As quarantining continues with no immediate end in sight, we’re all attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy. We’re doing our best to live our lives to the fullest, or at least not go stir crazy, without leaving our homes. That’s why many folks have begun dating again. After all, nothing says “normal life” like an underwhelming first date.
However, since we have to social distance, people are having first dates over FaceTime with people they’ve never met in real life. While advanced screening was a “thing” before the coronavirus pandemic, using video chat for a full-on first date was definitely not.
“It’s uncharted terrain for most people, and we’re all kind of flying by the seats of our pants,” says Gigi Engle, Promescent brand advisor and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life. “It’s like the Wild Wild West of virtual dating.” It can be exciting because there are no rules, Engle adds, but at the same time, without standard dating scripts, FaceTime dates can be confusing to navigate.
Greg, 30, is actually finding himself having more intimate virtual first dates. Both he and his dates are opening up, delving into more personal topics, in a manner that’s atypical for first flesh-and-blood dates. (Kinda reminds us of Love Is Blind!) “We’ve spoken about our own personal baggage and past relationship rather quickly,” he says. “I think people are more comfortable while they’re in their own homes and element. There’s nothing really holding you back.”
Nevertheless, the feelings of expedited intimacy might not just have to with being at home. COVID-19 is always a topic of conversation—and usually the first one. Normally, if someone asks “How are you,” it’s considered overly forthright to anything else than “Good, and you?” But during the pandemic, it’s more socially acceptable to say, “Yeah, it’s been tough. I’m not doing great.” Being more honest and vulnerable about how you’re feeling from the start of conversation sets an intimate tone for the rest of the date.
Greg’s enjoyed the depth of his conversations so far. “I’ve really liked that it’s a no holding back kind of time,” he says. “It just seems people are less closed off.”
Still, Engle warns of being too intimate. People can get overly comfortable when conversing through a screen. “Don’t go launching into a ton of emotional unloading when you barely know this person,” she says. “They didn’t ask to be your therapist; they want to get to know you as a date.”
People can also act a little too casually, which is a big turn-off for Devin, 32. She’s been on four first dates while in self-isolation, all of whom she met on the dating app Hinge.
The first two men she FaceTimed showed up in their bed, lying on their pillow, which she found off-putting. “For some reason, in the context of a virtual date, it makes me feel like you’re hoping for some kind of webcam girl type action to unfold,” she says. “Not gonna happen!”
To be clear, she’s not asking men to show up in a tie and blazer—“we’re all living out of our sweats right now,” she acknowledges—but try to put some effort into it, the way you would an IRL date. Shave, style your hair, put on a well-fitting shirt, maybe a short-sleeve button down or henley. After all, you’re still putting in less work than you would for an IRL date, since you’re not leaving your apartment.
Actually, staying at home speaks to another one of FaceTime dating strengths. “Even though all my first dates were meh, I didn’t have that post-meh-date sadness of ‘Crap, I just wasted a good outfit on that guy,’” Devin says. “I ended the call and was instantly back in the comfort of my own apartment, like magic.”
Still, ending the call can prove problematic. “The movie doesn’t end, the check doesn’t come at dinner, and the bar doesn’t close,” Engle says. “So there’s no clear way of ending a FaceTime date.” That’s why she suggests setting a specific time before the date, providing a reason why you have to end at a certain time, like you promised your friends you’d attend a virtual happy hour. “If the date is going well, and you want to talk longer, just tell them you’re going to skip the happy hour,” Engle says.
Jamaal, 30, who’s been on three different FaceTime first dates—all people he met through Instagram and dating apps—navigates the foreign virtual first date world honestly. “I just ask them how they’d like the date to look, and we come up with something together.” They decide if they want to do casual or more dressy attire, if they want to eat with each other, and so on. “It takes the pressure away,” he says.
While Jamaal has enjoyed FaceTime dates because it’s more socially acceptable to be transparent about how exactly you’d like the date to manifest, he has struggled with his feelings for the person after the date. “I have a hard time reading my own emotions,” he says. “Did I really enjoy the date or is the isolation simply me making long for human connection?”
Even though FaceTime dates are digital and the norms haven’t yet been established, Engle encourages everyone to treat virtual dates as if it were IRL dates. Be polite, be kind, and be yourself. “And just like on a real date, remember that there is a need to follow up and say you had a nice time or if you don’t see this going anywhere,” she says. “The same rules of human decency apply no matter the style of date.”