We’re over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and relationships and dating look a lot different than they used to. Whether we’re in a long-term partnership that might be struggling due to distance or overfamiliarity, or we despair of ever finding someone in the age of dating apps, we’re all coping with a new landscape – and there are plenty of challenges.
We asked our Instagram community what was on their minds when it comes to love and dating in this strange time. And to answer their questions, we spoke to friend of Foria Shadeen Francis, LMFT, who specializes in sex therapy, emotional intelligence, and social justice.
What can you do to stay closer to your partner, when you can't be physically near them?
Intimacy is about emotional connection. While we might be physically separate, building intimacy helps us stay connected. This can look like talking about how you are feeling, talking about hopes and wishes, and being curious about one another’s ideas, perspective, and thoughts. Curiosity is a necessary ingredient, as it allows us to continue to go deeper with each other, and keeps things from being stagnant. This can be a playful process! Ask yourself, how can we have fun together? What would make us laugh? How can we lose track of time in a fun way?
Intimacy is also a process of vulnerability. Let your partner participate in your life. Include them in your plans and your schedule. Share the highs and lows of your day. Send pictures of things you’ve seen or done. Ask for their help or input when you need it or want it. When we are apart, we lose access to the visibility of our partner’s lives, some of the little moments we might see or hear or feel. Be intentional about inviting them into the behind the scenes of your life. Think about a vlog; while of course everything isn’t being shown, the added transparency makes you feel like you are a part of the journey, and can make you feel more connected.
Make time to do things together - shared time transcends space. Whether that’s streaming a movie at the same time, cooking and eating dinner together over video, reading the same book, or talking on the phone. Don’t forget to engage your senses! How do you make time to see each other? For example, can you plan for an in-person meetup in the future, even if you don’t know exactly when that will be? Do you see one another on video? Can you exchange pictures? What sounds can bring you closer together? Do you exchange music, voice notes, or talk on the phone? What are smells that connect you? Do you have their perfume or cologne, or an item that smells like them or reminds you of them?
The great thing about reconnecting with your senses is that not only is your body always with you, this can be done with any tone: it can be romantic, affectionate, platonic, erotic, etc. Think about touch – what sort of touch makes you feel close to one another? Can they describe how they would touch you right now? Can you mimic or demonstrate the touch you’d like to receive or give? Maybe there is a toy that recreates a touch you’d like to share, or one that can make it happen long distance.
When you are intentional about intimacy, creativity, playfulness, and vulnerability, there are many ways to be close, even when you are physically apart.
Where can you go on dates, apart from settling for your house?
In a global pandemic, this is a question of health and risk as much as it is a question of creativity. First, many places have strict rules about how, where, and when people may do things outside of the home. Err on the side of safety and community responsibility and follow your local regulations to lower the spread of the virus. Beyond that, each person will have to negotiate their individual experiences of risk to decide what dates might look like.
Whether in a pandemic or otherwise, I invite people to use their imagination when it comes to dating. What do you enjoy? What can that look like today? For some, it is a drive around the city or a new neighborhood with people within your bubble, a hike wearing PPE, or a socially distanced picnic with foods from your favourite restaurants. I know people are tired of being at home – however being physically home does not have to mean there is less romance, novelty or fun.
What would it look like to do things in the house that don’t feel like settling? A lot of activities have found ways to transition to online, for example virtual museum tours or even remote parties! When you use your creativity, you will recognize that while they may be different, there are many ways to meet new people, to know one another, and enjoy time with the people you care about.
Isolation can make people feel codependent. How to keep a relationship healthy?
When people talk about codependence during lockdown, what they are often experiencing is overinvolvement with one another. Quite often folks’ social circles feel smaller, and especially if you are in one another’s bubble or sheltered-in-place together, it can be easy for partners to spend significantly more time with one another than before. If there is not a balance, this togetherness can become an anxious bonding, with each partner over-relying on the other to meet their emotional needs.
To open a release valve on the escalating pressure of lockdown love, be intentional about your time. Rather than treating your partner as a person you spend time with by default, consider who else is in your network? Who else can you be in touch with? Who else can you talk to?
When you come together with your partner, do so with intention. Make plans for how you will spend your time together so that you can maximize your experience of quality time, and check on what each of you needs with regard to space. In your separate time, focus on your individual needs. It is harder to develop codependent habits when you are in a regular practice of paying attention to your needs and taking care of yourself. Don’t forget your primary relationship is with you – the better you treat yourself, the better your other relationships can be as well.
What are some tips for enjoying sex with a new partner after a traumatic or abusive relationship?
Trauma disrupts our sense of trust - our ability to trust others, our environments, and at worst, ourselves. We are wired first for survival and then for connection, and trauma can make us feel so locked in survival mode that it is too dangerous or difficult to risk opening up to others and being hurt again.
I encourage folks to seek support around overcoming trauma, from big T traumas like violence or betrayal, to experiences that have scared or disappointed us in a meaningful way. There is no harm too small to get help for. The journey of enjoyment after harm involves a process of reconnecting with your body and lowering your vigilance enough to experience pleasure. That will start with trusting yourself that you can take care of you, and if you are with a partner, building trust with them that they will also take care with you.
While context can be helpful for empathy and understanding, you don’t need to recount the details of your past if you don’t want to. It is, however, important and helpful to have meaningful conversation around the present. Advocate for the boundaries you need, allow yourself to take things slowly, and make a safety plan for how you want to deal with triggers (e.g. stopping, slowing down, switching things up, pausing, physical space, physical closeness, etc.). Center pleasure in the experience of sex - what would feel good? These are all small but powerful steps to rebuilding body trust.
How can you find someone looking for a real connection on dating apps?
People ARE still looking for connection! The best way to find what you are looking for in others is to be clear about who it is you are trying to partner with. What would a partnership based on a real connection look like? How would it feel? How would you contribute to making that happen? How would others contribute to building that relationship with you?
Reflecting on these questions yourself and having these conversations with others can help you find the people who may be a good fit. Even if you’re not asking these questions specifically, the more you set boundaries (both your yeses and your nos) with others, the more authentically you can show up. By honoring your desires and listening to those of others, you will have a better idea of who is a good fit for you and not overinvest in matches that don’t align with the connections you want.
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