COVIDiares: From quranteasing to pandemic pleasing

If you’re an avid reader of my blog then you’ll know that I started COVID-eo dating a guy that I met on Hinge back around mid-March (here is the post for reference.) Nine weeks in I wrote another piece giving a quick update on how things were going and bringing to light some of my “what if” questions in advance of us (eventually) meeting face to face. It’s now been just over 3 months, so with lockdown eased up and 12 video dates later… you better believe we finally met in the flesh! Hurrah!

It’s been an interesting journey so far, particularly with the video dating aspect as that was completely new territory for me. Sharing a similar story with many others, lockdown introduced a shift in the dating landscape where users had to turn towards platforms such as FaceTime or Zoom in order to connect with potentials. While some may have found it awkward or simply put their dating lives on pause, I found the experience to be very enjoyable and fulfilling. I certainly didn’t expect to be “dating” anyone during lockdown, let alone for so many weeks! My initial thought was that perhaps I’d have a couple of video dates before it gradually fizzling out.

Recap

From the get go I noticed straight away that our conversations naturally flowed with lots of laughter. Our dates quickly became a weekly thing, we were both comfortable and I found myself feeling more at ease with him as the weeks went by. It was nice to see his personality shine through via video, I felt like I managed to get a lot more out of this method of communication as opposed to messaging or a phone call; the interactions and facial expressions made a huge difference in building this connection. Another thing I appreciated was how open we were with each other; by sharing thoughts on how our date went, what we enjoyed and what we liked about each other — it was helpful to know that we were on the same page. The most impressive part above all, was the consistent effort put in from both sides, not only did we have our once-a-week dates but there was plenty of chit chat, banter and silly games in-between. It’s fair to say that he made lockdown a little more bearable for me.

First (not video) date

Our first date took place last Tuesday and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling slightly nervous beforehand (and I’m not usually the nervous type!) No doubt it was more nerves of excitement than anything else. I mean with 3 months worth of build up and anticipation of seeing each other (especially during the last couple of weeks), the suspense was killing me slowly. In the back of my mind, I was confident that there’d be no awkwardness nor would we be any different to how we were over our Zoom calls. We were lucky to have sunshine for our park “drinkies” date (it rained for the rest of the week) so I kept my outfit fairly casual, I chucked on a t-shirt, skirt, trainers and my oversized glam sunglasses. 😎

I arrived at the meeting spot a few minutes earlier and dropped him a message… eeeek! The funniest part was when he messaged back saying he was couple of minutes away and asked me to send my location. Not long after, I noticed a little old man following Google Maps on his phone, heading directly towards me! Hahaha! Just so you know, that wasn’t him! But the next guy walking towards me definitely was! I had a quick scan of his outfit (standard procedure): casual check shirt, black jeans and vans — yeah, he got my stamp of approval for his park ensemble ✅ As he walked towards me, I couldn’t help but laugh, it felt kinda bizarre…in a positive way!

Getting our flirt on

Now I’m gonna to be straight and say that we broke the social distancing rules! I don’t think it even occurred to us because we went in for a hug and he gave me a kiss on the cheek. You know how I mentioned us being comfortable during our Zoom calls? It felt exactly the same except this time there was no laptop screen between us. We started chatting and I was tempted to link onto his arm… although on second thought, it was probably a bold move to make so early on! Didn’t want him to think I was a weirdo 🙈 Once we found a nice spot, I could feel the chemistry between us which wasn’t surprising as we’d been quite flirty during our dates. With so much eye contact, laughter and a few touchy feely moments… it seemed like we just clicked. Within an hour and a few G&Ts later, we were sat so ridiculously close together to the point where I thought “fuck it” and went in for a snuggle. At one point during our date, he was lying down on his front so I could crack his back 😂 Yeah I don’t know where that randomly came from… Anyway! Things turned up a notch as we placed a bet; basically if I lost then I had to give him a kiss (oldest trick in the book!) Firstly I’ll have you know that I won the bet. He’ll tell you otherwise because he’s a soo competitive. Either way, I wanted that kiss so was willing to take the “loss”. FYI – he’s a great kisser!

