You know Catherine Downes. Until recently, she ran our online dining coverage. Oh, also, she wrote this cover story for D Magazine about her divorce. Catherine is now an editor at Southwest: The Magazine. And she’s got a story for us about how these unusual times have changed her love life. If you’ve got a story about how your social interactions have changed, drop me a note (timr at dmagazine dot com). Here’s what Catherine is dealing with:
By Catherine Downes
I considered canceling my date at the last minute but ended up following through with it. We were meeting in 20 minutes, and the guy had probably, hopefully, showered and was likely on his way. Plus, I’d already postponed our first attempt at dinner a week prior, when I’d come down with the flu. (It was the flu. I tested positive for it. Relax.) We had matched on a dating app. There was some light texting, mostly about grocery shopping. I didn’t even have his name saved in my phone. I’ve learned it’s best to keep things frivolous until you meet face to face. In-person chemistry is essential. Sometimes it’s there, most of the time it’s not.
It was the Friday before COVID-19 decided to take a massive dump and fling it at every pedestal fan in Dallas. Some of my friends were starting to social distance, and I questioned if going to a restaurant made me irresponsible. This is why I considered bailing. It wasn’t because this dude looked like Sloth from The Goonies or was as proficient at texting as a houseplant. He was cute. And could spell. As it turns out, we also had in-person chemistry.
The date was fun. That’s all the info you’re getting because this isn’t a story about how I went on a good date. This is a story about what came next: a whole lotta nothing.
The next day, after scrolling through countless articles highlighting how vile things were about to get if U.S. residents didn’t take action immediately, I made the decision to distance myself socially. All of my friends were doing the same, so there was no FOMO. My boss said I could work from home. I had an unopened variety pack of oatmeal in my pantry and an Amazon Prime account. I’d be fine.
I texted my date to let him know. He said he looked forward to seeing me again. I responded, half-jokingly, that we’d rendezvous in three months. It’s been a couple of weeks and communication has dwindled to practically nothing. Life goes on — I hope.
It got me thinking about how other single people are coping with solitude. Are they, too, applying false eyelashes to FaceTime their friends? And teaching their dogs to cha-cha-cha? And spooning Alfredo sauce from the jar into their mouths, then realizing, one too many scoops in, that the void they’re trying to fill can only be satisfied by the touch of another human being? Honestly, I’d already been doing most of these things pre self-quarantine. I’ve recently learned to enjoy time spent alone. But shelter in place has given these activities new weight. At least before, there was the option to put on shoes and explore the city’s many restaurants and bars and pet supply stores that let you hold the parakeets when you ask nicely. Don’t get me wrong, this is the right thing to do if we’re going to squash this pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I wanted to see how my other single friends living in Dallas are holding up. So I reached out. This is what they had to say:
“Been staring at my wall, yelling at Alexa through my Fire TV remote to launch various streaming options, kitchen grazing, and finding new categories of online adult entertainment.”
“It’s a continual battle between situps or microwaving cheese tortillas, books or Netflix, being creative or watching the news, texting your ex or swiping on Hinge.”
“I wouldn’t say much has changed. It’s disappointing, albeit completely necessary, that I can’t interact with a lot of the people I care about and see regularly. Other than that, my life at home is the same. For now, it’s a nice change of pace. I like long walks and don’t mind the solitude. I’ll be happy when we emerge to experience our new normal.”
“I wish I lived alone. My roommate is always here. If I did live alone, it would be a nice time for self-discovery and trying new things. Taking more time for self-love instead of 15 minutes. Being told I can’t do something, like seeking a partner for sex, just makes me want it more.”
“For me, it’s a time of centering. I’ve never been one to get lonely. I think being alone is regenerative. Alone is viewed as a negative, when in reality people need to stop looking to others to deliver their happiness.”
“There have been moments of loneliness, being that I don’t get to interact with anyone in person right now. But it doesn’t really feel that different from my everyday life. I’m used to being by myself and I’ve been happily single for a few years now. If anything, I’ll use this isolation as a way to further strengthen my relationship with myself. I have a pet, too. Her presence is comforting during the moments when isolation starts to feel heavy. I will also say, I intend to date super hard once all of this is over. So, I’m working on my prison bod while we’re quarantined.”
“So, there is some jealousy of my friends who are coupled together. They still get to experience human touch and that’s probably the thing I miss the most. Aside from dating, I have a very touchy-feely group of friends. We are constantly hugging on each other and suddenly that is gone. Of course, it is strange and feels sort of pointless to date right now. But it also feels perfect. How romantic would it be to fall in love with someone while the world was ending? Maybe that is how I will use my social distancing — to perfect the art of touching without touching.”
“I think the whole situation is summed up as ‘be careful what you wish for.’ At this new job, I’ve been burying myself in work, and it’s kind of distracted me from pursuing relationships. I’ve always wanted to work from home, and now that I have the ability, all I want to do is engage with people. Funny how life can do that to you.”
“I know the apps encourage you to call or video chat with your matches, and I have a few conversations going with people, but I’m not really focusing on that right now, or swiping. I’m just focusing my time on working from home and doing video chats with my friends instead.”
“For the first time in my life, dying alone sounds like a negative outcome.”
A visit to Tinder on Sunday night reveled spiked traffic. The app was experiencing something called a swipe surge, which happens during music festivals, and spring break, and, apparently, shelter-in-place orders. While some dudes were cracking jokes about COVID-19 in their bios (that’s gross, don’t do that), others sweetly suggested becoming quarantine pen pals.
Life may seem lonely for a single person right now, but it’s heartening to know that people are staying in and doing the right thing. To all of the other singles out there, I commend you. To all of the people who are partnered up, I’d like to encourage you to check on your friends who aren’t.
We’ll get through this together. And when we do, there will be plenty of in-person love waiting for us on the other side.