It’s been 55 days since Colorado went under the stay-at-home order.
It’s since been relaxed to safer-at-home, but that hasn’t made looking for love any easier. For people across the state, navigating love in the age of Tinder and Bumble was already difficult. Add in a pandemic that means there’s no opportunity to meet a potential partner at a bar or restaurant, that gets really hard.
And if two people do find a spark, the couple then has to decide if it’s worth meeting in-person, or if they keep it to video chat dates — and for how long.
A matchmaking company with offices in Denver called It’s Just Lunch centers on the philosophy that in-person connections are necessary to form good relationships. During COVID-19, matchmaker Hope Rike has been setting her clients up on virtual dates instead, and she’s found that it’s working really well for people.
“Clients are getting to know that other person so much better because they don’t yet have that physical aspect of it complicating things, or maybe rushing things,” Rike said. “When things slow down, it can allow more time for self-reflection. And not only self-reflection but relationship reflection — like, what is really important to me in a partner.”
After the video dates, Rike’s couples can choose to meet-up in person. She recommends that they maintain social distance practices, like wearing masks, staying six feet apart and going on dates in the outdoors where there’s plenty of space.
But how long is a couple supposed to maintain that distance?
State and federal public health agencies haven’t created a manual on what’s OK and what isn’t OK when it comes to risk management during the pandemic or even guidelines on when and how to meet-up with others.
Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote about quarantine fatigue for The Atlantic and argued that people need a guide on how to have a life in a pandemic. Without one that allows individuals to assess their risk with the appropriate information, they’re left to make decisions on their own.
While the message is that it’s safer to stay away from other people, especially those who you don’t usually interact with, it doesn’t mean that the need for human connection has gone away.
“Love is not canceled,” Rike said. “I write that in my planner every day. I put that up on my wall. We have to remember that more than ever we need love and more than ever, people want love and want to have that connection.”
Here are 6 people in Colorado navigating love, break-ups, self-improvement and dating during the pandemic.
Suzannah Yoesting, 33, and Meryn Holt, 35, Denver
Three weeks ago, Suzannah Yoesting was in Hawaii with her dad who had a medical emergency. Once he was out of the hospital, Yoesting found herself with some time on her hands.
Bored and lonely, she started swiping through Tinder when she matched with Meryn Holt. Almost immediately, Holt messaged her. They hit it off, and five days later, they were sitting on separate blankets across from one another in a Denver park in their masks. They talked for hours.
“Then I walked her back to her car and I was like, ‘I don’t know how she would take it if I tried to like give her a hug or tried to kiss her,’” Holt said. “And so it’s like, ‘Okay, bye!’ It was weird. I literally sat in my car and didn’t even pull away, and I was texting her. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do this again. Except not distanced.’”
The next day was Holt’s birthday. They knew from the week of texting beforehand there was some physical attraction. The date only solidified it. They had a tough decision about how to see each other again. They wanted to be responsible, but they also really liked each other.
“I was like, well, you know, I think we need to have the discussion of do we have the COVID distancing mentality?” Holt said.
They chose to ditch the mentality. Before they did, they weighed their options and considered who they would be around and whether it was safe or not. They’ve been together nearly every day since, and it’s pretty obvious that their relationship was meant to be.
“No matter what, she’s like, ‘If this makes you happy, I’m gonna do it,’ kind of attitude,” Yoesting said. “That makes me happier. It makes me want to be more lighthearted and not let the normal things that would upset me get in the way of that. And then the adventurous spirit that she has — that just really has drawn me to her.”
Jacques Gonsoulin, 27, Denver
“In general, dating has obviously changed significantly,” said Jacques Gonsoulin, a gender-fluid, queer person who lives in Denver.
“For me, it’s a total negotiative state where I’m like, should I take that risk? Should I risk my life as an immunocompromised person so that I can feel intimacy or love?” they said.
Gonsoulin has some gastrointestinal disorders that affect their immune system, and they’re awaiting the results of some tests for autoimmune disorders that they suspect they were exposed to through past partners. The pandemic has complicated their medical access and treatment options.
