Looking for love in the time of coronavirus
We’ve been asking members of the KC community to submit stories about life under house arrest. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, please send it to email@example.com for consideration. Today, Ericka Cherry digs into the highs and lows of connections, or lack thereof, via digital pathways.
My phone lights up next to me. One text, two texts, three, four.
“I ran up to TJs for a sec to stock up on wine and more frozen meals in case we go into serious lockdown.”
“And I got gas.”
“In case there’s a run on that.”
“Otherwise, stayed in.”
These messages are courtesy of a guy I’ve been on a couple dates with—we’ll call him, Business Owner Brian. Brian is responding to my casual text inquiring about his previous evening. Sending a guy a casual text about his evening is one of my go-to tactics for opening back up the lines of communication after a date. It’s thoughtful, but not desperate. (Subtext: Were you doing something fun? Were you doing something fun with someone else? Couldn’t you have invited me over? Couldn’t you have?!) Well, it certainly didn’t seem desperate in the moment.
I’ve been “Bumble-ing” and “Hinge-ing” since the end of January, regularly meeting guys for beer (I’m not a beer drinker) and vegan food (I’m not vegan) and subpar games of skeeball (I really remember being better at that game). There was Police Officer Patrick, Copywriter Chris, Architect Aaron, Realtor Ryan, Marketer Mike, and Prison Psychotherapist Peter. I’ve been ghosted, I’ve ghosted, I’ve lost someone to “a break from dating,” and another to “an exceptionally good second date” with another woman. Nevertheless, I kept swiping.
On Monday morning, the first day of my job’s mandated work-from-home week, I send Brian another breezy text, “Day 1: WFH. Slept in, haven’t changed out of my pajamas.”
Again, my phone blinks on with one, two, five new messages.
“I think worse news is coming today.”
“I keep hearing about a two-week lockdown.”
“I don’t know what is rumor and what is true.”
“Someone who I know claims it’s happening today.”
“He’s not really a rumor monger but tensions are high.”
It’s official: I’m looking for love in the time of the Coronavirus. And one has to wonder … Is Brian going to be okay?
The daily deluge of school and business closings, pictures of empty grocery store shelves, urgent press conferences and endless news coverage has left me anxious and aimless. I finish all my laundry Monday morning. On Tuesday, I take a Skype meeting from bed, jolting awake at the silence at the end of the call. I exercise in the middle of the day on Wednesday and eat a bowl of pasta and a slice of bruschetta as a cool-down. On Thursday, I watch half of every daytime talk show. And by Friday, I’m staring at the streets outside, wondering if there are more or less cars out there than before.
Eventually, as the sun finally starts to set, I start swiping through Hinge. The usual suspects are there, which is oddly calming. Guys cuddling dogs. Guys holding babies (“The kid’s my niece”). Guys posing at Arrowhead tailgates. Guys who “love adventures.” Guys who know where to find the best margaritas in town. And, then, I see it.
The Coronavirus has come to Hinge. “First round is on me if … you haven’t contracted the coronavirus,” one prompt says. Another: “Give me travel tips for … Nowhere? I guess? Coronavirus has kind of ruined travel for a bit …” I swipe to a profile picture where the guy is sporting a surgical mask. My chats become a kind of roll call for work-from-home employees. I even thank Manager at Hy-Vee Harry for his service to the community and let the chat go dormant. Even my ongoing Hinge chats go quiet. The typical day or so of back and forth before the offer of a drink doesn’t come anymore.
I exit out of the app, noticing the red flag on my regular messages. It’s Brian, I’m sure, so I give it a minute to gather the inevitable onslaught of messages. To my surprise, it’s someone I thought I ghosted chiming back in:
“Given that the city has shut down bars and restaurants, I don’t think rescheduling is going to be an option for a while. But if you’d like to go out in a couple weeks (or months) when this blows over, let me know!”
Oh, no, I think, will I have to ghost him anew come May? June? July? How long can this quarantine go on? And am I doomed to spend it alone?
