Out of Touch: A New Kind of Intimacy
Jenny Constable explores the anguish and potential of social-distanced ‘dating’.
As Scotland emerges from its ten-week lockdown and we take our first cautious and gradual step on our return back to normality, we are able to reunite with family and friends outside, after months of separation; but only if we keep a two-metre distance. Hugging and kissing are still to be spurned for the foreseeable, and, unless you live with your significant other; dating and sex are strictly off limits.
Lockdown, as it has with many other aspects of pre-pandemic life, has pressed the pause button on new relationships -at least the physical part of them- as we know them. With first date drinks and cinema trips out of the question, couples locked down in separate households have had to get creative with Zoom dinners, Netflix parties and lovelorn facetime conversations- broadband strength providing- to keep the spark alive during while apart. A necessary struggle but a struggle nonetheless.
And for those of us without a partner, with the UK Govt as on today making it officially illegal with someone from another household inside… the fate of their sex lives looks all the more bleak.
While the Scottish Government did, last week, broach the subject of providing separate guidance for couples living apart in the coming weeks; this assurance will do very little for hopeful daters who were looking forward to filling their summer with murmured conversations in candle lit bars and other forms of, eh, “cavorting” (thank you, The Times…)
This uncertainty surrounding if and when meeting new partners will be allowed to resume dating has led to mixed emotions from those curtailed by the guidance; for some, a begrudging acceptance, and for others, a sense of anxious frustration. Particularly for those whose budding romances were in their fledgling stages when lockdown commenced; the grey area where the status of what you “are” has yet to be defined, and, faced with having to commit to a long-distance relationship of sorts in the same city, many have since crumbled.
With governments who seem to be almost deliberately trying to avoid the issue, it doesn’t look like any easy solutions will be available soon.
Not to be defeated, though, singletons have risen to the challenge that social distancing poses, and in true survival of the fittest style, have adapted to a new way of “dating” at a time where getting too close can be dangerous.
A close friend of mine went on her first socially distanced date this weekend- a walk round her local neighbourhood- and spent a few hours enjoying the sunshine with her Tinder match from a safe space. It was strange and perhaps, at first, a little unnatural, but she rather enjoyed it.
The enforced physical distancing removed any expectation from the meetup; they both knew that any chance of a goodbye hug (or anything more) just wasn’t on the cards. There was less pressure on “what came after” and more focus on the moment; of getting to know each other and enjoying the allotted time they had to share.
It’s perhaps not unreasonable to say that the Tinder-style dating culture of, what shall become known as the pre-pandemic era, had, in some cases, upheld sex as being the ultimate aim of going on dates at all. So could the rise in dating from a distance prove a refreshing alternative to how we value intimacy?
We humans are tactile creatures in how we express our affections. We crave each other’s touch; we take reassurance and comfort from it, and research has even shown that physical contact with loved ones has psychological benefits. Something as simple as a hug can relieve stress and leave us feeling all the more secure.
The removal of the physical side of dating and relationships goes against our natural human instinct and need for intimacy.
If I think back to past dates I’ve had, much of the chemistry and initial spark came from the nature of our closeness. The unique fizzing energy between a new couple; the kind of magic that makes the fine hairs on your arms stand up and your stomach do that delicious little flip when your hands brush against each other.
It’s the element of the unknown, and the tangible anticipation of something- someone- new that can’t quite be matched by conversation from six feet apart. But with social distancing set to be an essential fixture of our lives for months to come, we need to take dating, and meeting new partners slowly; redefining what romantic intimacy means post-Covid and embrace, at least temporarily, building relationships that don’t factor in the physical.
See also ‘In QuaranTeen. Why the Pandemic feels like “Teenagehood” by Eilidh Akilade.