Two rules applied for Here/Now, a curated dating business, the first-ever Zoom mixer. The first one: don’t speak of work. The second is not quarantine.
The host announced this, with its voice, once a chipper, suddenly transformed into that of the dead robot. The technological failure existed. “You are freezing!” shouted from a screen corner a digital twenty-something. “We couldn’t listen to you!” another called. A glass of wine sat behind my laptop. I leaned out and chugged out of the video frame.
This happy hour was designed to bring New York singles (virtually) together. However, half of us are no longer in the city at this session. Instead, we fled to American suburban beige coaches with framed pictures of smiling families and Labradors’ infantilely. We have icebreakers lobbed—”What are you ever going to do? What kind of kid were you?”—we’re trying to reply to that. After a while, we can’t ignore why we’re in our parents’ basement and why we chat and video alone at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night. “Why,” said a striking Brooklyn blonde who gesticulates wildly on her laptop, “that’s what we are doing.”
So we violate Zoom’s second rule: We are talking, endlessly, about quarantine.
Main Street companies are closed throughout America. There is a shelter in cities as well as their citizens. Social distancing is now a law that has been enforced in many countries. In the cultural vernacular, a phrase that did not exist until March. The lungs of our acquaintances, friends, and loved ones are swept by a once so felt overseas disease. In only three weeks, our lives have changed utterly; without reparation, the USNS Comfort passed by the Statue for Freedom, a symbol of equality that was hidden, hopeful, and heartbreaking.
But love lasts, as it is said, in wars, calamities, and even pandemics. And so are the attempts.
If a typical New York B.C. first date (before corona) begins at a bar, COVID court offices will start on a screen. Controllers such as Here/Now, like apps like Hinge, are using Zoom. On Twitter, the Dating has recently been shown with a set of digital context which reflects first-time stereotypes: a beach picnic, a fantastic hotel lounge, a woods path. (“We’ve made certain datasets to give your zoom dates a more real feeling. Date and stay safe from home, everybody!” wrote the company.)
The League, another affiliate-only dating app that recently launched a video chat functionality that enables matches to meet face to face digitally without changing numbers. The company recorded a 41% increase in users from 15 to 22 March. “People accept the fact that I can’t date in person, all right. My nearest job is to talk about the video with somebody,” said Amanda Bradford, founder of the League. Links to mass virtual gatherings, usually held on zooms or their chaotic partner Houseparty, are written from group to group chat, allowing you to meet somebody in pixels.
There are still hijinks, hiccups, and heartbreaks. One of my friends had a FaceTime surprise from a lawyer—that was unpleasant, as she had been on the phone with another person. (“What excuse should I give him because I can’t speak tonight? (I mean? King Tiger?”) Another thought she hit with a man just a few days later to receive an application for nude selfies. She left him reading and instead was playing Animal Crossing. Then there are the exes that use the pandemic to get in touch again. They might miss you. You might miss them. Or they might be boring. Strangely enough, these trimming constants comfort, remind us of our ancient reality, as we struggle with something we could never have imagined.
We still play the dating game when a virus swirls around us. “The worst thing we can do for humanity, maybe, imagine the future where we are alone,” says Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo, Director of the Pritzker School of Medicine’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago.
Can we ever win, however? Staying at home with unimportant travel bans means that we can’t see each other. Health regulations ask us not to touch each other. (The New York City Health Department said, “You’re your safe sex partner, as a celibate Uncle Sam. “Take a break from personal dates.”) Our educated experts in our country are not sure whether or not life will return to normal. (“If this will be done, everybody wants to know,” Governor Cuomo tweeted. “We do not know; the truth is. Nobody knows.”) Nobody knows. So we are stuck like the Sisyphean individuals in cyberspace in the foreseeable future, shouldering the sole boulder as we scale the Mount Zoom.
Our third date was Monday the ninth of March. We saw only three tables at the back of a forgettable Tribeca trattoria. A martini, I, a Manhattan, he ordered. For the occasion, both were far too strong. Still stuck, the room was empty, with our voices reverberating. He complained that the city tested nobody. Have weeks circulated here, thousands of people have probably been infected, and have I read this Atlantic paper?
“What would we talk of if we had met before all this, do you ever wonder?” I answered. I answered.
That Thursday, I had been to meet him again at a young New Yorkers museum party. For the occasion, I would borrow a dress. It was made from elegant green silk and slinked every inch of my body to the ground. A colleague saw me try at the bathroom of the office. “Now that is a love-to-me dress,” she said.
The day before, I received an e-mail from people about the suspected coronavirus occurrence in our building just before heading to work. Until further notice, I had to work from home. The NBA canceled its season, and Tom Hanks announced he was COVID-19-positive on that evening. President Trump suspended travel from the Schengen Area of Europe. More than 500 meetings were banned on Thursday, 12 March, shutting off the New Yorkers’ Broadway, Lincoln Center, and museums.
The only way we could smooth the curve by 13 March was social distancing. I knew that I was not supposed to, wouldn’t, and I wasn’t able, for some time, to see him—and many others.
I don’t remember that we made a Zoom date in the evening because quarantine time is all mixed up. He set himself on a goofy rainbow that made me laugh. I silenced him accidentally and then couldn’t see how to untangle him for the two boisterous minutes that made him laugh.
We’ve spoken of Netflix. We talked from home about working. We discussed whether to ride out in town or not.
And then we spoke of people in our situation, the unattached generation, and what could happen in the future to us. “I still think people go to date,” I said. I said.
“They’re going to do what else?” He countered. He countered. “Do you think you’re talking to someone you barely know, only on apps or text for months to end — not knowing if you’ll see him? Technology is a good way to carry on from afar. But it’s the difficult way to start.”
So I looked off my laptop; I didn’t know what to say. The fall-in-love dress sat in the corner and slumped on a chair back, unused and unseen.