Slow dating: the online search for love during lockdown

This online dating story was the catalyst for a piece of mine that appeared in The Guardian this week. It led to a second pitch, a whole new focus and a home in one of my favourite newspapers. It’s a lesson in perseverance and sheer bloodymindedness.  Guardian headlines with image of a woman looking at a laptop

Here is the original…

An English friend of mine, now in her late 70s, introduced her husband to me by saying ‘This is Bill. I advertised for him in the Guardian.’

It was 2015, and she and Bill had been married for 12 years.

He had responded to her advertisement by letter, and over the next few weeks a correspondence ensued. Eventually they nominated a place to meet. Their rendezvous took place two months after their initial contact outside a pub in London – she nervously watching every tall man who passed by, he circling uncertainly – until they finally introduced themselves. They shared a counter lunch and a post-prandial encounter of a different kind back at his place. She never went home.

So racy. So romantic. Soooo protracted.

Over the past two decades, the pursuit of love has evolved into a more fast-paced transaction. Online dating, once largely the prerogative of the middle aged, has been adopted by the young, who have taken it and run with it. Apps like Tinder allow singles to be aware of other singles in their immediate vicinity. Courtship has devolved into an arched eyebrow in the coffee queue, or a swipe of the index finger. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

A line of people waiting for coffee
Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash

Then along came COVID-19.

Isolation has sent lonely singles of all ages to dating sites in droves. Recently single, I was one of them. Lockdown has changed the rules since the last time I found myself on the mating merry-go-round. With no immediate prospect of hooking up, young and old alike are looking for love the old fashioned way: by corresponding. Extended courtship has been reinstated, necessitating patience on both sides.

And effort. Prospective partners have to rely on more than a photograph to attract a mate. Writing a good profile and being able to maintain a decent conversation over weeks – either written, by phone or via zoom – helps sort the wheat from the chaff. I have been corresponding with a man for almost a month now. We have discussed topics ranging from our favourite 1960s television series to our favourite breeds of dogs. In all that time, he has never once suggested meeting.

I recently wrote ‘I’m enjoying our gentle conversation. You don’t exert any pressure and it’s like slipping on a comfortable pair of moccasins’, to which he replied ‘A comfortable pair of moccasins, hey? Yes, my days as a dangerous pair of stilettos are well and truly over.’

A woman's hands resting a drink on a black stiletto
Photo by Cleo Vermij on Unsplash

Now I’m not averse to the occasional dangerous pair of stilettos, but they don’t go with COVID couture.

The idea of having to wear anything other than my standard tracky dack-stretchy top combination throws me into a mild panic. It adds to the reluctance I and many others are feeling – brought on by our now-habitual hibernation – to set foot outside simply on the strength of a nice smile or a great set of abs. And once the decision to meet has been made, the choices of venue are limited.

Until recently, takeaway coffee and a walk in the park were about as romantic as a first date got in these times of social distancing. Restaurants and cafes are now slowly opening their doors but going back to one or other’s places is out of the question. Unless both parties have tested negative in the past five minutes and are armed with face masks and full body armour. Which kind of defeats the purpose. Then there’s the problem singles of all ages face: lockdown with their extended family.

‘Coming back to my place’ is not only germ-ridden, it’s crowded.

So what, realistically, are your options? If you drive to the beach to ‘watch the sunset’, you will note that the car parks are surprisingly full of cars.* If you are of a certain age it may remind you of your misspent youth, when closed bedroom doors containing young people of the opposite sex were routinely thrown wide open by parents and the only safe place to co-mingle was in the back of a panel van.

Looking in through the back of a Holden Sandman panel van
A dating site of a different kind

No, I prefer to maintain my decorum and my COVID-negative status and continue my correspondence from home for now. And when the time is right, I may even swap those comfy slippers for a dangerous pair of stilettos and go out slow dancing one more time.

*Please note: This piece was written before the reintroduction of stage three restrictions in Melbourne.

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