On a recent episode of Man Up, Aymann Ismail investigated a new trend: single men coming out of the woodwork to seek companionship in the middle of a pandemic. In this excerpt, Aymann talks to Katie, a woman in New York who got asked out twice in the same day, and Zack, a man in Denver who’s going on virtual dates. This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Katie Rayford: I feel like there was something in the air because it was early days of quarantine, also a very nice day outside. I’m not sure if everyone had the “spring has sprung” mentality, but a lot of factors were in the air.
The first encounter I had was at the pharmacy. I go pick up my prescription. It’s not ready yet, so I’m standing at the counter area, and I see a guy sort of looking over toward me, and—I’m not even kidding—with no sort of introduction, he was like, “Do you come here a lot? Do you want to go out sometime?” And I just, honestly, burst out laughing. And then my name is called, so I’m like, “I gotta go pick up my prescription,” and sort of dodge that one pretty quickly.
So then I’m going to the grocery store, which is next door, and I am in the hummus section. A guy comes over to me, and, unlike pharmacy guy, he’s actually talking to me. And then he kind of bluntly is like, “Can I get your number, or can I give you mine?” And again I’m just like, What is happening? So I start laughing again. And then I sadly told him that I’d be only going home with my hummus that day.
My theory right away was like, Are guys going to grocery stores because they know there’s higher foot traffic there? It’s actually a pretty smart dating game, honestly. I’m very impressed by any man who has figured out that there’s traffic in these areas—no one’s at bars anymore because we have to not go to those places, for social distancing purposes.
Also, I’ve been noticing that there have been people coming out the woodwork for me, people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Not my most recent exes, but like my middle school ex reached out to me recently. The strangest one is that some guy who lives in Australia, who I met in Las Vegas my senior year of college for fall break, just reached out to me asking how I was dealing with quarantine, how it was in New York, and how Australia hasn’t gotten there yet. And then he started FaceTiming me. So now I’m FaceTiming with an Australian man that I haven’t seen since 2012.
Aymann Ismail: I feel like this virus has been teaching us a lot about how we interact and what’s real and important and necessary and what isn’t. Is there a lesson that we should be learning?
Katie: I know that we live a million miles a minute, I personally live a million miles a minute, and it has made me be more receptive to people that have reached out. When middle school boyfriend reached out, ex-boyfriend reached out, or Australia guy reached out, it’s welcoming. I find it personally very welcoming.
Aymann: Right on. Is there anything that you’ve learned about men in particular throughout this whole situation, especially in light of what happened at the grocery and pharmacy?
Katie: So I would say they’re bold. If the world is ending, why not just go for it? It can be good until a certain point—obviously, don’t shoot your shot in a very uncomfortable or offensive way. But I think it has emboldened men, for sure. I think it’s also taking people out of their comfort zone, which is nice. If you want to meet someone in person, you can’t hide behind a million shots at a bar or a million friends, like bros in circles pumping each other up. You have to go fend for yourself a little bit. So I hope grocery store guy wasn’t just trying to find a woman who can make him pasta or some hummus dip situation, in my case. But I do think that, yes, men are bolder, taking more risks. I hope it changes men for the better, I really, really do.
Aymann: Dude, I’m so afraid of the idea of a FaceTime date. Even if I’m FaceTiming my relatives or friends, I always look like a bird or like a fish if the angle isn’t right, and it’s weird to hold it and talk. What is a virtual date like?
Zack: Oh, man, it’s not natural. You kind of have to go into it being like, “Hey, I’m not going to look cool.” You’re not going to come out of this being like, “Ah, this is perfect.” It’s less than ideal, but I think having those realistic expectations of just like, “OK, the potential person is going to look a little different on FaceTime than they may in real life.” I may not be looking my absolute best, but at the end of the day, just kind of do what you can.
Always try to look for the good lighting. Also, try to think about what’s behind you. I’m really into nature, especially in Colorado—that kind of comes with the territory. So I try to shift it so that I have a bunch of my nature photographs hanging up. You gotta be strategic about it.
Aymann: I’m married now, but I remember going on a bunch of first dates and being so scared, because I feel like there’s so much weight put on first impressions, and you really have this idea of how you want it to go. And as soon as things start to not go that way, I get all sweaty and weird. I can only imagine how much more uncomfortable virtual dates are—or are they actually not so bad? What do you think? How do they compare with real-life in-person dates?
Zack: With virtual dates, you do lose some of the body language outside of facial expressions, but you still get tone. You still learn a lot about someone if there’s that rapport. I guess I wasn’t really thinking too much about that, just more of like, “OK, let’s just try to get to know them and go from there.”
Aymann: Why not stop? Why not just put your dating life on pause?
Zack: I think, similar to setting an alarm every night before you go to sleep, dating is one of the most optimistic things that you can do, because dating to me says there’s going to be another side to this. There is going to be a world worth pursuing love in at the end of the day. So continuing to date is just a very hopeful thing that is keeping me positive, because if I were to stop dating, that’s giving up in a way. But at the same time, I totally understand why someone might want to take a pause, because I’ve had my heart broken, and you need time to heal from that. I get that. But I think that dating is as important now for me as ever because it’s still worth going for one of the most fundamental things about humans.
Aymann: Damn, you’re romantic as hell. I’ve been on the opposite end of that, where I’ve been kind of afraid that this is like the post-apocalyptic future.
Zack: Oh, yeah, it’s scary, and if I were to tell you that it’s not scary, I’d be lying. I find myself spiraling really quickly if I’m like, “Oh, well, this is it now, and here we go.” Maybe it’s dumb. Maybe it is putting your head in the sand a little bit, but I don’t know how else to do it. This is the most authentic way that I can be to myself, to try to just keep my sanity.
Aymann: Is it really about finding a relationship and making a connection with someone that’s going to last, or is it really just about dating and keeping it fun?
Zack: Yes, this is kind of an escape and a fun way to go about it. But also, I’m definitely hoping to foster a relationship through this, like an extended old-fashioned courtship, to talk without really any ability to do things together. I mean, we are together but alone at the same time, so it’s a weird juxtaposition. But I think that, in my wildest dreams, I would find someone, and we’d continue to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company virtually. And then it would naturally transition to the real world once that’s allowed to happen. I love romantic comedies, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to find a quarantine sweetheart that may transition into something serious on the other end. But each time I am like, “Oh, this is the gal. This is the one.” And then something happens, and I’m like, “Nope, that was not it. I gotta stop.” So I guess I’m just trying to stop myself from becoming my worst enemy still.