Winter is officially here. Coronavirus cases and deaths are still high. American democracy seemingly hangs in the balance.
There's so much heaviness in the world, and so much of it is coming to the forefront of our lives on a daily basis that I have to think: We need some glimmer of hope to look forward to.
We need the promise of the future in small, and admittedly superficial, ways. We need dreams of the dates we’ll go on, the parties we’ll attend, and the trips we’ll take, once it’s "safe" to do so. We need to see our future, ideal selves enjoying life again, so we can make it through our winter of discontent.
But while many of us singles are waiting for the future to get here, what are we up to behind closed doors? Are we changing and becoming something? And if we are, then what does that look like when it comes to our love interests? Are we being honest with ourselves? Are we being honest with each other?
Let’s first consider the weekends without dates: Freed up Saturday’s now give us time to catch up with our friends on FaceTime, hit up some Pelatan workouts, and dive into projects we’ve neglected over time. (Oh and Skin routines! Thank you gua shas!)
But as I scroll through Instagram, I'm seeing a dichotomy. Spliced between photos of masks and homebound self-care routines, I see photos of people at parties and groups of friends gathered, captioned “I miss this.” New Year's Eve was derailed by stories of last year's celebrations and lots of “F-U’s” to the infamous 2020. And, yet, here we are: Still reminiscing on the way things were before the pandemic. Not to mention, obsessively narrating what life will look like again when we’re back, down to the very details of what we will wear in our future lives.
I don't know about you, but I’ve already picked out my post-quar revenge suit. It includes platinum silver shorts, a leather crop top, bright red shoes, and pink socks. And to top it all off, a very, very slick hairdo like an 80’s Kendall Jenner.
Is retro back? Are the 2020’s looking more and more like the roaring 20’s? Who can tell? But most of us are itching to get back to some semblance of freedom. Even the simple freedoms, like the freedom to choose an outfit and wear it all day for the world to see. The freedom to sit down at a bar and smell your barstool neighbor’s scent, and perhaps most top-of-mind this time of year (Valentine's Day): The freedom to date casually.
But one question on my mind, as I look at our socials, our Bumble accounts, and even our LinkedIns filled with photos of 2019’s events is: Who will we be when we get out of this mess, and how will it impact our dating lives going forward?
As I post that photo of myself hosting my last party before the pandemic, I look at the girl, smiling back at me in the picture, in all of her naivety, and I realize how different she is from the girl I am today.
We've been living in an alternate reality from our "normal lives" for almost a year now, and there's no telling how it will ultimately change us, but one thing is for sure: We are changed.
I come to this realization in the stage of trying to figure out who I am and trying to figure out what I'm looking for in a potential partner, and I’ve realized how important it is to be processing my grief of this past year. While my grief is small, and perhaps superficial, compared to the catastrophic losses of others, I've found that it is no less real, and it requires real attention.
Our craving for the "normal" things of life is a type of grief, too. We have the grief of missing out on milestone events, the grief of not seeing good friends, and the grief of not traveling or encountering new people and ideas.
So, I rub my tired eyes, and scroll through my dating app, looking at pictures of our old selves next to our new selves. And it makes me wonder: What are we singles really looking for? Someone who matches our old pre-covid self, or someone who matches our authentic beings right now, which may not be so sexy?
As Valentine's Day approaches, it makes me wonder about people already in dating relationships, too. Has the fear of being alone suddenly raised the bar on faking it until you make it? Is it better to fake it than to be alone during a pandemic?
Ok, maybe I’m being cynical. But personally, I’ve been exhausted by the idea of getting on an app and virtually "meeting" more people I don’t know. Maybe it’s all the screen time I'm already getting on Zoom call after Zoom call with familiar and unfamiliar faces at work.
But what’s interesting is that while these Zoom calls have failed to give us the same level of excitement as our in-person gatherings, they have given us greater insight into the authentic versions of the people we already know. We’re seeing our coworkers' apartments, pets, and family, and we’re leaning into the question: Is there a connection?
Perhaps during this season of socially distant, almost-but-not-yet dreaming of the future, we have the opportunity to better understand ourselves, as singles, too.
For more insight, I turn to a few of my fellow single friends to see what their lives are like these days, as Valentine's Day approaches.
My friend Adrienne confirms my feelings.
“I haven’t been dating because I’ve been focusing on myself, and I just don’t care to maintain the business of dealing with someone else during this time," she says.
So I ask: If dating is not happening for you, then what IS making you feel alive and sexy right now?
“I’ve been trying to go for walks and exercise as regularly as I can," she says. "And I don’t really feel like anything is making me feel sexy right now.... But I think if I want attention, then I go to social media (lol), and if I post a pic, sure enough, the thirst trap gets the boys messaging me….”
My friend Elle is taking a slightly different approach: “I have a very uncool habit of going to what’s familiar in times like these," she says. "So maybe I’ve texted an ex or two, maybe I haven’t. Ok… I totally have.”
Ohhhh lala. So tell me more about why you turn to exes instead of new love interests? I ask.
“I just don’t love meeting new people, and I hate going through the seemingly endless phases of 'talking' because quite frankly I get so bored by that," she says. "I feel like so many people my age are so avoidant when it comes to actually committing to a relationship entirely, but they want that connection and that person to run to. Honestly, it’s a whole lot of time and energy wasted and that’s not something I want to participate in. Exes it is!”
OK, so exes. Do they make you feel alive or sexy during this time? I ask.
“Right now, I don’t feel sexy or alive," she says. "I’ve been just thinking a lot about how I was so comfortable sexually with my recent partner, and I have no desire to share intimacy with anyone, not even myself."
So friends, are we still single and sexy during a pandemic? Or is the “sexy-ness” going to have to wait?
For a more optimistic view, I turn to my friend, Oliver, who says, “I think, for me, finding a better balance of self has been important. I’ve started playing more recreational sports, and I think that has helped me with maintaining confidence, in general, during this time and maybe making me 'feel myself' a little more these days, too.”
So how do you "feel yourself" during a pandemic? I ask.
“I don’t usually find myself attractive, or maybe I am unconventionally, but never self-diagnosed," he says. "I guess with my answer, just getting my body active is generating my brain to feel better about myself…. I’m big on the 'mindset impacts behavior' model.”
Oliver's answer makes me wonder whether I "feel myself." (Not to take advantage of Beyonce’s hit song “Feelin’ Myself,” but it does apply.) I wonder: Do I feel sexy, alive, and curious about myself during this time? And if I do, does everyone feel this from time to time, or is this something we have to strive for?
For me, keeping this feeling alive in pandemic times looks like finding new ingredients to play with in the kitchen, and dancing while I do it. Sometimes, it looks like doing yoga, going for a run, or even just dressing up for a work Zoom call. Other times, it looks like scheduling a spontaneous tattoo appointment to look forward to, or walking the streets of downtown aimlessly. Maybe it’s being flirtatious on the gram or singing my favorite song with a paintbrush in my hand.
Regardless of the exact means, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands this year instead of relying on whoever slides into my DMs, and that feels a lot like growth.
No matter how you’re hanging in there this Valentine's Day, my friend Pete’s approach is something I think many of us can relate to.
“Sometimes, I feel sexy just scoring a phone number on the app. It makes me feel assured that I still got game. But even if people don’t date during this time, don’t you think it's a good excuse for myself and everyone to reassess what’s good for us? We have an opportunity to be lonely, not because it's cool or uncool, but because we’re all doing it, and we are all getting pushed to know ourselves.”
Until next time.
Olivia Lehman is a dating blogger for Input Fort Wayne. Read her first column here.