’re getting together with people, I would schedule [the date] at least two weeks out from that.”
What are you looking for in a relationship?
Times have changed, and you might not want to meet up with someone who falls into the “this will be fun for a night” category versus the “I see a future” category.
“That may have been worth it a year ago, but now it’s like, if this person infects me and I go on to infect my mother and my brother, is that worth it?” says LeVasseur.
Take the time to get to know what your suitor is looking for in a partner. If it doesn’t match your own expectations, move on.
How are you feeling today?
On the day of, ask your date how they’re feeling. When you barely know someone, you can’t assume they’ll automatically cancel if sick.
“If you have a little cough, you may think it’s just allergies, and sometimes it is, but sometimes it turns out to be COVID,” says LeVasseur.
Ask about symptoms directly. If they’re not feeling 100 percent, reschedule.
Pandemic dating is a slow dance. Try to enjoy it. There’s no rush.
It’s a good time to be picky. Ask yourself what you really want.
Be honest, and require honesty of others. This is an opportunity to build trust from the start.
But remember, trust is generally developed over time. To an extent, you’ll be taking a leap of faith in meeting up with someone new. Trust your gut.
Temper your expectations of the date. Dating is different right now — and it’s extra awkward.
Allow genuine connection to eclipse physical attraction. All those hours on the phone may lead to a stronger relationship in the long run.
This pandemic won’t last forever.
Leslie Kantor, PhD, MPH, is a professor and chair of the department of Urban-Global Public Health at Rutgers University.
Michael LeVasseur, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University.
Neal Goldstein, PhD MBI, is an assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University.