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How Do You Date During A Pandemic? 7 Pointers From A Relationship Coach

Marla Goldstein, relationship coach with G-Spot Coaching
Marla Goldstein, Courtesy
Marla Goldstein is a 25 year old relationship coach and dating violence prevention educator. She spoke with Vermont Edition about how to navigate dating during the pandemic.

Nationally, companies that run online dating platforms have noticed striking increases in people using their services since the onset of COVID-19. Match Group, which operates the majority of online dating services, reported a 15% increase in new subscribers during the second quarter of 2020. But what's the best way to use dating apps during a pandemic? How do you make a connection when it's not safe to get off the app and meet in person? What about newer relationships that are forced to navigate tricky conversations early on?

Our guest is:

Marla Goldstein is a Burlington based relationship who works exclusively with clients under 28. She has a particular interest in helping people make the most of dating apps, and helping them attract people in the early stages of a relationship. She's also a dating violence educator withSteps to End Domestic Violence.

Goldstein spoke with Jane Lindholm, and their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Broadcast live on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 at 12 p.m. Rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Listen to the full show, here.

1. What's the deal with this boom in dating app use? How are they shaping dating during the pandemic?

Marla Goldstein: Socially, for millennials and Gen-Z, we've really been struggling with meeting people in real life.

Our predominant means of communication is through social media apps or through texting. A lot of my friends absolutely can't stand talking on the phone, or [find that] the thought of approaching somebody in person is very anxiety provoking for them. 

So, this age demographic was moving towards dating apps being the predominant way of meeting new people, regardless of what was happening in the rest of the world. But the pandemic absolutely propelled us into the realm of dating apps being the only option [if you want] to meet people right now.

I'm sure a lot of people are wary about approaching people in real life and connecting that way. So, this is a way to be able to meet people safely in your home, through your phone. It’s very low risk.

2. How and when are people talking (or not talking) about COVID on dating apps? Is an app a good place to have conversations about your boundaries?

Goldstein: I know Bumble has the option to talk about your COVID boundaries. I think your options are like, ‘OK to meet in person,’ ‘OK to meet in person, distanced,’ ‘OK to meet in person distanced with masks.’ So there's all these little nuanced things that we wouldn't have to think about if we weren't in this situation.

More from Vermont Edition: What New COVID-19 Restrictions Mean For Vermonters

For myself, I would know that if I was on dating apps right now, knowing somebody’s COVID procedures would be my absolute priority. I'm immunocompromised. Even though I'm 25, I don't know what can happen to my body if I were to contract COVID.

But a lot of my friends - and folks that I work with - are not taking that as seriously.

Before this new order came into effect, people were still meeting up with people that they had just connected with on apps.

For myself, knowing how somebody has handled their day-to-day life during this time, and the adjustments and sacrifices they may or may not have made, would really impact my motivation to continue connecting with them further or not.

3. Should I just wait until COVID is over before I start dating again?

Goldstein: This is going to be our new normal for a long time. It’s okay to dip your toes, and then pull back when you realize that you don't have the emotional capacity for this, or this is not feeling good, or this is not a good investment of my time. 

But to be approaching this as if, ‘I'll just wait until COVID is done before I start investing in this really important part of my life’ — that's a lot of valuable time that you're just on standby. There are things that you can be doing now to fulfill that part of your life.

Life isn't going to stop for anybody right now. Things are on pause, but time is still happening. If you can't get it together to work on pursuing relationships under these conditions, after the pandemic is done, how motivated were you really to take charge of that part of your life?

4. What should I do if I really want to be in a relationship, but no one around me is meeting my expectations?

Goldstein: It’s really remarkable the relationships that are forming during this time.

But I also worry about the other side of those relationships, if somebody really is set on meeting somebody because they don't want to be going through this pandemic situation without a partner. I worry that people might not be as strict with the boundaries and standards that they would have had pre-pandemic.

Someone might be with somebody to have a person there, because they don’t want to go through this alone, rather than taking the time to find a person that they really connect with and putting in the work and going on date after failed date.

I think it's beautiful that some people are able to find partners that are so close to home. That does sound like a wonderful dream. And I also really feel for the people who are compromising their expectations and their boundaries because they just want to have anybody that will come their way to share this time with.

More from Vermont Edition: Love In The Time Of COVID-19: Two Couples Tell Their Stories

My heart goes out to those people as well.

The natural thing to do would be to adjust your expectations to be able to meet the dating pool that's available. That's what anyone would do right now. There’s no fault in that.

But remember to keep at the forefront that your needs, boundaries, and expectations are valid. Those are all meaningful. Those are all important.

