Calling Cupid During The Pandemic
*This article uses the gender pronoun ‘they’/’them’ to protect the identities of the individuals in this piece. They/them is used as a singular pronoun.
Table of Contents
I still can’t remember where I first saw it. I thought I chanced upon an article about it as I Googled about dating during the pandemic. The next day, I was looking for the editorial with that term again. Google only had 606 results and Instagram literally only has 10 posts with that hashtag, which given the size of the internet, is paltry.
The top result on Google for it was a tweet by a poet sharing about her mailing list that details her journey in finding love during the pandemic, titled ‘A Little Coronamance’.
It sounds exactly like what dating is amidst the coronavirus. Timid, but kind of hopeful, only inching forward in an off-kilter way. Memories of when I didn’t need to wonder if I’m speaking clearly when I’m wearing a mask, especially since I sometimes slur, seems so surreal. Since everyone’s wearing masks now, there’s no evidence that that kind of reality even happened. I mean, I’ve even heard a podcast about two people who’re attracted to each other in New York decided to stay with each other for two weeks. I guess that $100 staycation voucher makes more sense now.
The dating landscape now has met an unthinkable scenario. The whole dating process changed so fast. I couldn’t process it properly, I was barely even registering it amidst all the news. When Tinder launched Passport as a free feature during the Circuit Breaker, I thought maybe swiping on dating apps could be fun again. So I escaped into the filtered photos of dating profiles, imagining myself having a video chat with a cute Cuban or a virtual date with a charismatic South Korean.
And I’m the type that’s torn between giving myself a reality check or becoming a full-on romantic seeing roses blossoming around my phone whenever I get a match or a message. I haven’t been in a relationship before, so when it comes to dating in the 21st century, I don’t expect a lot. Or at least I try not to. This isn’t New York, and I’m not Ted in How I Met Your Mother.
Barely anyone replied my messages, and I always, always send a message that reference what they have on their profile, be it the bio or the picture. Maybe it’s swiping fatigue, an actual thing even before the coronavirus hit. Or perhaps we’re just all exhausted now. I matched with what feels like 100 profiles (including the questionable profiles) on Tinder. I did match with a Spanish artist that somehow can still holiday in Singapore. But the only result out of that interaction was me introducing The Projector to them. In the end, I could only have a proper conversation with two. Two.
And one of them is Alex* (their name has been changed to hide their identity). I matched them almost two months after the Circuit Breaker ended, and it was very late at night. It felt like I was shooting an arrow in the dark. So I was caught by surprise when he replied to me not long after. After a week or so, they asked me for my Telegram ID.
I don’t know about them, but I think we hit it off. We texted each other almost every day. It feels like, for the first time ever, I didn’t need to dig every fold of my brain to come up with something to say. They sent Tik Tok videos, while I sent cat videos from Facebook and Reddit. We can joke with each other, low-key sass each other; we even talked about the whole Dee Kosh debacle. It was a breeze, and asking them out didn’t feel daunting, though I was nervous.
I have a rule: to weed out the total no-gos, I only go out with someone I’ve met online after at least two weeks of chatting, be it on Tinder or some other messaging app. It’s best to do a proper vibe check after all. And it definitely helps during the social distancing, since there’d better be a solid reason to braving the risk of getting the coronavirus (or maskne) whenever I head out.
It was so easy talking to them, I thought, why not? So I ask Alex out, choosing Tiong Bahru Plaza since it wasn’t too far from where Alex lives, and I thought we could visit one of the cafés at that popular enclaves.
I caught the first sight of Alex when I was scanning the QR code to enter the mall, wearing a pink shirt and beige shorts. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been a while since I met someone new. I never had much of a love life either. The longest date I’ve ever had was one month. Most of the people I’ve met usually just passed me by.And I didn’t do the whole video dating thing during the Circuit Breaker thing too. I couldn’t like the idea of video call dates. The idea of getting comfortable with virtual company just feels weird for me. So I’m pretty out of practice, even if vintage dating is more of my thing.
I was in my head the whole time we had dinner. We had dinner at MOS Burger because it was their favourite, and I just let them talk. I felt like I didn’t know what to say, so I just banked on my training as a mass communication major and asked follow-up questions. Though I was grateful that the restaurant was quiet, so I can properly listen to them.
I had an unlikely wingman – a lizard on the partition Alex. I quietly told Alex about it and, we kept our calm moving to another table in the restaurant. Somehow, that helped me be more present for dinner, and everything was smooth again.
