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Dating changed drastically after the world first went into lockdown last March. The next 16 months meant many singletons had to shift from restaurants and strolls in the park to Zoom screens and apps to keep themselves out there.
This is all about to change. On Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed that all restrictions on social distancing will end on the 19th July, meaning pubs, restaurants, bars and clubs will be back to 'normal' in time for summer. This next thing on the agenda - how do you date in real life again?
A survey of 1,095 people by dating app Badoo revealed that 63 per cent felt anxious about the thought of being physically intimate again, with respondents stating that the fear comes from not knowing their date's lifestyle choices and the risks from covid-19. Meanwhile, 77 per cent have admitted lockdown has led to them feeling anxious about meeting someone face to face.
Jana Kuvaitseva can totally relate. The 34-year-old compliance manager from Kent tried dating virtually in lockdown and most recently agreed to go on a date with a guy in real life after more than a year in lockdown. She started seeing a guy a month before we were all confined to our homes and they tried to carry on dating virtually through video calls and apps, but it didn't work out and they eventually split.
She put a lot of thought into how she would prepare after so much time away and because the lack of social interaction has changed the way people act in these spaces. It seems many singletons are using eateries as a spiritual replacement for bars and clubs until 'freedom day'.
"I was putting off dates prior as I could not be bothered with the 'meeting new people' routine," she tells Tyla. "Once restaurants reopened, it felt like everybody wanted to just get drunk and get laid as quickly as possible which is not my cup of tea. I am not much of a drinker myself so I do not enjoy being around wasted people. So, I thought I would wait for a bit for people to calm down."
"I had the usual nerves of a date beforehand, but for me it's the physical stuff that's scary," Jana adds. "Without knowing who someone is, who they are meeting on a day-to-day basis and how many people they are seeing - questions that you wouldn't ask on a first date - I'm not comfortable with taking it to a physical level."
Jana and her date went to a restaurant on King's Road in London, opposite the Saatchi Gallery. With all the pre-booking involved, she said there is "a bit of pressure" to go through with the date.
"Even if you don't enjoy company it's not that easy to walk off your date because of how much trouble the other person had to go through to get that date organised," she says.
Covid and physical intimacy are two of Jana's top concerns now that she is dating in real life again, and she did not even consider agreeing to a meal out without being double vaccinated. She has also established a 'no kissing rule' because she says you never know what someone has been up to.
"It was a little awkward with having to do the track and trace app sign-in and wearing masks to the table, but we had a good connection. At the end of the date he did say he wanted to kiss me, but I laughed it off and we didn't. I didn't mention it was about Covid though."
The pair went on another date at a bar on the Greenwich waterfront. Unfortunately it sounds like things are not meant to be. "We had a nice time but at the end of the date he actually tried to kiss me and asked if I wanted to go back to his house," she explained adding it was a big turn off. "It was way too pushy and he didn't show signs of caring about covid."
But Jana hasn't been completely turned off from meeting new guys. She's using the dating app Inner Circle to find new suitors as she begins to wrap her head around the new style of dating post-lockdown. The no kissing rule will remain in place too.
Psychosexual and relationship therapist Aoife Drury said it is important for singletons to ask themselves why intimacy after a long break may feel daunting because self awareness is a 'powerful tool'. "It's very brave to re-engage with intimacy and dating after a long time, particularly after the stress inducing year that we have had."
"Is it because you're not used to being touched and you're out of practice, are you worried about catching the virus, or do you simply not know what you're looking for?"
While Natasha Briefel, marketing director at Badoo, said: "It's understandable that so many singles are anxious at the thought of getting physically intimate when dating post-pandemic.
"Throughout lockdown, singles have been able to continue making connections via video dates, and socially-distanced walks, but now that we're allowed to go indoors and be together physically, it's a level of dating that we need to be honest and upfront about."
Similarly, relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan emphasised that people should take things at their own pace as they venture into the real life dating world again.
"Date because you're ready to welcome someone into your physical and emotional space, not just because there has been such a time of disconnection. That's exactly what dating is - a process of meeting someone who could be a significant romantic prospect, that's an exciting thought."
Dating should be fun and if it stops feeling fun then it might not be right for you right now.
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