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The struggles of dating after lockdown: It’s been a year of restrictions, grief and loss so you really don’t have to ‘wow’ every charming stranger


I love first dates. I love making a plan, agreeing on a time, debating the merits of this pub versus that pub, mentally putting together an outfit. I love the hour or so before, when it’s hard to think of anything but. I love the swell of butterflies when you realise you’re almost there, and the moment you spot one another, the shy smiles and the sweet, awkward closing of distance.

First dates are a little different now, and will remain different for a while. I’m trying to see the good in this new way of doing things, but it’s hard to feel flirty and thriving when you have to book seven weeks in advance just to sit outside by the bins at your local Young’s pub. I suppose I want what I can’t have; to bar hop until the wee hours or whisper my way around a gallery. I want someone to move closer to me in a crowded room, to touch my knee under a table, to dance with me in a club we never planned to be in. I want to do silly and spontaneous things with someone who likes me, who thinks my bad jokes are good jokes, who wants to take my trousers off before we’re even back in the house. Perhaps this sounds ungrateful. I’m glad for what we can do, for what is safe again, but I don’t believe it’s a small thing to have gone months and months without really being touched or looked at, a year without experiencing some of the most worthwhile and exciting parts of a life I’d spent years building.

Most of my single friends feel similarly. There’s a sense of hopefulness and excitement, but there’s also real anxiety. What if we’ve forgotten how to do the dating thing? What if all this [gestures vaguely at the last year] has changed us in ways that have made us less free, less sexy, less able to connect with strangers in a romantic way? And certainly it isn’t unusual not to feel ready to date again. A lot of us are leaving this third lockdown feeling worn down, unsure of how we’ll fare back out in the world. I think we can be honest about what we’ve missed without putting too much pressure on ourselves to dive right back in. This last year was hard. There was a crisis, and it’s okay if that crisis challenged and changed us in ways we’re yet to totally understand, yet to find the language for. As we approach the other side of this (or at least a slightly kinder middle place), perhaps we can agree that we don’t have to go back at all, that we can take our time to look ahead and decide for ourselves what’s next.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about the pressure many of us are feeling to have done more over lockdown, to be fitter or wiser or more self-assured than we were before. But that’s a story that takes us nowhere. We don’t have to have started a business or written a novel or crystallised every single one of our desires into shiny, confident fact.

It’s enough just to be honest, to turn up and say ‘This last year was really rough and I’m still putting things back together. It feels so weird to do this. Anyway, how about another round?’ And it’s fine to need some warming up. Trust that you can and will get used to this again, that you’ve got time to relearn whatever you’ve forgotten. Nothing crucial is lost if you fumble your words or spill your drink or don’t have a perfect riposte to everything your date says. It’s not a verdict on your worth or desirability if a near-stranger isn’t able to appreciate your particular charms, if they can’t see a future, if there’s a misalignment in chemistry or values, if it’s just not right for any number of ordinary, okay, shame-free reasons.

I went on a first date last week. I’d gone out earlier that same day to visit a friend. I’d planned to go home before the date, to freshen up, change, put on some more makeup. But then 4PM came, then 5PM, and I found I couldn’t bring myself to leave my friend, who I had missed, just to go home and trick my face into looking a bit different than it really looks. I would go as I was, and I would meet them as they were, and that would be just fine. After a year of restrictions, grief, loss, a relationship that didn’t survive the last lockdown, I’ve realised that I don’t have to wow every charming stranger, put only my best foot forward, show just the shiniest parts of myself. I don’t have to be the most interesting or mysterious or impressive girl in the room. I can just be happy, grateful, and quietly amazed to be there in that room at all.

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