It’s okay to adjust your expectations to accommodate someone, but to completely eliminate those boundaries just to not be alone? [It might be worth] more deep diving down there, as to why somebody would be willing to eliminate those really important pieces of who they are, just to meet someone else where they are at.

5. How can I find intimacy while following social distancing guidelines and the governor's ban on multi-household gatherings?

Goldstein: Sexting is absolutely on the rise. It's always been there, but now more than ever, sexting is one of the safest ways to be intimate with a person that you are not able to see physically.

I mean, people in long-distance relationships were sexting before the pandemic.

It's a little adjustment for folks that are not used to doing that, but [it can be about] really exploring what sexuality and intimacy means to you.

And sexting is not just limited to sending photos of certain parts of your body. Sexting can be reading a poem that you wrote, or just talking about things that you would be doing together and not even involving photos.

More from NPR: Coronavirus FAQs: What Are The New Dating Rules? And What About Hooking Up?

There are so many different ways to intimately connect with people that you're involved with that, don't involve physical touch.

"There are so many different ways to intimately connect with people that you're involved with that don't involve physical touch. But that really all comes down to your relationship with yourself." - Marla Goldstein, relationship coach with G-Spot Coaching

But that really all comes down to your relationship with yourself. If you have a solid foundation of intimacy and sensuality with yourself, I think that these times will be a little bit easier to get through while you wait until you're able to see people in-person again, to embrace the physical nature of your intimate relationships.

What if sexting is really awkward for me and/or my partner?

It is so awkward for some people. But sexting is a tool of intimacy and tools are things that we need to be taught how to use properly. There are absolutely resources and ways to learn about how to have healthy and effective sexting with people that you're involved with. 

Think about what kinds of things turn you on and what you are into, and what you would want to hear from this person. Be transparent about the things that you enjoy and things that you don't enjoy, even when they're not related to physical touch.

What is the best way to share feedback while sexting, so both people feel safe and get what they need?

Maybe in-the-moment feedback for sexting isn't the best time, but I think that there should absolutely be a debrief conversation after— maybe the next day, or a few days after. Saying things like: what was that like for you? What did you enjoy? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of?

Intimacy is definitely harder to navigate when you're not able to get that immediate feedback. But sexting is a really beautiful and available way to share intimacy with people. It is a behavior that can absolutely be learned no matter who you are. You can learn how to do this well to cater to your partner's needs and your relationship.

6. I am so sick of looking at people on a screen. How do I make video chats more compelling?

Goldstein: I think that if you just get on video chat and are only talking all the time, that gets a little bit old.

There are a lot of different options that you can pursue over video chat. If you both have Netflix subscriptions, I know that Netflix allows you to do ‘watch parties’, where you can share the link to the Teleparty with another person - you just have to download a Chrome extension - so you can watch something together.

Sometimes with my friends, we'll buy all of the same ingredients for a recipe and we'll video chat while we make the same recipe and then eat a meal together. It’s not even about the recipe. You could eat whatever you want, but it's the experience of cooking together. You learn things like: How does this person do things? Do they like to read directions? Are they patient or are they impatient? Do they like things well-done or undercooked?

If you both like to play a certain game, you can each play it from your end of the screen and then just mark the other person's scorecard as the person that you're playing with progresses in the game.

More from Vermont Edition: Managing Relationships During A Pandemic

You can figure out a craft project that you can do together. Or, plan a night to do something like 20 Questions and look online for question options that you can use — I think there’s something called ‘Intimacy Promoting Questions’ that help you feel closer to your partner.

Recommended blogs on intimacy from Marla:

There are a lot of other things that you can do together while you are apart. I think that's really one of the challenges here, is having the motivation to come up with these innovative ways. But if a person is really invested in their relationship, I trust that they will be able to find things outside of their comfort zone and grow together, as long as they're willing to look outside of the things that they normally do in their routine.
There are a lot of really good blog posts out there right now for folks that are navigating this, too. I really have noticed an uptick in the amount of connection and relationship and intimacy building blogs that I've been subscribing to, which have been really nice to read through. People are problem-solving even throughout this really stressful time. We're still thinking about moving forward.

7. If I am alone right now, what can I do to make it easier?

Goldstein: If you're able to, it is so worth investing in yourself. I purchased two weighted blankets and a six-foot teddy bear, so I have something to cuddle with since I live by myself, too. It's my companion, as ridiculous as that might sound.  

Really, taking care of myself has been a lifesaver throughout this time. We're all going to get through this. For the first time, there's actually a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone should hang in there, and continue loving yourself through this.

Starting with loving yourself will attract all the kinds of people into your life that you want to love you. And that's really how our successful relationships start manifesting.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a messageor tweet us @vermontedition.

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Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Ruby Smith was an intern in the Vermont Edition production team during the winter of 2020-21.
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