In the pre-pandemic era, I would’ve skipped the garlic pasta before a date.
Now, I skip the shower, perfume, deodorant, teeth-brushing and socks. Plus, I probably had that pasta for breakfast.
About a month ago, a mentor set me up with a 30-something friend of hers. We went on two great dates: drinks at a quiet bar in Carroll Gardens and a long walk through Prospect Park.
Then the coronavirus got crazy, especially in New York, and I fled to my grandparents’ house in Massachusetts with my sister and a few of her friends. The good date stayed back in Brooklyn.
With nothing to lose, and nothing but time, I suggested drinks over FaceTime. We set it up for later that week.
What do you wear on a digital date at the end of the world, when pants are a distant memory, and no one can see your heels?
“I went with something from the cuter, tighter end of the T-shirt scale,” Ashley Coombs tells me. The 22 year-old graduate student is on lockdown in her childhood home in Utah, where she’s swiping her way through Bumble, Tinder and Hinge. So far, she’s had three dates over FaceTime with different dudes.
“They went really well,” she says. “In light of this huge crisis, we got to skip the small talk.”
My favorite date spots are cramped joints like Satsko, a tiny sake bar in Alphabet City, or Welcome to the Johnsons, the smelly, sticky dive on Rivington. I was worried video dating might feel like a sensory disappointment.
So was Coombs — but even though it sucked not to be able to clink glasses or hold hands, she found that video-chatting paved a shortcut to emotional closeness.
“This feels a lot more natural and intimate,” Coombs says. She also thinks social distancing helps her filter out players. “The people who are interested in FaceTiming are the ones who want to have a real conversation. They’re more vulnerable.”
Her one regret for her G-rated rendezvous? “I did not bring my curling iron with me to my parents’.”
My hair had also seen sleeker days. A quarantip: Don’t try and smooth out the ponytail dent from your 3-day-old bun with a brush. That ship has sailed. Run your fingers through the midsection of your nest, shake it out, then land on a sort of half-up ‘do that says, “Help me.”
Or that was the plan until I spoke to Emily Drewello, from Maryland.
“I blow-dried my hair, then I curled it,” the 24-year-old says of her digital first date-night look. She paired her loose beach waves with “concealer, foundation, a little eye shadow and liner, blush and mascara.” She even swapped her PJ pants for jeans. “I wanted it to feel like a real date.”
She definitely captured his attention. “His phone died halfway through our two-hour conversation,” says Drewello, who sipped a cider as she and her date bonded over their strict parents. They made plans to stroll around the National Mall when the pandemic is over.
Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough with my not-trying-too-hard look: light blush, some mascara and an old sweatshirt that’s become my self-isolation uniform. I modeled it to my family and was met with a blank stare: “You’re kidding, right?” On went the lip stain and the most form-fitting top I’d grabbed on my way out of the city: a navy ribbed Henley shirt from the Gap. Sigh.
Finding a backdrop is another challenge. There aren’t many private corners in the house I’m holed up in, so I reserved a small room no one’s staying in and made sure the grandchild-overflow bunkbed was out of frame.
That wasn’t an option for Marley Moos, 25, a West Villager who recently went on a FaceTime date with Hunter, whom she met on Hinge. “The beginning was really awkward. I was in my kitchen and I live with a roommate. Imagine being on a date but your best friend is sitting there listening,” says Moos. “She was in and out of the frame working on a puzzle on our kitchen table.”
Coombs, who smartly did a dry-run with a friend, chose her quiet basement, where she’s been taking conference calls for work — “I perched up in a corner so I had back lighting from a window” — while Drewello is grateful her parents turned her childhood sleeping quarters into a guest bedroom. “There’s no more bright blue walls or crazy posters anymore,” she says.
Thalia Perez, 22, in Seattle, was surely the most prepared.
“I have a studio with a hanging backdrop, it’s black with roses, and I have a ring light,” says the nanny, who does photography on the side.
Perez — who knows her angles — says that, in quarantine, a hint of skin is enough: Clavicle’s the new cleavage for guys who haven’t seen girls in weeks. She and her date kept things playful: They took three shots each while she showed off her shoe and record collection. She let him choose a track.
“It got pretty cute and romantic,” she says.
The call lasted five hours. For Perez, it was as good as the real thing — maybe better.
“Being on FaceTime forces you to be attentive and listen to the other person,” she says.
Although it’s hard to gauge chemistry through a screen, like Coombs, she thinks that conversational closeness will build a good foundation for an IRL date. “I think we’ll progress faster in the real world,” she says. “Even if they aren’t there with you physically, they can hear you and support you.”
Is it a coincidence that people are having the best dates of their lives while isolated, bored and starving for human contact? Shhh. Let us have this.
Finally gussied up, I poured myself a whiskey on the rocks — I don’t really like whiskey, but I like looking like I like whiskey — and called my date from my computer. Another tip: Go full-screen on the video call, and turn off notifications for stomach-churning news. Above all else, virtual dates should be escapist.
My cool-girl whiskey fell onto the floor the second I reached for it, and I ended up wrapping myself in a blanket 10 minutes in, obstructing both clavicle and cleavage.
FaceTime dating eliminates some in-person awkwardnesses: the nice-to-meet-you hug and the check fight. But it weaves in new ones: I cringed when I had to get myself a refill, and asked if he’d rather face the back of the couch or the rest of the room while I was gone.
We talked about the coronavirus — how can you not? — but also about our jobs, guilty pleasures and where we grew up. I held my breath when a “poor connection” message appeared, but I’d rather have my tech bail out than my date.
We had another chat a week later; this time, I opted for an honest beer. It helped knowing that if things turned south, I could just take Perez’s advice.
“It’s the easiest escape in the world,” she says. “Just end the call.”