En español | Geriatrician Vince Perrelli often cares for COVID-19 patients at work, but that hasn't stopped the 77-year-old from dating and finding love — even in a zoo parking lot.
On Perrelli's first date with his current girlfriend, the couple met up at the shuttered zoo and ate barbecue takeout in Perrelli's convertible. They didn't need to worry about the dangers of dining in or being too close to others.
At work, Perrelli wears multiple masks and personal protective equipment and is tested regularly for COVID-19. But the virus has still “dramatically” altered the way he socializes.
For that first date, he says, “It changed the entire format.” And with few options for fancy meals and costly activities, “It's also a lot less expensive.”
Throughout the arc of the pandemic and quarantine, dating has evolved. At first, it was put on hold by many older adults who worried about their health and virus exposure, but as COVID-19 has lingered people are eager to connect. However, many are still navigating that first in-person contact, how to get beyond video chatting and how to safely move ahead with sexual activity.
Communication is the key
Perrelli, who met his girlfriend through the Selective Search dating service, says protections like masking and coronavirus testing play an important role, even in long-term relationships.
Barbie Adler, the founder and president of Selective Search, says Perrelli's approach during the pandemic is the norm. Over half of her company's clientele is over age 50, and the company has been busier than ever since the pandemic began.
4 Tips for Coronavirus Dating
1. Use video chat to get to know someone well before deciding to meet up.
2. Communicate clearly about your preferences regarding masks and social distancing before meeting in person.
3. Get creative about dates and outings that meet your social distancing requirements.
4. Use precautions like masking, condoms and washing up when it comes to sexual activity.
While not every couple will be on the same wavelength about social distancing, wearing masks or quarantining, communication is the key for navigating this dating landscape, she says.
"Everyone is going to have a different comfort zone. You don't need to apologize, you just need to be a good communicator,” Adler says. “If that person isn't understanding, you have to decline.”
Despite the challenges, there are a few silver linings to dating during COVID-19. That includes spending enhanced time talking before meeting in person and a more creative approach to romance, when dinner and a movie isn't readily available. Couples have to come up with new ideas, like socially distant lunches or — taking a page from Perrelli's book — finding new and unusual places to meet.
When it comes to coronavirus-friendly dates, couples can try outings like a walk through the park, watching movies together on the phone, having cocktails on Facetime or even parking and eating a socially distant brunch.
"Love is not canceled,” Adler says. “This might be the new normal."
Pandemic dating evolves
That new normal is significantly different from pre-pandemic dating routines. Data collected by dating services shows the approach to romance is continuously changing as COVID-19 goes from a short-term emergency to a longer-term way of life. Attitudes about meeting in person, online dating and the types of outings couples will agree to are being revised.
In March, Luxy Partners, a dating app for wealthy singles, found that 87 percent of senior singles wanted to wait to meet in person until the pandemic was over. But by June, many had changed their minds and only 43 percent wanted to wait.
Toward the beginning of the pandemic in March, 59 percent of the same group said they were wearing masks on dates, but that number increased by June, when 71 percent of seniors said they were wearing masks on dates.
The pandemic is also changing how older adults approach their search for romance. A survey by dating app TheSeniorList.com found that 62 percent of seniors said COVID-19 has altered the way they date. The survey also found more romance-seekers relying on online dating and altering the types of dates they go on.
A need for safe connection
Healthy human emotions like romance and the desire for love aren't going away. In fact, Adler thinks the pandemic highlights the need for connection and closeness more than ever, and says loneliness is also a major health risk.
Given that people are still dating, protection during those more intimate and close moments is crucial. A recent report found trace amounts of COVID-19 present in semen, and the New York City health department recently stressed the pandemic-related dangers of sexual activity. Condoms, dental dams and face masks are all tools partners can use to reduce the likelihood of coronavirus infection (as well as sexually transmitted diseases) during intercourse, and the Mayo Clinic also recommends washing up afterward.
As COVID cases continue to rise around the United States, dating is changing, but singles over the age of 50 are adapting.
Howard Eisenberg, a 93-year-old author whose girlfriend is a three-hour train ride away from his New York City home, says he can't wait until the pandemic is over so he can travel to see her again. However, that doesn't stop the couple from talking on the phone and Facetiming multiple times per week.
"Think of dating as an adventure,” Eisenberg says. “Persist, persist, persist."
Even couples who've been together for some time are adjusting their dating lives. Lorna Rainey, talent manager and author from Long Island, New York, says she and her boyfriend take care to socially distance from others, even at friends' homes, to account for anyone “who is not as careful” as they are. Rainey and her daughter both have asthma. Rainey and her boyfriend also now drive to favorite places like the ice cream shop to avoid walking in crowds.
Despite the challenges Rainey urged couples to continue prioritizing romance after 50.
"You might not meet ‘the one’ until later in life,” Rainey says.