With all the fun and games going on; there was one thing we didn’t think through… public toilets! They were all bloody closed. I’m still confused about it until this day. Why do that? After dragging the poor guy around in circles, feeling confident that at least one set of toilets would be open, I was very wrong… and far from impressed. Luckily for him, he did his thing in a bush — that’s one advantage to having a penis. Unfortunately I wasn’t planning to water any plants so I made us Uber over to my sisters house, thank God she didn’t live too far and he probably thought I was such a diva at this point.

Hehe ;D

We continued on with our date at a local park and popped open the bottle prosecco we had left 🥂🍾 Up until the sun went in, we chilled, people watched, conversed and weren’t hiding the fact that we were checking each other out… a lot. Considering no restaurants or bars were open, he offered to make me dinner at his. Yeah I know what you’re thinking, and no, I didn’t think his only intention was to get me into bed.

After whipping up a meal with a glass of wine each we continued chatting. Eventually he swooped in and made the move. The kisses were fiery, I felt his hands running from my waist and up my skirt. As we continued kissing, he lifted me up and put me on the dining table. We were ready to go for it, however I wasn’t about to have sex on the table with his flatmate in the house! So we moved things into the bedroom and to be honest, for our first sex session, I had no complaints whatsoever. Them broad shoulders though, the strong facial hair, with a dominant streak and good balance of aggression and gentleness. I’d describe him as a proper manly man — in general and under the sheets. I ended up staying the night but we didn’t get much sleep. 😏

Discovering each other on an intimate level, showing each other’s bedroom tricks as well as having those cute, affectionate post-sex moments, the little kisses, the snuggles, the stroking, the spooning — it was all pleasurable. The next day we both had work so after some morning cuddles followed by intense sex I had to head off early but if we could have stayed in bed together, there’d be no question about it.

Second date?

Overall, the “first” date was memorable. Believe it or not, we’ve already had our second date involving coffee, a stroll with a few hugs and kisses. The lockdown phase put us in a position where we had to make the best out of an unusual situation. Personally speaking, I think having those 12 weeks to build a connection without the physical side of things was a blessing in disguise. I was quite guarded and slightly judgemental towards him at first but as I got to know him on a deeper level, I found him even more attractive in personality and appearance. I guess we were fortunate enough to have gotten along really well from day one, I’m particularly pleased that our virtual dates had translated in real life. From what I’ve witnessed so far, he seems like a really sound guy so I’ll have to see what happens! I promise to keep you posted folks!

Still waiting to be “swiped” off my feet…

In 2012 Tinder ushered in a new era in the history of romance and revolutionised the dating game. The introduction of the swipe left for a no and swipe right for a yes formula was quickly adopted by many other dating apps. With a mobile-first generation; the carefully put together profiles quickly lost out to photo-led profiles designed to be swiped through whilst on the go. It’s evident Tinder has racked up some impressive stats over the years — as it stands, users swipe 1.6 billion times a day across 190 countries! However, eight years since entering the market, it appears the once thriving “dependable wingmate” has gone from fringe novelty to a dating apocalypse.

As we become bound to the excitement of matches and neurochemical “rewards,” it’s no surprise that us online daters get hooked on these apps. Essentially, whenever “it’s a match” pops up on our screens, the brain releases a flurry of dopamine chemicals, giving us small bursts of happiness. While the swiping process is meant to help us discover potential romantic partners more effectively, it seems the excessive app usage and mindless swiping is weakening ties between individuals rather than fostering connections.

