Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here. If you have a story we should tell, please email email@example.com.
I’ve never met “Adam.” Our first date is over Zoom. We’re both in bed in our own homes, less than 2 miles apart. It’s nearly 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday. (What do weekends even mean right now?) I’m sitting up in bed wearing a shirt I grabbed from the laundry pile on my floor. I haven’t washed or brushed my hair in about five days. He’s in a tank top, headphones, and what may be his boxers.
Initially, Adam answers the Zoom with a virtual background of a photo he took in the mountains. I tease him that I showed him my bedroom, so he shows me his.
I’ve been on nearly 40 dates in the past year, most enjoyable, a few vaguely unsettling. None so far have stuck long-term. Dating got even harder when I badly sprained my ankle about a month ago. In an injury-imposed isolation, working from home with my leg propped up on the couch, dating felt like a way to continue some semblance of a normal social life. I messaged with a handful of people and went on first dates with four guys. It was an operation: I had my housemate push me in a wheelchair the half-mile to the nearest café, met my dates there, and arranged for her to come pick me up in two hours. If my date didn’t seem like a serial killer, I asked him to wheel me home and carry my wheelchair into the house.
Just as my ankle was beginning to feel better, the coronavirus arrived, and everyone else joined me at home.
I started messaging with Adam after we matched on Hinge, just before stay-at-home orders arrived. He was swamped at work, frantically preparing for the now-inevitable shutdown. On Friday, I woke up a sore throat, so I stayed in isolation in my room, my housemates leaving food outside my door. By the end of the weekend, our area was in lockdown.
During the two weeks Adam and I had been texting, life went from pretty normal to completely upside down. Crisis catapulted us right over small talk. We went from sharing Spotify playlists to checking whether the other person has enough to eat.
I can’t focus on work, so I trawl the mutual aid spreadsheets that have popped up in my community. I offer moving boxes, use of my car, a listening ear. I see Adam’s been donating resources as well. It makes my heart beat a little faster.
In the end, I asked Adam out on that first date. “Do you want to hang out (whatever that means) tonight?” I text. He said he’s trying to figure out what “whatever that means” means, so I send him my work Zoom link, feeling odd, as if I have mixed up my dating profile and my LinkedIn.
Finally, we meet on video. He has a lovely voice and is an engaging storyteller. I like how his eyes crinkle when he laughs. I touch my unwashed hair a lot because I can see myself mirrored in the corner of the screen. This is possibly the worst way to help an already self-conscious person remain focused on a date. Now that we’re “in person,” we talk again about the vestiges of normal life: Pokémon, graduate school, and where I got that weird lamp next to my head (from Kickstarter). He pulls up his Kickstarter page and shares the screen with me, scrolling through the impulse purchases he’s made. I can see how many tabs he has open. I end the Zoom when it starts to feel like more of a sleepover, but the flirting continues, and we keep texting until we pass out. We continue messaging all week.
When I tell my housemate about Adam, she asks, “How do you know it’s not just the excitement of quarantine?” There are so many aspects of attraction that I’m missing through the screen, those gut reactions when someone enters your personal space. It may be weeks or months before we get to that. Maybe our sleep schedules are way off, or we don’t like each other’s smells or table manners. Maybe there won’t be any butterflies when we touch. But I do spend a lot of time fantasizing about ways we could meet. Sitting on either side of the fence around my yard. In two cars parked side by side at the drive-in movie theater, which is definitely closed now. Buying groceries, chatting in front of the empty toilet paper aisle. A tandem bicycle ride in full protective equipment. I disgust myself with these visions. This is a bad romantic comedy. I’ve got asthma! Hospitals are getting overwhelmed!
On a Tuesday night, my housemates and I decide to have a nice dinner. We dress in suits and gowns. As I put on eyeliner in the mirror of my bedroom, I glance down at my unshaven legs. Not worth the effort. We put a gold sequined cloth runner on the table, fill vases with blossoms stolen from the bushes outside the abandoned dentist’s office next door, dim the lights, and turn on the kind of music we imagine would play in a romantic restaurant. The dining room transforms. Two of my housemates serve us like waiters. We sip wine, leave lipstick on our glasses, chatter happily, and forget that we have all been stuck in our house together for the past two weeks.
I send Adam a photo of myself dolled up from our restaurant dinner. “You look so good,” he responds. Heavier flirting commences. Adam says he wants to go out on a limb and tell me how he feels about me. I feel flushed and giddy. “I wish I had some easy way to escalate the intimacy, because I like you,” he writes. I imagine all the sweet, first-time, now-prohibited things we’d do if we were together: bump elbows, tangle fingers, touch each other’s faces. I text back, “Wanna hold hands?”