The Unexpected Trek
We walked to where all the cafés were at Tiong Bahru, away from the crowds. Our conversations remained light, and the air clung to me, a faint remnant from the afternoon rain. There was a comment on my height, talk about being a model, and Alex could become my manager since they had a sense of style. And I told Alex’s their new sneakers looked cool. It was one of those trendy chunky sneakers. I never like those, but on them it looked tasteful
Since we’re still full, I suggested we go to BooksActually since they read. But it was closed, and then Alex said that they didn’t mind exploring the neighbourhood. We admired at the Art Deco architecture, the gentle curves of the low-rise flats you seldom see in their newer iterations. We tried to peer into some of the apartments, imagining tasteful interiors for them, wishing we’d own an apartment in the neighbourhood too.
We passed by Tiong Bahru Market, and soon we were at the edge of Outram Park and Chinatown. I was worried Alex might be tired from all the walking, but they told me they liked to explore. Plus, they still play Pokémon Go. Then I remembered a little park with a pond on top of Pearl’s Hill, which shouldn’t be too much of a walk from where we were.
In the end, the trek took us more than half an hour. We cut through a small hill near where we decided to go explore, and climbed a pedestrian bridge that spanned the Central Expressways, the cars streaming like silk underneath us. We rested there for a bit, taking some photos for Instagram. There was a way to go yet. So I tried to keep Alex entertained. I pointed to a hotel beside Pearl’s Hill as I told them a story about a hookup there even if I usually don’t kiss and tell.
A Bench by the Pond
We finally found the proper route up Pearl’s Hill. There was no one there, so I thought the question I asked Alex if they believed in ghosts was an unfortunate one. Luckily, we had no supernatural encounters at the park, only a surprising motley of people jogging past us and some foreign workers having a drink at the lawn.
The breeze was enjoying the cool night now, and we settled on a bench by the pond. While keeping our physical distance, we began unpacking our first impressions of each other. I was surprised that they liked to explore, while they didn’t expect me to be this friendly. They told me about the one time they kissed someone who was still in a relationship (they didn’t know). I told them I even had sex with someone who was still in a relationship (I didn’t know either). Even the wildlife joined in. One or two bats flew by, then Alex got curious about some ants on the floor.
Alex lived pretty far west, so we started on our way to Outram Park MRT a little before 11. Young & wild we are not, despite the kaleidoscope of bars at Tanjong Pagar another short walk away. While playing Pokémon Go They was saying that they loved Rosalia. I got immediately gobsmacked, thinking that finally another fan of the Spanish singer-songwriter. But it was actually the Pokémon, not the singer. Just when I thought I was going to finish strong.
As we descended from Pearl’s Hill, I felt like I had to know where the boundaries lay between us. I used to just leave things be after a meetup, thinking that what will happen, will happen. But that’s just an excuse to leave everything up in the air. It’s 2020, right? Ghosting should be a thing of the past.
I read and watched all these articles, YouTube videos, and TV shows about setting proper boundaries and communicating clearly. If I don’t put all that to use, I will never practise what I preach. I don’t want to be another ghost in the city.
So I asked Alex, did they considered this to be a date? The reply was immediate. ‘I usually don’t give it a label for the first meetup.’ I was relieved. I don’t think I can just jump in into a full-blown relationship. But this feels like a good start, whatever the dating experts might say.
We walked past sleeping cranes that would continue working come morning. The gentle tinge of grey dust coloured the walk to the MRT. The train arrived just as we descended on the platform. In a second we waved each other goodbye, and Alex was off.
What Dating During COVID-19 Feels to Me
I still think it’s crazy that I found someone new that I can feel comfortable in the age of social distancing. And I am very much done with dating sites, their cascading dating profiles and its infinitely possible matches. Though there’s still no real indication of where we’re going yet, and that’s okay. It’s difficult to imagine what things will be like in the next few months, let alone going on regular dates with someone new.
I am the type of persons that needs to know what’s happening next, and I usually dive in too deep too fast. I’m such a worrywart that one of my friends bought me book titled ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’. So I’m wondering (still am) why do I feel so comfortable not knowing what’s next for Alex and me. Am I scared of finding a committed partner, especially when I don’t have any reference to hold on to? Or am I thinking too much? Getting to know a whole person takes more than nights out and Telegram texts, right?
So I’m just going to take it slow, as per all the articles about dating during the pandemic tells me. Like my mother tells me, take it one step at a time. Maybe this is a way for me to start living, even if the world’s crazy. But in the meantime, pardon me as I hum ‘invisible strings’ from Taylor Swift’s new album underneath my face mask.
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