The pandemic dating scene: Where are singles in Fort Wayne supposed to meet each other now?

In a city where restaurants close at 9 p.m., and you can’t go anywhere without running into your ex-boyfriend’s mom, Fort Wayne singles have a new feat to overcome in 2020: The pandemic dating scene.

Under normal conditions, an attractive potential partner might be found sipping an IPA on the stool next to you at Henry’s. Your eyes might meet mid-asana in a yoga class at Prana, or they might be pouring themselves a cup of piping hot coffee right in front of you at a CreativeMornings breakfast lecture (shameless plug).

But during a global pandemic, which has left bars bare, canceled public events, and extinguished every would-be spark of a hopeful new encounter with the threat of a highly contagious virus, where are singles in Fort Wayne supposed to meet each other now?

After coming out of a serious relationship mid-quarantine, I, Olivia Lehman, have flung myself into the murky waters of dating. In Fort Wayne. During a pandemic. (Ah, what I do for a paycheck!)

So where do we begin? Perhaps the most logical place to start exploring this curious phenomenon of “pandemic dating” is that fated first-encounter. For as long as eyes have been meeting across rooms, smirks have been tugging at lips, and butterflies have been fluttering in bellies, the first encounter with a potential partner has been a cherished experience that can set the tone for an entire relationship.

But now that everything in life is moving online during COVID-19, digital dating has officially become the new bar. The cute baristas still remain behind the counter, and some of the actual bar scene still exists with time and space restrictions, but we singles are taking this pandemic into our own hands—connecting with past crushes on Instagram, swiping through new romantic interests on Hinge, and meeting new faces at virtual conferences.

In some ways, it’s even better than dating in the real world. Even before the pandemic, digital dating had been giving us introverted types a new way to meet people. Missed opportunity? No-sir-ee. Now I can whip out my phone and find you on Instagram to see if things will spark there. I’ve been guilty of sending some “likes” before I make that first move. And by move, I mean sliding a message into their private inbox. *Cue halo emoji *

But speaking of moves, what do you do to get that attractive other’s attention during a pandemic?  Not that I’m desperate to meet someone right now, of all times, but should the opportunity present itself, it does raise a curious dilemma. If you meet someone in-person, you can’t physically approach them within six feet. And there’s no room for playful touches of the arm or “accidental” collisions. And you can’t really read their face beneath the mask to tell if they’re smiling at you or just glancing around the room.

If you do muster up the courage to say something, either in-person or online, what do you say? Amidst the daily stress of 2020, it’s become comical to open with a line like, “Hey, how’s it going?” My matches on Hinge have resorted to selling their merits as a potential partner based on their domestic skills, which will come in handy during COVID-19, I must admit.

One unnamed prospect recently opened with: “At the risk of sounding extremely stereotypical, tonight I made myself a large plate of pasta. Wanna cook together sometime?” And another: “Not to brag, but I think I’d be a perfect quarantine partner for you.” And this just in: “What I lack in cooking skills I more than make up for in tending to my house plants. What do you think?”

(Yes, my Hinge account revolves around finding the perfect cooking partner. Which by the way, if you’re reading this and are a cute, single, attractive, male with a high IQ and perfected pasta dough recipe, I’ve got the perfect sauce for you….)

But while digital banter is all fun and games, I have been much more selective with who I bring around since COVID-19 began, and when we do plan our first in-person meetings, it tends to go the same way each time. There’s the inevitable “When was the last time you were tested for COVID-19?” conversation. Then there’s the barrage of odd, new questions that enter your mind when you finally do meet:

  • What if I’m not attracted to them without their mask?
  • If this goes well, do I break social distancing rules and invite this person back to my place?
  • And most importantly: If I’m at my worst in this pandemic (which, believe me, I am) is this person I’m meeting for the first time also at their worst right now? And what will they be like under “normal” circumstances?

Throughout history, traumatic events have had a tendency to bond individuals who endure them together. Could this pandemic make us singles feel artificially closer to the people we’re dating now, too? And if our relationship does last, will the person we’re with during quarantine only get better after the pandemic? Or are we going to realize we dated them out of our low-grade stress and desperate (more than usual desperate) need for a sense of connection right now?

We’re living in a world that’s been stripped of offices, nightlife, and the big events and public gatherings where we, singles, typically find friendship, conversation, and emotional attachment outside of romantic encounters. Will the lack of other human interaction make us resort to dating for a distraction? Even if it does, maybe it’s not all bad. Maybe the close comfort of another body will help us forget the unprecedented times we’re in and help us feel like there’s some sense of normalcy.

But, alas, as a hopeless romantic, I sip my espresso and venture to argue that this pandemic is actually turning some of us into what I would call more “intentional daters.” In the pre-COVID world, it was easy to casually meetup at an event or a coffee shop with someone and not give it any second thoughts. Now, there are not as many casual settings to date, especially as the winter weather rolls in, and there are so many thoughts about every choice encounter. So we are subject to the extremes: Either knowing someone on a surface level through digital dating only, or making the commitment to full fledged, Netflix and chill, and meet my family all-in-one because we’re in this thing together.

Under these circumstances, I’ve found myself spending less time trying to meet new people and spending more time getting back into my old hobbies or reconnecting with people from my past. Can you blame me? So many of us are going through a breakup because of this pandemic, so we have more time on our hands to invest in the things we care about. At the same time, many of our friends from high school who moved away to bigger cities are back in Fort Wayne for the time being. The local dating scene is odd during this pandemic, but it’s full of old flames. So yes, in between picking up my guitar and brushing up on my chords, I’m calling your ex I met at that football game that one night when we were teenagers, and yes, he looks great, even without his mask on. (Thank goodness.)

A few weeks ago, I met up at a park with someone I used to know from high school. We look different now, but our chemistry and cadence is familiar, and that’s nice. We’ve flirted with old memories and bonded over new ones—moving back to our hometown from our bigger cities. And while we never dated before, I’m comforted by the familiar laugh and personality. It’s new, but it’s not all new, and in this environment, I like that.

Dating during a pandemic has led me to FaceTime with people I would have never had the chance to meet otherwise. It’s taken me to parks in parts of Fort Wayne that I’ve never ventured to visit in the pre-COVID world. It’s required me to use more safety precautions than ever before, but most importantly, it’s widened my network of people, and we’ve kept each other sane throughout this experience.

Even if I don’t end up meeting that special someone, I’m thankful for all the ones who have been able to open up to me during this crazy stage of life.

We all deeply need someone to share life with right now, and singles in Fort Wayne are no exception.

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