So you’re staying in and already going stir crazy. You need social contact and emotional intimacy. Maybe online dating can come back into favour … with some variations?

Virtual dates

A video date is a great romantic substitute for a first date. It saves you travelling and spending money and you can cut it short if you need to. Get dressed up a little, pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some background music, dim the lights, show off your interior decorating skills or carelessly scatter some impressive-looking books around.

Tips for video dates:

  1. Make sure you’ve tidied up. My eye is always drawn to the messy table behind the person, however attractive, and it can be distracting. (Could just be me, though.) Sometimes it’s fun to give your date a virtual tour of your home so make sure you’ve made your bed. (Yes, that’s right, guys, you should always make your bed before you invite a date round. And if you’re a single guy who always makes his bed, message me immediately. I can get you dates.)
  2. If you have a laptop, use that rather than a phone. Then you can position the webcam so the light is flattering and you won’t have to worry about constantly moving around so you can stay in the screen and not show that weird distorted facial feature that you always get when you take a selfie.
  3. Prepare some questions – you can have them written down in front of you without them seeing, unlike on a real date. (Seeing a notebook and pen out is a big turn-on for me. But again, I’m in a minority, I think.) Deep, meaningful questions contribute to a more satisfying and intimate date. Researchy bit: Self-disclosure is a significant factor in how much we like our dates, feel close to them and enjoy the date, especially if it involves taking turns[i], and if the self-disclosure is face-to-face rather than through messaging.[ii]
  4. You might need to pay more attention to the nodding, smiling and “Mmmm” noises that people use to help the conversation along, as these don’t come so naturally when you’re conversing online. (See here if you have no idea what I mean or your conversations are full of awkward silences.)
  5. Don’t forget to respectfully compliment your date on something, such as what they’re wearing, their hair, their smile, the room’s decor, their interesting conversation.
  6. You might want to set up a separate Skype address for this kind of date, to keep yourself safe.
Use your laptop so you’re not focusing on the angle of your phone
Image by Gracini Studios from Pixabay 

Virtual shared experiences

Arrange to simultaneously take a virtual tour of a museum, listen to a live concert, watch a film, listen to a lecture. Then discuss and debrief! There is even research to show that a virtual tour of an art gallery is rated a better experience than online messaging[iii].

The Berlin Philharmonic digital concert hall is free for the next month, or take a virtual tour of a museum. Lots of musicians are giving free online performances – here is one list for classical music, and here is another for all types. Check out these online comedy events.

People are sending each other recipes and cooking together over video, and even ordering mystery take-aways for each other!

Take a virtual tour of the British Museum

Free online lectures are available here, here, and of course there are the infamous TED talks. Live streaming of lectures is even better if they include the Q&A, which I think is often the best bit. I like the LSE lectures and Sam Harris’s podcasts. There is lots on BBC Sounds too. Or what about an interactive online game or virtual reality?

Virtual speed-dating is also taking off. Here is an account of one person’s experience.

Playing games

You could also play conversation-led games, such as twenty questions, or discuss some icebreaker questions and moral dilemmas (see here to buy mine; or there are plenty around if you search). This should help to create a sense of fun and playfulness on your date. And you can see how competitive your date is.

Buy 150 dating questions for £5

Preparing yourself for your next relationship

Use this time to read and learn more about the psychology of dating and relationships. You could start with the links and references here. I particularly like the book How to choose a partner by Susan Quilliam, which has questions and exercises to work through.

Keep a journal of your thoughts and reflections as you do your research

Or watch some TV and films to learn more about how to (or how not to) build a connection with others, flirt, learn to accept a compliment, argue, apologise, break up, cheat … You can learn a lot from watching First Dates, Love is Blind, Love Island, etc. You could even attempt to recreate Love is Blind yourselves. Or you could try some more classy watching, such as

Black Mirror Series 4 Episode 4 Hang the DJ (2017). A thought-provoking episode about technology-aided dating that could lead to some interesting discussions with your date

Modern Love (2019). A series based on real-life essays written for The New York Times

Marriage Story (2019). A moving film about a marriage break-up; with Scarlett Johannson

Certified Copy (2010). An art film starring Juliette Binoche, which some find baffling but I think gives insights into a long-term relationship

Call me by your name (2017). A sensual and beautifully filmed story of first love in Italy, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman

The Lobster (2015). A film about modern dating and its pressures

Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998). A beautiful Spanish film with a wonderfully circular narrative

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993). A lovely film about patience and love growing gradually and building up over time

Before Sunrise (1995). An American-Austrian film about the start of a relationship

Like water for chocolate (1992). An old Mexican film with its own magical realism style.

More art love films here

As well as watching and learning from the films, you can of course decide with your date to watch them at the same time and pause periodically to discuss. You can keep your video chat window open if you like to comment as a film goes on. (I don’t, obviously.) Netflix Party enables group chat while you watch.

Finally, indulge yourself in some great novels about relationships, by reading my next blog post coming soon.

So enjoy thinking outside the box (but not actually leaving it) and keep romance alive in the time of Corona.

[i] Frost, J. H., Chance, Z., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2008). People are experience goods: Improving online dating with virtual dates. Journal of Interactive Marketing22(1), 51-61.

[ii] Sprecher, S., Treger, S., Wondra, J. D., Hilaire, N., & Wallpe, K. (2013). Taking turns: Reciprocal self-disclosure promotes liking in initial interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology49(5), 860-866.

[iii] Knop, K., Öncü, J. S., Penzel, J., Abele, T. S., Brunner, T., Vorderer, P., & Wessler, H. (2016). Offline time is quality time. Comparing within-group self-disclosure in mobile messaging applications and face-to-face interactions. Computers in human behavior55, 1076–1084.

Thanks to Jason Hill for his film recommendations.