It’s not that they don’t want to date — before the pandemic they were talking to a few prospective partners and had been regularly going out.
Since the stay-at-home orders, they’ve relied exclusively on video calls to date and connect with other people. It’s still a level of connection that’s nice, but they’ve wondered what the pay-off will be.
“What am I planning for? What relationship am I setting myself up for when there is a crumbling society afoot?” they said. “I would rather choose to be lonely and ostracize myself. I think I need to keep myself safe because I would rather be alive and have the prospect of dating someone afterwards, than even risk it.”
Kathrine Warren, 33, Telluride
In Telluride, the offerings on dating apps can seem a bit slim to those who live there.
Kathrine Warren said she gets on the apps, scrolls through, and sees the same people every time and then gets off. Telluride draws a lot of tourism from skiing and the summer concert circuit, but this year, none of that is happening because of COVID-19. She and her friends joke about importing a boyfriend.
“During the festivals, people come here just like I did when I was a kid and they’re like ‘this place is amazing,’” she said. “So our joke was like, just find a good guy who can telecommute, and show him how amazing Telluride is.”
On a more serious note, she’s interested in finding someone to settle down with. She thinks about her mom, who had two kids at the age Warren is now. She said staying at home during the pandemic has made her think hard about what she wants in a relationship.
“It’s a topic that’s been like weighing heavy on me,” she said. “It is a roadblock and who knows how big of a roadblock or how long. And it’s like, cool, well maybe when I’m 35 we’ll have a vaccine, and I can meet someone who’s into live music and bluegrass like I had originally thought.”
After she was interviewed for this story, Warren met someone on Bumble. They talked on the phone and hit it off. He lives in Durango, but he’s planning to visit Warren for a socially distanced walk this week.
Angelique Chappelle, 45, Westminster
Just before the stay-at-home order hit in Colorado, Angelique Chappelle serendipitously met a man in a parking lot.
She commented on his Bears hoodie and they started talking about their mutual interest in football. He asked her for her number, and they talked a few times.
And then, COVID-19 hit.
“I’m probably less inclined right now to meet anyone face-to-face. I’m definitely open to cyber dates, but I’m 45, you know, in full-blown Gen X. We’re just a little bit different,” Chappelle said. “Like, we’re just not as into all the types of stuff — the virtual dating and all that.”
She prefers face-to-face interaction and connection. The man she met in the parking lot is a paramedic, so it doesn’t make sense for her to meet-up in person and risk their health.
Instead, she’s decided to focus on herself during the pandemic. In the beginning, she was anxious about getting sick but also went through a cycle of thinking about how and why she wasn’t in a relationship. It was hard, but she came out on the other side knowing that she’s still a catch, despite her single status, and that the pandemic is a good time to work on herself.
“I’m, you know, reading and I’m writing, and I’m doing little things and then I’m starting to practice yoga,” she said. “It’s made me feel like I’m in a good place now. But it was a cycle, like I went through different phases during that time.”
Will Thompson, 27, Denver
Dating, sadly, sometimes involves breaking up. That’s what Will Thompson went through. He started seeing someone before the pandemic, and then when it hit, they made the decision to not see each other in-person.
They’re both essential workers, and his work requires that he go into grocery stores and interface with the public. After a few weeks of not-so-great communication, things broke down. Thompson was dumped over text.
“I feel like we have a responsibility to stay separated as people and adhere to the rules,” he said. “But like, I would love to hang out with her with a mask on or something like that.”
However, she was ready to be done. Thompson downloaded some dating apps and promptly deleted them — like Chappelle, he prefers in-person connection. He decided to take the post-break-up advice he often gives his friends: just focus on you.
“Instead of being alone and lonely — it’s just like be comfortable with being alone, which I think is really important to stress,” Thompson said. “So I’ve been doing a lot of reading, exercising and getting out of the house for bike rides and like mask-on activities.”