CHENNAI: Hello? Can you hear me?’ ‘Yes, I can. But can you please turn your video screen on?’ ‘Oh yes…hey, how do I do that?’ In April, a few weeks into the nation-wide lockdown, Ananditha S, had her first official date after almost two decades. “I had an arranged marriage. It was abusive and toxic. Last year, my divorce came through, and I ushered in this year with new hope. I was certainly looking to meet new people and developing connections — romantic and otherwise.
That’s when I opened myself to the possibility of dating. It was liberating,” shares the 50-year-old, who, instead of signing up on dating apps, decided to go the old-school way. “When I spoke to my friends, they decided to play Cupid. In March, I was introduced to Rishab, a designer. But before we could go out to grab a cup of coffee, the lockdown was imposed!” she says, her tone, screaming disappointment, over a videocall. Another screen pops up on the side and we meet Rishab. Clad in a royal blue shirt, perhaps right out of a Zoom work-meet, he smiles and waves.
‘You are late, again?’, asks Ananditha, playfully. A few moments of banter later, Rishab narrates how courtship amid a global pandemic has helped him rediscover the joys of dating. “Our first date was over a WhatsApp call. She didn’t know how to turn the video on. So I spent 10 minutes asking her to press the ‘video icon’. But instead, she kept ending the call! I think it was one of the best first dates I’ve ever had. It was a great ice-breaker. We spoke for hours…well, mostly about the pandemic.
But at least small talk was out,” smiles the 39-year-old. It’s been five months since the duo’s first date, and they are still together. “When there were relaxations amid the lockdown, we met a few times. I don’t own a car, so for our first date, she drove over to my house, picked me up. I had made some delicious lemonade and club sandwiches. We drove around the almost-deserted streets of Besant Nagar and even caught the sunset, right before rushing home because of the curfew.
It felt like we were 16 all over again!” he quips. “The extra props — the masks, sanitisers and gloves made it more memorable,” he adds. Like Ananditha and Rishab, other couples whom CE spoke to, too, have been adjusting, rediscovering, shifting norms and tackling the special challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has posed in their dating lives — one virtual call, one socially distanced walk at a time.
Love, six feet apart
For 19-year-old Sakshi, who found love amid the lockdown within her apartment complex, terrace dates have become something to look forward to. She calls it a “respite from the scare. I grew up in this apartment and have been friends with our neighbour’s son since the time we turned 14. Though we studied in different schools, we used to hang out together every evening.
Our friendship, six years later, bloomed into love when we were asked to not step out of our house during the pandemic. We shared several texts and then the grand confession happened,” she enthuses, as Tarun cackles over the phone call. “Looking back at it and now, hearing it from her sounds extremely dramatic. But that’s exactly what happened. With strict lockdown norms in place, we were separated by two doors, a few walls and then there was the six-feet social distancing protocol,” he recalls. Earlier in June, the duo had their first in-person date, outside, under the stars. “Since our parents knew, we didn’t have to sneak around. We were only asked to stay safe and set boundaries. So we finally had a low-key yet beautiful date on our terrace, six feet apart.
We’ve decided to only hold hands (of course with our gloves on) and not kiss until a vaccine is found,” he shares, opening up about the hushed ‘when do we get physical’ conversation. A Bengaluru-based biological anthropologist and a psychologist, who wished to remain anonymous, told CE that in the times of corona, it had become all the more important to have the conversation with the respective partner or date.
“After several video-calls, the question has to come up at some point. But what one has to be mindful of is the situation, the comfort level you share and also sound appropriate. What might sound straightforward to you might be inappropriate to the other. So, you need to ask the question while being understanding, especially in such a situation where we are living amid a pandemic, where any sort of physical contact is risky and frowned upon. One has to ensure they don’t put the other person in a spot or make them anxious,” says the professional.
Risk and romance
Jonathan* and Andy*, a 20-something- old queer couple, who met through a dating app in March concur. “Good hygiene and being socially responsible have always been prerequisites while meeting someone on a date. Now, finding someone who will agree upon social/ physical distancing themselves has been added to the list. Andy and I hadn’t met until earlier in July. But by then, we had laid some ground rules. Masks and gloves during in-person meetings, no kisses (not even a peck on the forehead!) and definitely no latenight rendezvous,” says Jonathan, an accountant.