I’ve had the pleasure of letting Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, POF, Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel grace my iPhone’s home screen. I’ve also had the pleasure of deleting them… then reinstalling months later (😩) in hopes that something might actually come from it. Unfortunately it’s the same thing over and over — an exhaustive, repetitive, daily thumb-swiping exercise consisting of nothing more than three-second photo evaluations, half-hearted bio scans and a few dead-end conversations. Indeed, I’m not the only one that feels this way. According Badoo’s research with 5,000 British 18-30 year olds, 68% dislike swiping and matching based on appearances alone, claiming there’s very little going on when it comes to meaningful engagement.

So what are dating apps doing to address the low quality interactions and improve matches?

In the last couple of years, several apps started experimenting with video features. In 2018, Badoo introduced “Badoo Live” — allowing users to receive messages from interested parties while live streaming. A principle similar to Facebook Live, the feature also offers the ability to watch in playback mode. Once a match is made, users can start a live video chat with each other within the app. And with the recent growth in video dating during the pandemic, many apps capitalised on video-chat. Hinge unveiled the “Date from Home” option to facilitate safe dating as well as aid users in transitioning from message ping pong to a virtual date.

By allowing people’s real personalities to shine through, it not only solves the problems of misrepresentative photos, catfishing and delayed responses; but video could also increase your chances of having a personable connection sooner and save time and energy to focus on dates that you’re genuinely excited about. When two individuals hold face-to-face communication (whether physically present or over video call) — the use of voice, gestures, body language and facial expressions help to build stronger relationships. This particular form of exchanging personal information is known as “Dyadic Communication” — and due to its intimate nature, this practice simply cannot afford to be impersonal.

So if we’re really looking to make meaningful connections then perhaps now is the time to start embracing video within dating apps. Many of us will find the thought of recording ourselves rather daunting but we need to keep in mind that dating should also be about having fun, stepping out of our comfort zones, building confidence and utilising our time more effectively. If we can begin tweaking our profiles and incorporating video, I’m confident that the matches will be of higher quality. No doubt it will eradicate or at least reduce the snap judgements made, help us look past the heavily filtered photos and present users/ourselves in a more authentic light.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ll be trialling out a new video-only dating app called Oneder in the coming weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing what impact video-first will have from a user experience in comparison to the usual swiping apps, and of course, seeing what romantic potential it has to offer! Who knows… I might actually find “reel” love this time around – watch this space 😉

Is more less when it comes to dating?

Remember when choices were as simple as “regular latte” or “skinny latte”? These days it’s more like “decaf latte, double shot, caramel syrup, half-soy, half-oat, 180-degrees, no-foam, with a sprinkle of chocolate powder on top”. Let me tell you something… the online dating landscape is not too dissimilar! The challenge these days for many singletons, particularly where dating apps are concerned, is not just about dishonesty, but decision-making as well.

Once upon a time I found dating apps fun and interesting but after using them for a few months, the novelty quickly wore off. Now I merely see them as tedious and exhausting… it’s like an endless stream of “potentials” along with endless swiping (left), every time I open the apps. While the barrage of choice should make connections easier, it also makes us more picky. Whether we’re looking for something better or just completely overlooking, do we miss a good opportunity when it’s presented right in front of our eyes?

The paradox of choice

“Maximising” is a term coined by Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice”. Briefly summarised, “maximisers” are those who believe the grass is always greener on the other side. This particular pool of people treat dating and relationships very much like clothing. They might try a few options before committing to the right item, perhaps they’ll stay on the look out “just in case” or if they really can’t decide, it’s possible they’ll end up with two similar garments and flit between them. The only difference is, there’s no refunds or exchanges in the dating world! Have you ever found yourself in this type of situation? I know I have… and I’m talking metaphorically and literally.

I once dated two guys at the same time… whilst also lightly entertaining three others potentials just because I could. Normally I’m someone that likes to stick with one person, at least that way they can have my full attention plus it means less faffing around. But for the sake of trying out a new strategy, I decided to run an A/B split test.

