Is It Safe to Date During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Experts Explain
How to keep looking for love while you social distance.
As society is forced into isolation, people are finding themselves craving connection more than ever. According to a study the online dating service OkCupid released on Mar. 10 of this year, 88 percent of users globally and 92 percent of U.S. users were continuing to date during the coronavirus outbreak. (At least at the time they were surveyed.) But while many Americans have found themselves with additional time on their hands, mitigation efforts enacted by several states and cities discourage doing a lot of the activities you might usually choose for a date. California, Ohio, Illinois, and Washington are among the states that have closed all bars and restaurants to slow the spread of COVID-19. In some areas—like New York City and Los Angeles—movie theaters, shopping centers, and other gathering places have also temporarily ceased operations. Even if you live in an area where those businesses remain open, experts still recommend social distancing—i.e. staying home as much as possible and limiting contact with other people as much as you can.
Where does all of this leave those who are still looking to make a match? We asked doctors to tell us how to safely date during the pandemic. Before you open your favorite app, keep reading to find out what these experts have to say.
Is it safe to date during the coronavirus pandemic?
Most experts we talked with suggested not canceling romance altogether, but approaching it from a different angle. David B. Samadi, MD, urologic oncology expert and Director of Men's Health at St. Francis Hospital in New York, cautions against meeting up with a blind date or someone you don't know very well, "because you don't know the status of their health, and even if they say they're healthy, they could still have the virus and just not be symptomatic yet." But that doesn't mean that you still can't get to know someone outside of texting and sharing your profiles. Family and integrative medicine specialist Bindiya Gandhi, MD suggests that daters "talk on the phone" and "get a feel for the person, like we used to before dating apps." Once you feel more comfortable with them, you can decide whether to actually meet up. "Better to be 100 percent cautious," she adds.
If you decide you want to physically get together with your date, there's really only one safe way to do so. "People can self-isolate and then get together outside at a park and keep a big distance between [themselves]," says integrative gynecologist Felice Gersh, MD. (The broadly accepted safe distance for droplet-transmitted diseases like coronavirus is six feet, per Johns Hopkins.) However, Gersh stipulates, "If one of the two people is not practicing social distancing, then it is probably best to just talk through telecommunications." To sum up: you want to be sure that your date has been following the recommended precautions; otherwise your chances of being infected go up.
Can I kiss or have sex during the coronavirus outbreak?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) official guidelines for protecting yourself from coronavirus include avoiding close contact and touching your/another person's face. Unfortunately, that means intimate experiences with new partners are off the table.
"I would hold off [kissing] unless you're married or in a committed relationship, because the virus can be passed through mucus membranes and saliva is pretty close," says Gandhi. Kissing may seem harmless, but Gersh warns, "It's not really safe. There are extremely high viral titers in saliva." These viral proteins allow the virus to be transferred quite easily from person to person through that kind of contact.
The reality is that many crises in history—from the 1965 blackout to more recent natural disasters—resulted in a spike in birthrates. With so much time at home, "couples are having more sex," says women's urologist and sexual health expert Jennifer Berman, MS, MD. It's likely that social distancing will have the same effect, but, as COVID-19 is a new challenge, there's little research on how it impacts pregnancy. However, we know fevers can be harmful to embryo development, and a fever is a core symptom of this disease. "Data so far shows that the virus is not transmitted to the baby while in utero and breast milk also does not have the virus in it," Gersh says. "If the mom gets the virus and recovers, her antibodies may offer protection to her baby." (Either way, the mother should practice self-isolation.)
Another issue for expectant mothers is receiving adequate care. With hospitals and healthcare workers scrambling to manage coronavirus patients, now isn't the best time to intentionally conceive and put additional strain on the system.
How long will this last?
With the pandemic still playing out, the future is still in flux. "This will not go on forever," Gersh says. "[But] some believe we may be dealing with the coronavirus for the next 18 to 24 months." Berman suggests keeping an eye on the loosening of other restrictions, such as school closures, as "a good litmus test for what is appropriate." We are in uncharted territory and advice may change based on what medical professionals learn about the virus, so check for recommendations from the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and your local government. If restaurants and bars are still closed in your area, you should not be heading out on a regular date.
What about partners who live together?
As people are asked to curtail their public lives, couples who live together will be in constant contact in their homes. "If one person has it, the other will get it," Berman says.
"With your intimate, exclusive partner you live with, it's okay to touch, as long as neither is having symptoms," Gersh advises. "However, if one or both of the partners fall into a high-risk group, you might reconsider all close physical contact. These are personal decisions the two of you must make together." She also notes that in couples where one or more individuals is in a job that puts them at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus—such as healthcare or law enforcement—contact should also be limited or suspended.
How can I stay connected to someone I'm already seeing?
How did Jane Austen's characters maintain such fulfilling romantic lives without bar hopping or sleeping together? Berman advocates for the art of the letter to make a comeback. "One way you can remain intimate and connected is to write to another person from your heart," she says. If that practice feels too antiquated for you, you could always give your date a ring on the phone or talk through video chat.
Will dating be different after all this is over?
Berman is concerned about the long-term effects of this necessary self-isolation. Being with other people "is necessary for health, wellness, sexuality, and longevity," she says. "We need to be able to connect with other people. It's hardwired in our DNA, so things like this that separate us are not consistent with the survival of our species." However, she predicts that humans will bounce back from this crisis and settle into normalcy again—and yes, that includes lots of first dates, both good and bad.
"The pendulum has swung so far into fear and separation, but the pendulum will swing back it always does," Berman says. "The goal will be to swing back into balance and be able to feel comfortable being intimate with people [again]."