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L.A. Affairs: When ‘corona-dating’ gets me down, I remember what mom said

Illustration: A woman reaching out as hands embrace, in the shape of a heart.
(Raquel Aparicio / For The Times)

It was early April, and I’d been quarantining for roughly a month. Long enough to feel elated at the chance to Zoom with friends and short enough to hold out hope that we’d be hanging out in person by summer. My friends had planned a virtual empanada-making dinner party for a buddy’s birthday. Cooking with loved ones is a special kind of heaven to me, and my heart surged at the thought of this event. I doubled up on my grocery store trips for the week with an extra stop at Whole Foods, and even went back again when I realized I bought the wrong type of parsley.

In the middle of the call, as I sipped wine, stirred ground beef simmering on the stove, attempted to keep up with the conversation while keeping flour out of my keyboard, I realized one thing was missing from this otherwise joyous evening.

In all of the little Zoom boxes, my friends were coupled up.

We were all sharing a virtual experience, but they simultaneously had a counterpart in the flesh to tag team the cooking, share a secret joke and actually taste their food. It was in this square of one that I realized, after a dating sabbatical, I needed to get back on the horse.

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Becoming a single mom by choice seemed insane: I was a public schoolteacher, not a lawyer. I didn’t even have paid maternity leave. How could I afford daycare, diapers and doctor’s appointments? I expected people to think I was crazy, but they were supportive.

However, how to do that perplexed me. Americans were still figuring out the rules on shopping for groceries and collecting mail; there was certainly no guidebook for dating. As an avid dater, I wasn’t fazed by going out in person pre-COVID-19. I knew the language of the wine bar, the coffee shop, the walk, the brewery. The initial greeting, maybe starting with a hug to get things rolling, leaning in, grazing knees, sharing a smooch if things felt right, or leaning back and chalking it up to experience if things felt wrong. It was a dance I knew, and I performed it as frequently and as genuinely as possible.

If I ever did get nervous, I’d sometimes think about the fact that we’re all going to die. Not in a morbid way, but in a “Carpe diem! Life is short, don’t waste it” way. However, in the time of corona, this thought didn’t leave me with the same kind of freewheeling spirit, so I learned to start by suggesting a drink over Zoom.

“If you spend your time telling me about the food and drinks, I know it’s not a good sign,” my mom used to say with a laugh when, post-date, I’d gush to her about the fancy cocktails, live music or delicious cuisine we experienced while neglecting to mention any qualities of my company. While not particularly glamorous, a Zoom date strips away distractions and you’re left with a bare-bones conversation.

I didn’t stand a chance with Libby. She was a gorgeous blond dancer. I’m short, and I wear glasses. When I tried to tell her how I felt about her, she (gently) shot me down.

“I just want someone I can sit with and talk to on the couch and have a great time,” I’d often remarked to my friends about what I’m looking for in a relationship. I thought I might be homing in on this on my second Zoom date with Bryan. We’d been sharing the kind of conversations where time disappears. Before I knew it, I’d be sitting on my balcony with the sun going down and my screen lit up with a romantic “Blair Witch Project” kind of glow.

It wasn’t until later, when he texted, “How do you feel about restaurants?” that the conflict came in. It was the same week my sister had been diagnosed with coronavirus, and if I had been hesitant about in-person meetings before, my risk aversion was only heightened. (She has since recovered.) I suggested another Zoom to Bryan, but that was met with a text saying he was Zoomed out and to let him know when I’d be ready to meet in person.

I went back and forth, contemplating whether I’d be ready to take the risk, but just couldn’t rationalize it. Plus, I couldn’t help but think, If you don’t want me over Zoom, you don’t deserve me at the bar. Or something like that.

I talked to friends on opposite ends of the spectrum. One, who used to hate dating, found her rhythm during the pandemic, swiping with a newfound ferocity and amassing multiple suitors. As she told me about her recent outing — nearly skinny-dipping in a river with a Bumble date — I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out. Another friend said she thought her strict social distancing regimen would render any attempt to build a relationship futile, so she’d stepped back from dating entirely. I still wanted to find middle ground.

I’ve graduated to socially distanced walks and drinks at my new favorite bar, the local park. It’s exciting to feel like there’s hope, and I’m working on approaching each date with my old smile and swagger rather than the stilted, masked, “I come in peace” vibes. Ultimately, though, I’m coming home to myself each evening.

One lonely Saturday, my housemate was at her boyfriend’s and my Zoom Rolodex was picked through. Feeling as though I’d hit a quarantine wall, I called my mom. After lamenting my lack of plans for the night, she remarked, “But how lucky are you? You get to hang out with yourself; you’re hanging out with the best person there is!” We had to laugh at her corny enthusiasm, but I hung up the phone with a smile.

On a recent quiet evening, I decided to make chicken Parmesan — the first meal I ever cooked for a boyfriend and one I’d been wooed with as well. I slipped on my coziest sweats and slippers and spun across the kitchen to the sounds of Bonnie Raitt on Spotify. Relishing the sweet smell as I picked off each basil leaf and chuckling at a funny text on my “Girls” chain, I realized that although my romantic relationships may be stunted, my love life is in full bloom. As I stirred the sauce and cut off a hunk of fresh mozzarella just for me, I couldn’t help but believe my mom’s words were true.

The author is an English teacher and writer living in Santa Barbara.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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