The subjects

Although the two had very different personalities, I found them equally attractive. Guy #1 was the extrovert. In a nutshell I’d describe him as extremely social, well dressed, nicely built, perfect height, super chatty, great fun, hilarious, confident but not cocky. Guy #2 was quite the opposite. Totally introverted. Had a whole lot less to say but any time he opened his mouth, there was good, intellectual substance behind his words. Slightly more mature in the mind which was a nice change in comparison to other men I’ve dated previously! A little on the short side( though that didn’t bug me too much), kinda geeky, generous, thoughtful, well put together and also had a great build!

Activity

After a couple months in, I realised it was getting a bit too much! Multi-dating is honestly so mentally and physically draining. It’s the constant upkeep of texting back and forth trying to maintain several conversations at once, managing dates to ensure there’s no clashes, getting paranoid in case one guy would see me with the other, the effort of getting dressed up to actually go out on these dates (between 3-4 times a week!) …all of this while you’re still trying to suss them out. And that’s just the dating side of my life! Your mind is always in a pickle about which one to eventually kick to the curb, not to mention date requests coming in from the other potentials! This was a mess. It was time to optimise the strategy.

Results

So I ended up getting rid of both guys… and deleted all apps from my phone. Sometimes that’s the way it needs to be. Truthfully I was getting bored and felt overwhelmed with the whole dating palaver. I couldn’t be arsed to make a choice and I definitely couldn’t be bothered to go on any more new dates. It was all unnecessary drama that I didn’t need in my life.

What I found particularly interesting about the “A/B test” was the correlation between my handling of the situation and one of the studies discussed in Schwartz’s book. It concluded that while having increased options can be beneficial to a certain point, giving people too much choice would likely cause poor decision making, feelings of dissatisfaction, regret, or we become exhausted and make no decision at all!

If you think about it, it’s not just dating where we might experience over-abundance of options. It happens in everyday life. At restaurants when looking at a menu, down each aisle during grocery shopping, choosing a Netflix film to watch, figuring out which stocks to invest in, etc. Dating apps are great in bringing you closer to someone compatible, but if you’re hitting it off with one person and still have another 78 others waiting for you to match with them; is it worth having a look through? Or do we focus on this one person and keep those as part of an “emergency stash”?
In my opinion, if you’re someone who is actually serious about making a real, long term connection then the approach needs to be adjusted to fit your objective. Here are a few of my suggestions/thoughts:

1. If you have multiple dating apps, why not stick with your preferred one? At least this will cut down your swipes and choices.

2. If you’re already dating/chatting to someone, spend the time to get to know them properly before jumping ship. Don’t be quick to judge and learn to give people the benefit of the doubt… no one is perfect!

3. We need to stop treating a people as if they’re disposable or some type of commodity. It’s only fair to base a person on his or her own merits and not in comparison to 3, 5 or 10 other people. If I’ve instantly clicked with someone and things have progressed to a second date then they definitely warrant 100% of my attention.

Love, lust or attachment?

With 80 billion cells and various chemicals in our brain, it’s no wonder why feelings and emotions are so hard to decipher. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a time when we’ve met someone and felt instantly drawn to them. It’s common to feel a variety of sensations including nervousness, excitement, an adrenaline rush, anxiety, an increased heartbeat and so on. Sometimes the “sparkle” of a new relationship in your life can be overwhelming; causing your judgements to be clouded. There’ll be a certain point where the mind starts throwing up all sorts of questions like: Should I give 100% to this individual? Do they feel the same? Is it more than just attraction? Is there potential for longterm commitment? Is this person a “nice to have” because I’m bored?


Assuming we have those questions figured out, and things develop even further… are we then entering the territory of love, lust or attachment? How do we differentiate between the three? Personally speaking, I believe I’ve felt lust before, I’ve also felt attachment (in a rather unhealthy way), and both are a type of high that are not just addictive but consume a lot of your mental space. If I were to briefly summarise the two experiences, I’d say:

LUST
Is impulsive, obsessive and surface-level; it offers immediate gratification thus short lived. When you’re lusting after someone, you’ll find yourself in fantasyland. The infatuation begins to takes over to the point where you start ignoring things… including red flags! With lust, we project what we want to see rather than the reality of the person and situation. This is exactly what I went through during a rebound.