Andy, a self-confessed introvert, says the pandemic has forced people to not rush into the process. “It’s become more traditional. We get time to understand each other better before kissing or even the handholding starts. I think that’s great for everyone, especially for those from the LGBTQ community. It’s a blessing in disguise to get the time and space to choose an appropriate partner and develop a good connection. And honestly, finding someone who agrees to the prerequisites is the new romantic,” says the former IT professional. “I was among the thousands who were laid off from their jobs during the pandemic. I was lonely and bored, and in fact, that was one of the many reasons I was looking to connect with new people through these dating apps.
During the already stressful period, I am glad that we don’t have to wrack our brains to decide on where to head for a date and about the eventual economics of it – who will pay the bill, travel and so on. Overall, people have become more understanding of another person’s situation. There is widespread empathy. And as for Jonathan and me, like every other couple and singles, who are ready to mingle, video-calling apps are helping us keep the romance alive. From dressing up for virtual dinner dates to sharing our screen to watching a movie together, we have done it all,” he says.
While the biggest plus of dating during the pandemic (despite the virus third-wheeling) has been the virtue of taking things slow, some, like Avira Karky, a journalist, haven’t had the chance to get a taste of sweet, slow love. After ending a traumatic relationship and wading through a few not-so-pleasant romantic encounters, Avira had stayed away from the dating scene. In February this year, when a work call serendipitously led to the man asking her out, Avira says, she found herself saying yes.
“We had talked the whole day and he seemed funny and charming. All that adrenaline leaves no room for your brain to think, so I agreed to a date but couldn’t confirm when. A week later, when all the hormones had settled down and the comforts of singledom were making themselves more apparent, I couldn’t bring myself to give him a time and place and make the date happen. He was a patient man though, understood that my work left me little room for him,” she recalls.
But, things started taking a turn when he sent Avira a string of gifts. “We hadn’t even met! But I decided not to be cynical and gave him the benefit of doubt. We finally met for drinks and dinner, two weeks later. He was full of stories, he was interested in mine. But there was no attraction whatsoever. I was preparing to gently let him down. Before I could decide on that, the pandemic happened. I was grateful for the lockdown, which ensured that any kind of a second date was far away. But he wasn’t thinking the same. A few days after the relaxation was rolled out, he called me in the afternoon and said he was near my house. I realised there was no getting around this, so I invited him home.
We talked for an hour about very impersonal things before he had to leave...I was sending him off (without even a hug) when he hinted that he would like to marry me! That’s when I realised this had gone on too long. We talked a couple of times after that meeting but there has been no communication since the end of May. But I have received two more gifts since then, without any notice. Now, I have the very unpleasant task of telling him to back off...because the radio silence has not served the purpose,” she shares.
Connections during corona
If finding love and their forever hasn’t been the ultimate goal, several singles tell us that they have been enjoying the meaningful conversations they’ve had with prospective dates. Spurring a sense of intimacy, trust, commitment and love — several virtual dates have turned out to be a potential connection for a lifetime. “Being single and disclosing information about yourself, your experiences and feelings are very daunting tasks.
But knowing you won’t have to meet the person immediately has opened up a portal of comfort and security,” says Deekshith Sisodia, who has had his fair share of swipe rights and lefts. “I see people, who never used these dating apps, now embracing it. It has become the new normal. The uncertainties of the pandemic have allowed everyone to communicate better.
I have so far been on two virtual dates. While the first one ended abruptly, the second date has now turned out to be the person who sends me home-cooked food every weekend, because I live away from family,” he shares. From finding love during COVID- 19 relief work, on the now-banned TikTok app, sharing love notes through social media apps, connecting over music playlists to going on fairy-light lit virtual dates, people in the city have been finding love, companionship and friendship in the most uncommon places in untraditional ways, during such trying times. We bet Rihanna knew what she meant when she said ‘We found love in a hopeless place’. Here’s to love and dating, with new rules!
Take your time
Andy, a self-confessed introvert, says the pandemic has forced people to not rush into the process. “It’s
become more traditional. We get time to understand each other better before kissing or even the handholding starts. I think that’s great for everyone, especially for those from the LGBTQ community,” says Andy.
From breaking the ice over tech lessons to making the long-forgotten rooftops the new meeting hotspot, and refraining from even holding hands — love and companionship are being sought in the most uncommon ways