Around the world, Covid-19 restrictions deterred many — but certainly not all — people from dating. Now that more of us are vaccinated and the rules for the most part are more flexible and even lifted in some areas, singles are connecting again (or at least trying to do so without putting themselves at risk of contracting the Delta and Lambda variants) and meeting up with romantic interests to get acquainted.
Often getting-to-know-you stages inspire standard questions about hobbies, interests and upbringings. But, more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, personal and wellness-related inquiries are finding space in courtship conversations, too.
If you’re dipping your toes back into the dating scene, you may be discussing Covid vaccinations, mental health or even sexually transmitted infections. Experts share their best advice about how to delicately approach and respond to these topics when chatting with a potential partner.
Vaccinated or not Vaccinated
Some people proudly divulge that they have been vaccinated and even include this detail on their dating app profiles. Others do not feel the urge to share their statuses openly. The latter doesn’t necessarily indicate thoughts such as “‘I think the government is out to get us,’” said La Keita Carter, a licensed psychologist in Owings Mills, Md.
There are a variety of factors that can determine why someone opts out of a Covid vaccination. “It could mean lots of things including, ‘I have a pre-existing medical condition that makes the decision-making complicated for me,’ or an extreme phobia of needles,” said Dr. Carter. However, she also highlights the issue of distrust linked to exploitation. “When you think about the different communities of color in our society and the history that they have with the medical field, some of that history is abusive.”
With this in mind, Dr. Carter suggests saying something like, “Tell me what you think about the vaccine” to potential partners. Without implying judgment or requiring people to disclose their medical history, this statement allows room to reveal their viewpoints, political stances and personal vaccine experience.
Another taboo topic that’s become a greater priority and talked about more since the pandemic is mental health. Leeor Gal, a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia, says relationship expectations and timing are important factors to consider when directly asking a prospective significant other about mental health and if they go to therapy. “It depends on the longevity of the relationship or how long you’ve been dating,” she said.
Although asking about medication or counseling might not be subtle conversation starters, someone’s general well-being isn’t completely off limits, either. “During the first date, ask ‘How did this pandemic affect you?’ — making it more general, so they can treat it as a normal question,” Ms. Gal said.
She also encourages discussing self-care practices upfront. If applicable and comfortable, speaking from one’s personal history with therapy or other alternative mental health practices can open up a conversation about shared healthy routines. “Those are both really good ways in understanding where someone else is standing on their journey,” she said, noting that the past year “has been extremely difficult.”
Ms. Gal says it’s important to date as frequently or infrequently as one feels comfortable. Finding a balance can preserve boundaries and your own energy. “A lot of people want to have this control over how they should handle this, a clean-cut way to do things,” she said. “There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. It’s relative to the individual.”
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
While talk of vaccines can happen before or upon meeting, the subject of sexually transmitted diseases and infections usually isn’t first-date material. “As the relationship or conversations continue, and it’s heading toward a more intimate direction, I encourage them to bring it up,” said Dr. Monica Grover, head gynecologist at VSPOT in New York. “It is something important to discuss.”
“If they have a pre-existing condition such as genital herpes, then there’s also a lot of education associated with it because there’s still a stigma,” she said.
To combat false information, Dr. Grover advises her patients with infections to teach their partners about how transmission happens and preventive medication protocols. “I often tell my patients, ‘If you’re scared to have this conversation with your partner and you feel like they might be judgmental, they’re not the right person for you,’” she said.
This part of courtship has caused a lot of anxiety for Tony Morrison, 32, a senior producer at Good Morning America Digital in New York. “It’s always in the back of my head,” said Mr. Morrison, who was diagnosed with H.I.V. eight years ago. “In the past, people have had a lot of questions that have wove into the trauma and the hysteria of it, and attached some fear to it.”
After a two-year dating hiatus, he began seeing someone new in May. “I told him my status is undetectable,” said Mr. Morrison, who takes medication. His beau responded in a sweet and caring manner, acknowledging the difficult subject matter and expressing his familiarity with the science for treatment. “It was abundantly refreshing,” Mr. Morrison said. “He just made me feel very comfortable and confident in myself.”