In this latest, nebulous phase of the pandemic for some parts of the world, Kim doesn’t believe she’s on the same page as other daters. The 28-year-old UK resident isn’t yet vaccinated, and she isn’t ready to date again due to COVID fear.
Kim isn’t alone. Amid COVID and the rising Delta variant, some singles are still afraid to physically connect with others — vaccinated or not.
The Delta variant is now the dominant strain worldwideDelta variant is now the dominant strain worldwide — delta-plusdelta-plus, which contains a protein mutation like the alpha variant, is on its heels — and with it comes a surge in hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated. Vaccinated people are generally protected against serious illness, but infection is still possible. In fact, 1 in 17,000 vaccinated people need to be hospitalized with COVID, according to NBC News.
But despite breakthrough cases (a 1-in-900 chance according to NBC), it’s still possible to feel safe kissing amid the Delta variant (for the vaccinated, anyway).
Kim, who chose to be identified by her first name only for privacy reasons, is on the dating app Inner Circle despite her wariness to meet people. Many, she said, are sick of COVID and acting less cautious than they have in previous COVID waves. Cases have been dropping in the UKCases have been dropping in the UK — where 75 percent of adults have received two shots — since their mid-July reopening, but Kim wants to remain careful as she’s not vaccinated.
Ambivalence in the time of Delta
Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, associate psychiatrist and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, told Mashable that people are often ambivalent in times of uncertainty. In COVID times, that could look like worrying about the Delta variant, but going out anyway.
We know that the best way to fight COVID is with vaccines, social distancing, and masks; the latter two aren’t compatible with physical closeness, especially making out. At the same time, people who maintained frequent in-person social and sexual connections had better mental healthpeople who maintained frequent in-person social and sexual connections had better mental health over the pandemic, according to a study Nadkarni cited.
The complexity of a situation — say about whether to go on a date when the Delta variant is on the rise — can prevent someone from making a decision. Fear of making the wrong decision can also cause this paralysis.
Further, choosing how to navigate dating now can impact potential relationships, as Dylan Arnold experienced. Arnold is a resident of Sydney, Australia, which is currently under lockdownSydney, Australia, which is currently under lockdown due to a spike in COVID cases. A recent date was offended when he wouldn’t kiss her, Arnold told Mashable.
Arnold, who was partially vaccinated at the time of publication, assumed the meetup would just be walking around. His date wanted more.
“She seemed to take this [not kissing her] as me being uninterested with her,” Arnold said, “when it wasn’t.” Arnold lives with his mother and grandmother, and was concerned about their safety — especially given that only around 15 percent of Australia’s population was vaccinated15 percent of Australia’s population was vaccinated at the time of the date, though it’s since risen. Sydney’s strict lockdown rules do allow someone to exercise outdoors with one other person, which has led to a boom in walking dates, according to Arnold. He was comfortable with a walking date, but not with kissing his yet-unvaccinated companion.
Despite explaining these reasons for declining a kiss at the end of the date, Arnold said the brush-off “basically ended things.”
Even after vaccination, breakthrough casesbreakthrough cases are causing people to reevaluate their actions.
Jen, a Bay Area resident who requested a different name for the sake of privacy, is fully vaccinated — but caught a breakthrough COVID infection. She called the experience an emotional rollercoaster, because she was diagnosed as the Delta variant began to pervade the news.
Now, Jen is unsure about what to do moving forward in terms of being around others. Her boyfriend didn’t catch COVID from her despite being around her (perhaps because he’s fully vaccinated as well), but she remains on the fence about connecting with others. On one hand, she wants to be more cautious; on the other, she has more COVID antibodies and believes her body is at peak defense against it for the next few months.
More than anything, Jen believes her breakthrough case serves as a warning to others. “My friends…told me they are being a bit more cautious after learning that I had a breakthrough infection,” she said. Her friends who are dating are now moving their activities outdoors, and will think twice before kissing.
COVID caution may win out with Jen’s single friends, as it has with Kim, and that’s understandable. Despite pressure she feels to find a partner before “the next COVID wave,” Kim also worries about how the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic will impact searching for a partner in the future.
No matter your reasons, you — like Kim — can choose to bow out of the dating game right now. Another option is to stick to video dating, as marriage and family therapist Christine KederianChristine Kederian suggested. Consider front-loading the dating process with virtual meetups, Kederian said, and only move to in-person if — and when — you’re comfortable.
What if I definitely want to date in-person?
“The best way to navigate such complex decision-making is to be as informed as possible so as to understand the tradeoffs,” said Nadkarni. If you’re aware of the non-zero COVID risks when hanging out with others, you can decide accordingly. Perhaps you’ll decline to see that Tinder match you’re wishy-washy about, or choose an outdoor date with someone you’re excited to meet.
At the same time, try not to overconsume news, said psychologist Aura PriscelAura Priscel. This is easier said than done — especially with push notifications and Twitter — but you don’t have to be privy to every article about breakthrough cases, or every statistic. Stay informed, but take news breaks too.
Set your own boundaries for how and whom you want to date, as Arnold did by refusing to kiss a match. Arnold also said he probably won’t consider dating someone unvaccinated once vaccines become more accessible in Australia. (The country has a shortage of Pfizer vaccines but an abundance of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which many refuse to take because of the small risk of a blood clot.) His Tinder bio states that he’s half-vaccinated — and he will update it once fully vaccinated — to let potential matches know, and to signal that he wants future dates to get vaccinated as well.
Should someone not respect your boundaries, as with what happened to Arnold, they simply won’t get a second date. If both you and your partner are open about your vaccine status and decide you want to have physical contact, however, go for it. You can weigh the benefits of intimacy against the risk of infection.
COVID isn’t gone yet, and we have to remain vigilant while continuing to live. If you’re informed of the potential risks and you want to connect in-person, you’re well within your right to do so. Feel free to give safe — informed, boundary-respecting — kisses.