Last weekend, my partner and I went out for our first dinner date since February. Of 2020.
When I think back on that day-after-Valentine's date, I remember how my partner looked then; alive and full of energy and the most beautiful person in the room. I remember how strong and healthy I felt, like I was invincible. I was charismatic and funny and I had energy to burn. I felt lucky then - I was with someone who I was over the moon about and we had gotten a table in an otherwise packed restaurant. I don’t remember what we ate, but it was amazing, and an acquaintance of mine stopped by our counter to say hello. It all felt easy and natural as breathing.
Our first date night of 2021 did NOT feel that way. We walked into a favorite spot of ours, and were led past spaced-out tables, masks resting on them within arms reach of their occupants. Once we sat down, everything seemed wayyy too loud; the music, people talking, our server asking us what we’d like to drink. We wondered aloud why they had the music so high; surely it hadn’t always been like this??? We even stooped so low as to be the high-maintenance table and asked if the could turn the music down a bit, only to find out that it was already at its lowest setting. That’s when we realized - we had changed, not the restaurant. I am no longer the funny, charismatic person that I was in February of 2020. I barely have the energy to drive across town and I’m in worse shape than I have been in over a decade. I can see the effects on my partner, too; they’re tired, deep in their bones. I can see it around their eyes when a particularly bass-heavy song comes on. I can hear the uncertainty in both of our voices when we place our order in person, all of the easy confidence that used to come naturally, gone. If we were butterflies before COVID, we crawled back out of our cocoon as timid caterpillars. But we got through it. We even had fun after we got used to the lights and the music. The food was so much better than I could have made at home, and my partner was still the most beautiful person in the room.
I write all of this so that I can offer the following advice: “getting back out there” and “returning to normal” is going to be incredibly difficult, especially for people trying to start a new relationship. I cannot imagine how overwhelming it would have been for me to go on a first date under these circumstances. To those already (safely) dating in person, I salute you, you’re incredible. To those who haven’t yet, take all the time you need. To both groups, be easy on yourselves. It’s not going to feel like it used to, at least not for a while. You may find yourself uncomfortable around groups of people, or the music may seem crazy loud, but you’ll get through it at your own speed.
Bottom line: It will take time “getting back out there” - we had about a year of isolation and distance and dating through screens, and that’s bound to leave its mark. Don’t rush the process.