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Stories From the Front Lines of Pandemic Dating

4 dating experiences that could only have happened during COVID-19

spinner image A collage of couples - dating during the pandemic
spinner image Anju Tomar and Mike Faith
Using online dating apps, Mike Faith met his girlfriend Anju Tomar.
Courtesy Mike Faith

Dating at any age is hard. Dating over age 50 can be even more challenging. And dating during a pandemic can seem downright impossible.

"We are both the luckiest people alive.” 

— Mike Faith

However, despite the pandemic, people continue to find ways to connect, to create romance and to flirt. These four stories prove that, while the social scene for older adults can be tough—whether on Zoom or in person—a little dating fun and even an epic love story isn't out of the question.

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"We talked every night for a month. He'd text during the day. He sent flowers and a fruit basket ... it was the sweetest thing because we hadn't even met."

— Grayce McCormick

Finding ‘the one’ over FaceTime

"I realized I wasn't interested in looking at anyone else and he did the same thing."

— Valerie Zucker

Mike Faith, 56
Company CEO, splitting time between Nashville, Tennessee, and San Francisco

"You can flirt on the phone and at a table ... you don't have to go in for a kiss or hug to say ‘Hey you are looking good'”

— Dawn Burnett

Mike Faith has been dating since his divorce four years ago, and he became pretty familiar with FaceTime. “At the risk of sounding cheap, I didn't have to go out anywhere or buy drinks,” he jokes “It was pretty efficient.”

After COVID-19 hit, he transitioned to FaceTime dates only to be “more cautious,” video chatting with people he met on dating sites. It took only three dates to find “the one."

"I pretty much knew right away,” he says, referring to his first date with now-girlfriend Anju Tomar. “We had lots to talk about. We are both immigrants ... she's from India and I'm from the United Kingdom.”

That shared experience helped them connect. Faith found Tomar funny and accomplished, saying “conversation just worked between us.” The only catch was that she lived hours away. But what happened next sealed the deal for Faith.

Since neither was busy during the pandemic and neither wanted to travel by airplane, they flipped a coin to decide who would drive eight hours to meet the other person the next morning. Tomar started driving.

"She had the boldness of doing the [long] drive,” which fit with his own personality, Faith says. “I'm an adventurer and a risk taker."

Since that first meeting, the couple has traveled back and forth between Faith's home base of Nashville and Tomar's home city of Milwaukee as the pandemic has allowed them both to work remotely. If not for the pandemic and the flexibility it provided, Faith says, the relationship might have progressed much slower, and maybe even stalled

"We are both the luckiest people alive,” he says.

Tinder leads to long-distance love

spinner image Grayce and Bradd wearing face masks smile for a photo
Grayce McCormick and her boyfriend dated online for two months before meeting.
Courtesy Grayce McCormick

Grayce McCormick, 53
Public relations professional in Milwaukee

Grace McCormick was in a new relationship with a family friend when the pandemic hit, and thought signs pointed to a promising future with her boyfriend. She met him just before COVID arrived in March, and they had already enjoyed a romantic Valentine's Day evening at the opera house.

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But after people began quarantining, she didn't see her boyfriend for two weeks. He expressed concerns about keeping his ex-wife and children virus free. McCormick was understanding, but eventually realized he was using COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid her. By June, McCormick decided it was time to move on.

Divorced since her 30s, McCormick, who has three children, wasn't new to the dating scene. But there was one thing she'd never tried: Tinder. Despite the app's reputation as a hook-up site, she soon attracted the attention of a Portland man in a shirt featuring the logo of the Green Bay Packers, McCormick's home team. Their long-distance love story began that night with hours on the phone, and they discovered they'd attended high schools just a mile apart.

"We talked every night for a month. He'd text during the day. He sent flowers and a fruit basket ... it was the sweetest thing because we hadn't even met,” she says. She felt they both could be more vulnerable and authentic over the phone.

While their first in-person meeting started carefully, with masks, they'd already been dating virtually for almost two months. They quickly moved beyond social distancing. “We made out for like 45 minutes at the end of a pier,” she says.

After months of long-distance pandemic dating, McCormick and her new love are moving in together. It's about, she says, “as perfect as it can get."

COVID-19 prompts a reunion

Valerie Zucker, 51
Managing partner for a consulting media agency in Boca Raton, Florida.

Valerie Zucker and her ex-husband, Michael Buckstein, 55, have been divorced since 2016 after an eight-year marriage. They were the kind of divorced couple that communicated often about parenting when it came to their 10-year-old daughter, London. “We were constantly in the loop, from the daily dish to health issues to schedule changes,” Zucker says.

When COVID-19 hit, Zucker's former husband was incorporated into her pandemic bubble because they shared time with their daughter. She'd invite Buckstein over for dinner, since no one was busy. Before she knew it, Zucker was dating her ex again.

"I realized I wasn't interested in looking at anyone else and he did the same thing,” she says. After years of dating other people, Zucker says she was done with “fake profiles and fake people.

She and Buckstein realized that the “other fish in the sea” weren't as attractive as they once seemed, and that there was a comfortable vibe to their old relationship, but with some changes.

spinner image Valerie Zucker smiles with a little girl and a man
During the pandemic Valerie Zucker reconnected with ex-husband, Michael Buckstein as they parented daughter London.
Courtesy Valerie Zucker

The pandemic “caused us to zone in on who we are, what the world is like, and who is going to come to our aid today,” she says. “I'd be here for him as much as he would for me.”

These days, Zucker says Buckstein is more interested in her hobbies, like cooking, and is taking a more active role in day-to-day parenting. Zucker says she's letting little things go more.

And what does their daughter London think? While she was initially annoyed that she couldn't play her parents off each other when she didn't get her way, ultimately, Zucker says, London's “happy her parents came together for the sense of family.”

Learning how to flirt 6 feet apart

Dawn Burnett, 51
Divorce coach and wellness strategist in Orlando, Florida

After enduring a toxic relationship, Burnett spent the last 12 years enjoying life solo, dating casually and helping others going through difficult divorces.

Burnett slowed down her dating life when the pandemic started and began a more intense “vetting” process to ensure her safety, and that of her family. She uses online dating apps and phone calls to screen would-be Romeos. “There's an element of risk when you are going to meet face to face, so it's super important to vet people on phone calls,” Burnett says.

By phone she asks potential dates about careers, if they work from home, COVID-19 exposure or whether they've had an antibody test. She digs into their beliefs about the virus, noting that not everyone is as careful about masks and distancing as she is.

With a fun and flirty personality, Burnett has had to explore different ways of connecting with potential dates. “You can't go out there and start kissing. It's about having the uncomfortable conversation and making it comfortable,” she says. “If they aren't willing to be patient with the process ... and care about your well-being upfront, they certainly won't be [that way] in a relationship."

During the pandemic, Burnett has limited her romantic outings to cocktails to ensure she and her date don't end up getting too close or breaking social distancing limits they've set for themselves when inhibitions are lowered. She also focuses on outdoor dining for safety. The regulations and recommendations, however, haven't put a stop to her flirting game, she jokes.

"You can flirt on the phone and at a table ... you don't have to go in for a kiss or hug to say ‘Hey you are looking good,'” she says. Her efforts seem to be working: Burnett recently found someone she clicks with, in spite of the pandemic's limitations.

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