In these uncertain times, it’s hard to know how to navigate even the things that once feel simplest. With this new advice column, we’ll be soliciting the help of qualified experts as we explore the deeply personal, only occasionally ridiculous issues that are flummoxing us during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m a (relatively) young, single Brooklynite who went through what one might call a second adolescence after coming out as queer at age 24. While my early twenties were defined primarily by avoiding dating at all costs, the last three years have been a flurry of Tinder, Hinge and Lex encounters—until March, that is, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to hit pause on my search for romance.
After a slow return to precaution-laden dating during the relatively safe summer months, I realized when cases skyrocketed in early November that I would need to close my circle yet again. The question remains, though: After going on literally hundreds of dates in the past few years, how am I supposed to adjust to not going indoors with anyone new—or, in other words, zero non-platonic dating whatsoever—until cases drop and/or a vaccine achieves meaningful saturation?
For help with this quandary, I turned to relationship coach Silvy Khoucasian, who specializes in helping people set healthy boundaries. Sure, those boundaries are normally set within existing romantic relationships, but could Khoucasian’s advice help me redefine my relationship with dating as a single person? Read on to find out.
Okay, stupidest question first…Is it possible to be addicted to dating?
Well, at one point I might have said I was addicted to dating! I don’t like to use the word “addicted,” though, because it can be very pathologizing. I think we have certain needs we might want to fill through dating, and we can absolutely recognize when those needs start coming from a place of anxiety. Exploring that anxiety, and taking breaks from dating, can actually be really helpful.
Do you think it’s possible that knowing I can’t really date during the COVID-19 pandemic is actually making me want to date more?
Well, it’s all about naming the existential challenges—the loneliness, right? And the feeling of desperation, of clinging to something that doesn’t necessarily feel nourishing. Part of it is about acknowledging and normalizing those things. For example, skin hunger is very real right now, for people in relationships and especially for people who are single and don’t have people touching them as regularly. People are also dealing with existential crises as they’re faced with illness and potential death, so they might feel an extra pull to grasp for relationships.
As silly as it sounds, there’s a part of me that’s worried about “missing out” on a potentially perfect partner if I quit dating even temporarily. Is that a common fear?
Absolutely. I mean, it’s a journey, right? A lot of couples I know are are talking about having kids, or taking that next step in their relationship, or breaking up, because they’re faced with the unknown. With single people, this time really amplifies a lot of the attachment tendencies that I work with. People who have more anxious tendencies really rely on that external connection. We know that attachment tendencies get amplified under stress, so we might see someone with an anxious attachment style be pulled toward wanting to date, or feeling nervous about missing out on having their core needs met.
Is it possible for me to use this unspecified amount of pandemic time to alter my attachment style from “anxious” to “secure,” even if I‘m single throughout?
I think it’s healthier to take a long-term view, because our attachment style heals in increments. The 2010 book Attached says that people’s attachment styles can become secure in four years, but based on my work with clients, I’ve found that you can develop secure tendencies, but it doesn’t mean your old patterns are totally gone. I think that’s the danger of setting really big, fast goals. It’s all about baby steps; what are two or three things I can do, just with myself, to create more secure attachments? What are the boundaries that I haven’t gotten the chance to set and sit with while I’ve been dating? What should I start paying attention to when I eventually do start dating again? Writing those things out can be really helpful.
How do you suggest people redirect the interpersonal energy they might normally spend on dating?
It’s important to find ways to stay really connected to the body, whether that’s by taking more baths, rubbing on oils or lotions, self-massage, masturbation, or increased exercise. Having consistent rituals with friends, where you talk about the struggles that go with quitting dating and know that you’re being validated and really deeply heard, can also be helpful.