ATTACHMENT
Is actually more about yourself than the other person, though it might not seem like it in the moment. It leaves no allowance for vulnerability. It’s convenient, pleasure seeking, requires constant reassurance and eventually drains the living soul out of you because in the end, it’s just a power struggle game. The aim is to keep the person there for as long as possible to fill a void, whether it be boredom, loneliness, etc. Unfortunately as humans, we’re wired to get attached to ideas/people/things very quickly because ultimately it’s what we think will complete us and fulfil our needs. I could go much deeper into this subject but I think I’ll save it for a rainy day!

LOVE
Well I can’t really speak on “being in love” as I don’t think I’ve experienced it in full force as such but in one of my others posts “Love, Sex & Magic”, I collaborated with a fellow blogger and discuss what I believe it to be. Whilst we’re on the subject, I wanted to highlight an interesting study led by Helen Fisher from Rutgers University on the science behind love. There are some key takeaways from her model suggesting that there are various overlaps as well as subtleties between the three ‘strands of love’, all uniquely characterised by their own set of neurotransmitters and the release of specific hormones during each stage, these are:

Lust – Testosterone and oestrogen
Attraction – Dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin
Attachment – Oxytocin and vasopressin

While love can start off with any of these three feelings, ie. people have sex first and then fall in love, some fall in love then have sex, some feel deeply attached to someone they’ve known for a while then eventually fall in love — the brain’s system can be tricky. Having sex increases dopamine in the brain and can push you over the threshold toward falling in love. With an orgasm, a flood of oxytocin and vasopressin pumps into the brain, giving you feelings of attachment. Where casual sex is concerned, as much as we like to convince ourselves otherwise, it isn’t always casual. In fact, those who engage in “hooking up”, do it to unconsciously trigger feelings of romance and attachment. The bottom line: sexual intimacy can trigger a host of powerful feelings. This is why we can become so confused internally when it comes to matters of the heart.

Fisher explains that romantic love is composed of attachment, attraction, and lust. As they emit a different combination of chemicals from the brain, it is impossible to experience real love without a blend of all three. When we do experience this love, one of the central ideas is that romantic love is a drive much stronger than the sex drive. A few signs of “romantic drive” are as follows:

1. You begin to think your love interest is unique. You also experience the inability to feel romantic passion for anyone else. This single-mindedness results from elevated levels of central dopamine, increasing attention and focus.

2. Your overall outlook in life seems significantly more positive. You’ll frequently catch yourself daydreaming about the other person. Trivial events and objects will instantly remind you of them.

3. People who are in love generally feel a powerful sense of empathy toward their partner, feeling the other person’s pain as their own and being willing to make sacrifices for the other.

4. Emotional intimacy is one the biggest factors that sets love apart from the attraction or lust you feel in the early days of dating. When you open up to your partner and become more vulnerable, it shows that you may very well be heading in the direction of love.

5. Oxytocin increases feelings of safety and calmness. When the initial nerves/anxiety are replaced with contentment, it could be a sign you’ve gone from infatuation to love. 

6. Lastly, when you’re in love, you start including your partner in all your future plans. You’ll start considering your significant other when it comes to making big life decisions simply because you want them to be there for it all.


It’s evident our human brains are a minefield; emotions are no doubt complex to decode. Nonetheless it’s important to remember that whether you’re in early stages of a relationship or happily settled down, we at times forget to prioritise ourselves. It’s easy to get wrapped up by someone and driven by forces outside of our conscious awareness, so do check in with yourself to ensure your situation isn’t having a negative impact on your mental and physical wellbeing.

The courage to forgive.

It’s easy to fall into a pit of despair, bitterness and grief when we’ve been deeply hurt. After someone has wronged us, the thought of forgiving them seems elusive. Where relationships are concerned, if we’ve been the victim of cheating, mental/physical abuse, being lied to or put up with toxic behaviour; these events will naturally stick with us due to our brain’s innate tendency to remember things that are emotionally impactful. This is why letting go, whether it’s feelings, people and/or relationships can be so difficult.

