This letter is from "Dear Roe, dear Trish, dear John: Your thorniest sex, relationship and parenting problems", a selection of readers' questions about pandemic-related difficulties. You can read the full article here
I’m a 31-year-old woman and have been single for more than a year. I wasn’t really dating for most of that time, as I was recovering from a bad break-up and moving cities for work, but I had just started going back on the apps and going on a few dates before Covid.
At the start I wasn’t too worried, thinking that Covid might be weirdly good for online dating, as people would have to put more effort into conversations, etc. But the majority of interactions are still boring and generic and fade off after a few blah messages.
I’m not expecting or looking for true love in the middle of coronavirus, but I’m really lonely. I wouldn’t mind having some casual sex, but obviously right now the risks feel higher and figuring out how to do so safely is confusing. Any tips?
Roe McDermott writes: You've already shown that you're emotionally self-aware enough to take a break from dating while recovering from a break-up, to know when you were ready to start dating again, and to know that you're lonely and touch-starved right now, which is completely understandable.
Physical touch is such an important, underrated form of connection; the sense of literally feeling that we are seen and cared for. So use your emotional self-awareness to look at what exactly you need right now. You’re not looking for love, but you are looking for someone who is able to carry a conversation so your interactions make you feel less alone, rather than more so; and you need someone who is responsible enough that should things go well and you want to have sex, you’ll feel safe doing so.
Use your profile to ask an interesting question, so matches have a non-generic conversation starter upfront. Try have a Facetime or phone chat relatively soon, which could help break the monotony of endless messages, before moving to a socially distant walk. And ask matches what dating and social isolation means to them right now, so you can gauge their attitude around staying safe while perhaps exploring a new sexual relationship.
Are they seeing lots of people, or limiting their interactions? Are they willing to have ongoing conversations about comfort levels? If you both want to have sex, are they willing to be exclusive to limit the risks involved? These conversations may feel like the opposite of what we're used to doing when casually dating, in terms of being very upfront and asking about expectations and exclusivity from the start – but these are different times, that require different, more forthright conversations. If a person isn't able to have them, they're not going to be the safe and anxiety-relieving partner you're looking for right now.
Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford
If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe