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L.A. Affairs: Our first date was over when he refused to pull up his face mask

An illustration of two people on a park bench: His mask is around his chin. She's wearing hers properly and turning away.
2020 was going to be my year. Or was it?
(Jiaqi Wang / For The Times)

It was time to date again. Eight months earlier, I had ended a relationship I believed was leading to marriage. As the February cold hit Los Angeles, I looked around at the confines of my apartment where I live alone and vowed to grab the proverbial bull by the horns: 2020 would be my year. I updated my online dating profile, I planned two international vacations and scheduled several road trips with friends.

Two dates with two guys. That’s all I was able to get in before the stay-at-home order hit. Within the span of a week, my gung-ho attitude toward 2020 was ruined. It’s hard to grab any bulls, proverbial or otherwise, when you feel like you’re constantly being told you’ll die if you go outside.

For a significant portion of 2019, I had let heartbreak control my life. Too afraid to be vulnerable, I avoided dating like the plague. As a woman in her late 30s, I knew what I’d be in for if I put myself out there again: some nice men with whom I’d have no chemistry, potential game playing and men who promised me love only to never call again. Dating in the best of times was hard enough. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be in the midst of a pandemic.

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But I knew I wanted and deserved love. And you can’t find love without the frustrations that come with dating. Every day I’d see new articles about how dating was going to be better during the pandemic. Chivalry was making a comeback. A man would have to court you if he wanted to be yours. (There’s no way you’d risk the kiss of death with just anybody.) The articles made dating during COVID-19 sound like the equivalent of a Jane Austen novel in the 21st century.

So, I begrudgingly scheduled my first virtual date. 2020 was still going to be my year. Pandemic be damned.

I struggled with my phone’s camera. “Maybe I should raise it above my head so it’s looking down on me,” I thought, remembering an article I once read about flattering angles onscreen. My thoughts raced: “Does the camera really add 10 pounds? I hate the way I look on my phone.” I didn’t have time to continue my inner monologue as my date’s face suddenly appeared.

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My date turned out to be a man who was adamantly opposed to mask-wearing and wanted to meet for coffee the following week. When I told him I wasn’t ready to go anywhere without a mask and social distancing, he dismissed my concerns. He eventually changed his mind — he said he’d wear a mask — and told me he’d be back in touch to set up a coffee date. I never received a second call.

I reminded myself that not all dates, virtual or in person, could be good. Virtual date No. 1 had actually done me a favor. I was now a veteran of virtual dating and could confidently voice my pandemic protocol boundaries.

A few weeks and a bunch of dead-end dating app conversations later, a close friend persuaded me to try Zoom speed dating. “Oh, what the hell,” I thought and paid the $35 to stare at random men on a computer screen for an hour. It seemed expensive for a date with no drinks, but I forged ahead.

Zoom speed dating felt eerily similar to in-person dating.

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In the four minutes allotted for each “mini” date before switching to the next man in line, I could tell who was interested in me within seconds of our virtual introduction. Sometimes the conversation flowed; sometimes it didn’t. One date would randomly appear without warning on my screen while the other would disappear into an abyss. By the end of the evening I had talked to 10 men. All nice but no real connections. All shortened versions of normal IRL dates.

As the stay-at-home order lifted, I decided it was time to take a risk and schedule a socially distanced date at a local park. My date and I vetted each other’s penchant for mask-wearing through a phone call. Thankfully, we agreed: masks on.

‘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.

To my surprise, when we met, my date’s mask hung just slightly below his nostrils. “You know, experts say a mask isn’t effective if it doesn’t cover your nose, right?” I said nonchalantly, trying not to scold.

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“I find it hard to breathe otherwise,” he said, “but I always make sure to cover my nose in public places.”

Although the park was public, his nose remained uncovered for the rest of the date. I tightened my own mask and moved farther away. When it was over, I worried I had risked catching COVID-19 by meeting someone I’d never agree to see again.

Recently, I had a good first date with a nice gentleman. We shared the same views on pandemic safety: masks on, six feet apart.

I don’t know where it will go from here, but it’s a reminder that virtual, telephonic or socially distanced, dating all comes down to chemistry and luck. I might not have experienced this so-called new age of Jane Austen COVID-19 courting, but I’m back in the dating game. And I think for now, that’s enough.

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The author lives in Los Angeles and is an attorney practicing education law.

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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