And here’s where I take a moment to make the terrible admission that, yes, I did use social distancing as a convenient excuse to stop seeing Realtor Ryan.
“Do you want to go on a social distancing walk together tonight, six feet apart?” he asks. It’s my second Monday of working from home. We went on one date about three weeks prior, and it’s been a few days since I last heard from him. I quickly realize I banked too hard on the looming citywide shutdown as a seamless way to cancel future unwanted dates.
“I think I’m going to put a pause on going out and seeing people for a while,” I respond. “Wait until things calm down a little.” It sounds like I’m sending this text from the past, when we weren’t on the brink of peak outbreak.
It occurs to me that I just “Copywriter Chris’d” someone. Gave him the ‘ole “I’m taking a step back from dating.”
The Saturday before my work-from-home week officially starts, I meet up with someone new. I feel weird about it, given the global health crisis, but not so weird that I call off the date. The city hasn’t officially gone into stay-at-home mode and what feels like a normal crowd is gathered in restaurant dining rooms all over the city. Brian texts me at some point during the evening (“How’s your wknd going?”) and a deep sense of betrayal washes over me. He must sense I’m practicing social togetherness rather than distancing. Has he sent me four to five panicked texts in a row per day for nothing?!
And to Brian, I say, Videographer Vince and I originally called off our plans when Kansas City declared a state of emergency, but as the weekend rolls around, I start panicking about being locked away for weeks on end with barely any human contact. And I’m thirty; I’m just naturally panicked when it comes to my love life. So, I walk through the door of Strang Hall.
Vince and I settle into an empty four top in an otherwise crowded restaurant. Plenty of space around us on either side. I sanitize my hands. I start to feel like this might be okay, but Vince and I haven’t stopped talking since we sat down, so it’s possible I’m forgetting to be anxious. In fact, my worry fades to the point where we split two entrées from the same plates (he’s not exhibiting any symptoms) and go to a second location for drinks. Luckily, we get a community table all to ourselves at Brew Lab. Excellent. I’m one step ahead of these germs. We close down the bar and then another bar. This date might hold me over to fall, I think.
As work moves into the home and businesses seem on the brink of closure, Vince and I plan our second date: a night in, cooking together and watching Purple Rain (which I highly recommend in times of high anxiety). We’re only compromising ourselves, I tell Brian in my head. In actuality, I text Brian that I have plans with a friend when he asks, unsure if I need to protect his feelings. When I ask about the possibility of hanging out later in the week, Brian responds in his typical fashion:
“If it’s allowed, yes.”
“And you haven’t contracted COVID-19.”
“And I didn’t get it today while I was out at Target.”
I remark on how I think we’re fine to go between houses, thinking of Vince.
“Ok well if you think we can then all is settled.”
“I’ll keep track of my temperature.” I cringe. I shouldn’t have let that comment slide.
“Ok.” Is he actually serious about me taking my temperature?
Later, I’m standing in Vince’s kitchen, chopping onions while he mixes meatballs. His dog sits patiently between us. Anyone walking by might assume we’ve been together for months, years even. During a pandemic, I’ve learned that your second date can feel like your fifth or sixth date. Although, I haven’t thought about the pandemic in hours.
On day ten of the quarantine, I delete the Hinge app. (I can confirm, it is, in fact, “designed to be deleted.”) I’m spending my quarantine with Vince, and whatever the post-pandemic world may be, I can imagine entering it with him, too.
In college, one of my English professors told my Shakespeare class that there are only about twenty unique story structures in the world. I can also report there are only a handful of ways interactions play out on Hinge.
“I’ve met someone, and I’m going to start seeing him exclusively.”
“Are you joking? Like how that other guy dumped you?” Brians asks.
I admit this is the type of sick joke I would make, but “I’m not joking.”
And, so, I’ve now “Marketer Mike’d” someone. I went on a second, third, fourth date with someone and they went exceptionally well and we’ve agreed to see each other more exclusively.
Somehow, as so much of life seems scary and unfamiliar, online dating carries on from a safe social distance. And, somehow, shocking even myself, I looked for love during the time of coronavirus and found it.