While some dating has shifted to the online world to accommodate social distancing restrictions — at least in the getting-to-know-you phase — COVID-19 shouldn’t prevent you from having in-person dates that you’d actually call fun.
To do that, you'll have to step away from the boring Zoom meetings that mimic a job interview and plan an innovative — and safe — event.
Kat Harris, a relationship coach and dating expert in Austin, says people put too much pressure on first dates, working through a mental checklist in their heads of all the criteria their date does or doesn't meet.
"Getting to know someone takes time,” she says. “Give a person three dates.”
Harris encourages her dating clients to approach these initial experiences with the right attitude. Keep in mind:
- First dates are like stepping off a curb, not a cliff. It's just two people spending time together.
- Remove the pressure to come up with an epic first date that seems like it's straight from the set of The Bachelor.
- Spend just an hour with your date. Your main goal is to decide if you want to see the person again.
- Don't try to assess whether the person is “the one” right away.
Even during the pandemic, there are socially distanced ways to try something new together. Having something to do, rather than just talking, can reveal whether there's a true connection. Try one of these outside-the-box date ideas to ensure you both have a great time while getting to know each other.
1. An escape room
Escape room activities are available virtually and in person. If done in person, they provide a safer pandemic option because you share the room only with the people in your party.
This activity involves solving puzzles and finding clues to “escape” a themed room. Harris recommends escape rooms to her clients because they are a bit risky. “You are going to be in a more stressful situation. You really have a shared experience where you are working together, doing something fun that requires teamwork and creating space for a conversation after the experience,” she says.
To find a virtual or in-person escape room, enter your location into the escape room finder.
2. Outdoor activities
Sharing an outdoor activity is one of the best ways to get to know someone on a first date. Try pickleball, Ultimate Frisbee, a hike through the woods or a walk along a scenic path.
If you are looking for more than just a person's life story, move your first date to the tennis court. This socially distanced sport can even be enjoyable for amateurs who have never picked up a racket. Lauren Rosenberg, 51, of Scottsdale, Arizona prefers playing tennis on first dates. “It's active, fun and a great way to learn about a man's competitive nature,” she says.
She also says it promotes conversation. “It's a nice way to become acquainted with someone, instead of over a glass of wine, which feels more like an interview.” Side perk: Tennis is a sport associated with longer life expectancy.
3. Volunteer together
See just how big your date's heart is while getting to know each other. Volunteering can be pandemic friendly — from organizing a neighborhood food drive to cleaning up trash in a local park. Harris recommends a volunteering date because it pushes people outside their comfort zones, where personal growth really happens. It may also help reveal your date's true colors.
"When we have a shared experience it cuts the crap and makes it a little more real,” she says.
Check out local opportunities and decide which you'd like to do together.
4. A picnic ... with a twist
Maybe you are avoiding crowded restaurants and can't deal with yet another walk in the park as a first date. While it can be tough to come up with creative socially distanced ideas, Harris recommends a picnic adventure with a catch.
On this date, each person makes a picnic lunch for the other, and then you trade. This can be comical if you know nothing about the other's tastes yet, or could be specifically tailored to your date's likes if you discuss preferences beforehand.
Practice a few picnic safety tips to keep the food itself germ free, or choose takeout options if you aren't the cooking type.
5. Fruit picking
"The orchard date works,” says Tim Hall, 74, of Camarillo, California, who last year reunited with former girlfriend Sandy Stein. After a two-hour phone conversation, the former couple decided on a first date in Hall's orchard on his property, picking fruit such as avocados, papayas, oranges, tangerines and more.
Hall, a widower after a 38-year-marriage, says pandemic dating has required some adjustments. “Outdoor open spaces make the most sense and seem the safest,” he says. The reunited couple have also explored waterfalls, sunsets and open beach areas.
While this date idea varies greatly based on weather, season and location, check out local “U-pick” farms for more information.
6. Unfamiliar activities
What if the only requirement for your first date was that you both tried something you've never done before? That's the ticket, according to Joey Steffan, 51, from Bellbrook, Ohio. He says dating a woman through activities she's never tried “opens her up to new things and you can see how she reacts.”
His date outings have included a rodeo, batting cages, golfing and other experiences where you can “laugh and tease each other.”
"Restaurants are OK, but the mask thing really takes the intimacy out of it,” he says. “I did the restaurant thing a couple of times but the chemistry wasn't there.”
Zoom with a plan
You may be sick of Zooming or Facetiming, but a virtual date eliminates the risk of virus transmission and allows you to gauge whether you'd want to meet face-to-face in the future.
Nancy Shenker, 65, of Scottsdale, Arizona, has embraced virtual dating options. It's allowed her to easily date people outside her own city, removing geography from the equation. Second, she sees herself as a tech-savvy individual, and is hoping to find a partner who is as well.
"If a guy can't figure out how to use his phone or camera, that's a bit of a red flag,” she says. A virtual connection also gives Shenker more information about her potential suitor, allowing a glimpse into his home, a place she'd likely never go on a first date.
But don't think you have to stick to a basic and boring conversation. Try out these Zoom date ideas for a more creative take on virtual meetups.
7. A bottle of wine and some oldies
So many first dates include great music and a special beverage. Lisa Concepcion, a love-life strategist and a dating and relationship expert in Miami Beach, worked with a client whose first date involved playing favorite throwback songs from teen years and (separate) bottles of wine. “They even broke out into a dance party,” Concepcion says. “All of this happened online as a first date."
Another client, over several Zoom meetings, sent his date deliveries from her favorite restaurants, and then shared the meal virtually.
Diane Solomon, 62, has dated online and in person during the pandemic in Portland, Oregon. She recommends cooking the same meal together on Zoom or bringing your favorite beverage to a virtual meeting.
"I could talk about green tea for a while,” she says. She recommends leaving alcohol out of first dates, both virtually and in person, to keep judgment sharp. Others say an alcoholic beverage may help break the ice.
8. A more ambitious meal, with a little help
If you've always wanted to take a cooking class, don't let the pandemic stop you.
Participating in a virtual cooking class with a chef can be an exhilarating experience, even virtually. Do a Google search for online cooking classes and see what you and your date might like to try, whether that’s creating the perfect dessert, making homemade pizzas or perfecting sauces.
But you don't have to go to the extremes. If you're cooking virtually and are both customers of common meal kit services, like Blue Apron, plan ahead and order the same meal to cook together. Or pick a recipe you both like and cook it while you FaceTime.
9. Play a game or plan an activity
Remember show-and-tell from your elementary school days? Daters can plan to introduce a few items that best represent their personalities or lives and describe them on the Zoom call. Conversation is not likely to stall, and it can also be done in person.
Harris also recommends the game “two truths and a lie,” which involves telling your date two true facts and one lie about yourself. As your date tries to guess the lie, conversation ensues, leading you to learn more about the other person in lighthearted way.
Other game ideas? Try summing up your life in just five emojis, Harris says, and let the other person interpret them. When in doubt, you can also play Words With Friends together during the Zoom call.
Brian Bennett, 57, of Waynesville, Ohio, says that Zoom calls have given relationships a “turbo boost” because by the time you meet in person you've already seen each other online a few times.
"You have those first, sometimes awkward, moments out of the way ... so, by [your first in-person meeting] you have been able to talk about many of the things you would have traditionally talked about on a first date,” he says. “To be honest, I like it."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 19, 2021. It's been updated to refect new information.