Forgiveness is no doubt one of the hardest challenges you will ever face in a relationship or post-relationship. Most of us assume that if we forgive, then the offenders are let off the hook while we unfairly suffer from their actions. We must remember that forgiving someone doesn’t mean condoning their behaviour or pretending it didn’t happen. In essence it’s about letting go of the desire to seek revenge towards the other party, eliminating negative emotions rooted from them and shedding the emotional baggage from the unpleasant incident. Unfortunately there’s no quick formula to recover from pain nor is it a linear process, but if we’re able to practice forgiveness, I guarantee that it will bring a kind of peace that will enable you to move on and live a happier, more meaningful life.

It was only 3 years ago when I truly learned how to forgive properly, since then I’ve reaped the benefits. My perspective in life, personal growth, attitude and relationships in general have improved vastly. Being able to finally get over a relationship wound that I was subconsciously holding onto for almost 10 years (!!!) instantly made me feel a huge sense of relief, freedom and strength. You just know when you’ve finally let that shit go… something instantly changes within you, it’s that kinda feeling.

Until that moment I really thought I had known how to forgive, but I hadn’t. The only thing I was doing was suppressing the memories; but through time, maturity and lots of self-reflection, it occurred to me that some of my behaviour patterns were very destructive. When it came to relationships, I struggled with communication (particularly when I was upset), I was easily triggered, I was defensive, paranoid and anxious often. When I had that moment of realisation, I knew something was going on with me deep down and I needed to fix it. Not just for future relationship but for myself.

If you’re going through a circumstance; whether you’re struggling to forgive someone, haven’t forgiven the past (and haven’t let go) or simply don’t wish to forgive, I get it. Sometimes stubbornness and ego gets in the way. And sometimes it’s just the principle! But if I can highlight just a few reasons why it’s essential to practice forgiveness, then I hope it will enable you to think or view the situation in a different light.

It helps you to recognise the pain in others
No one is born wanting to hurt others. Our life experiences shape us as we mature and learn over the years. If we can take some time to think about the person who has hurt us, we can often find clues that help to explain their behaviour. And when we’re able to do this, we can begin to see things from a bigger perspective. The person who caused us pain is just a human trying to cope with their challenges, just as we are.

It’s for your benefit
Forgiveness is not something we do for others, it’s something we do for ourselves. If you continue to feel like a victim, then you’re carrying a heavy burden. The act of forgiving allows you to drop the burden and free yourself by walking away.

You’ll build inner strength
It takes a lot of courage and mental strength to forgive someone that caused us significant pain. When we practice forgiveness, we’re releasing negative emotions that we’ve held on to. And if we can continue to maintain this powerful mindset, we’ll become more resilient as well as build greater relationships in future.

We can learn from past experiences
Whether we move on with or without the person who hurt us – be mindful of the lesson. During and after the situation, we should do our best to take a step back and learn something about ourselves. Understanding what pushes our buttons, at what point do we get sensitive, how do we handle our emotions, how do we deal with conflict. Gathering this knowledge enables us to be better equipped for the next dispute or relationship later down the line.

Improves wellbeing
Holding a grudge or holding on to any negative emotion affects the cardiovascular and nervous systems. According to a study, people who struggled to forgive had elevated blood pressure and heart rates, as well as increased muscle tension. Choosing to let go and offering forgiveness will help boost your feelings of wellness on a mental and physical level.

Forgiveness comes with many steps, and depending on the situation, it can take weeks, months, or even years to get over a painful experience. I wouldn’t want anyone to be a prisoner of someone else’s behaviour, and struggling to let go might mean that you’re the one who pays most in the long run. It’s important to remember that forgiving means to eliminate the suffering, not the wrongdoing. The offender might not deserve your pardon, but you definitely deserve to be at peace.