Kaitlyn McQuin, a 28-year-old writer and actor living in New Orleans, said she’s been keeping her dating circle “very small” during the pandemic. She had one phone date in March and then went on her first in-person date (they hung out at a park where they could keep their distance) in early June. To feel safe meeting up with someone IRL these days, certain conversations need to happen that weren’t necessary in a pre-COVID-19 world.
“I’d like to know how many people they’ve been around, if they’ve been wearing masks when they’re out in public — pro tip: do this! — and if they’ve had symptoms or have been ill,” McQuin told HuffPost. “This is a freaking pandemic, so I don’t see anything wrong with declining a date if the person you’re talking to doesn’t respect your personal and health-related boundaries.”
“Also, wearing a mask and taking precautions means you care, and people who care are attractive,” she said. “If someone said they weren’t taking precautionary measures to protect the lives of other people, or that it wasn’t necessary, I’d bid them farewell real fast.”
So what sorts of health-related questions should you ask a suitor before you meet up in person? Experts offer their advice on what to inquire about and how.
Questions To Ask
When it comes to socializing IRL, there’s no such thing as a zero-risk interaction, said Jenna Macciochi, a UK-based immunologist and lecturer at the University of Sussex.
“Plus, if you don’t know the person, there is a risk that they won’t be truthful,” she said.
Still, you should do your due diligence by having these talks — preferably on video chat or a phone call — before you consider meeting up.
“It is a crucial conversation to have and if you aren’t comfortable doing so, you should not discuss plans to meet in person,” said Erin Sorrell, an assistant research professor in Georgetown University’s department of microbiology and immunology. “Your health and well-being need to be prioritized over your dating life right now.”
These conversations can, understandably, be intimidating or uncomfortable — especially when they’re with someone you’re just getting to know. Approach these discussions from a place of mindful curiosity so you can have an honest — but not hostile — dialogue with your date.
“Tactful conversations are about honesty,” said Janet Brito, a psychologist and sex therapist in Honolulu. “Being clear about your needs is not being mean. How you say it is key though. So be aware of your tone and body language to create a feeling of safety for your prospective date to be willing to be free with their thoughts and feelings on what seems to bring up divided feelings for some.”
How this person responds during the conversation may also shed light about your potential compatibility.
“I think it’s best to date someone who has similar views to you about how to manage this public health crisis,” Brito said.
Ask these questions to get a clearer picture of the risks involved:
1. What does a typical day look like for you during the pandemic?
“This will give you a good idea of what the person’s risk factors are — are they working at home? Or are they going to a space that puts them at risk for getting infected?” said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician and vice chair of the IDSA Global Health Committee. “You can also find out if you both have similar or different interests, which is important.”
If your date has a front-line job — like a health care worker, grocery clerk, law enforcement officer or delivery driver — this likely increases their exposure, Macciochi said.
2. Have you had any COVID-19 symptoms in the last few weeks?
Symptoms may include — but are not limited to — cough, fever, sore throat or new loss of taste or smell.
“If the prospective date has displayed symptoms, I’d recommend not going on the date in person until they have been tested and confirmed they do not have COVID-19,” said Dr. Vandana A. Patel, a pulmonologist and clinical advisor for the online pharmacy startup Cabinet. “Even then, it’s important to take normal precautions — like wearing a mask — when going on a date.”
3. Have you been in close contact with anyone who has COVID-19?
That could be a friend, family member or co-worker who either tested positive for the virus or has a presumed case. You can also ask if they’ve been in any situations recently that may have elevated their risk, like traveling or protesting, Patel said.
“Even if the prospective date is not displaying symptoms of COVID-19, they may still have it and be asymptomatic,” she added.
4. Who do you live with?
You’d want to know if your date lives with parents or grandparents, who could be in a high-risk group because of their age or underlying health conditions. Or perhaps they have a roommate who’s an essential worker, which could also increase your date’s exposure to the virus.
“This will give you an idea if they have an elderly family member with a potential risk factor for developing COVID and give you an indication about if you need to be more careful around them,” Kuppalli said. “It will also let you know if you need to be more careful being around them because they are around a lot of people.”
5. Have you been dating, hooking up or spending time with people other than those in your household lately?
And if so, this is good opportunity to ask what precautions they’ve been taking when socializing with others. See if these dates or get-togethers took place indoors or outdoors, if they were large or small, if they happened once or twice or a bunch of times and if people were wearing masks and/or staying 6 feet apart.
“The more people they are around — in particular, intimate with — will increase their risk for getting COVID-19,” Kuppalli said. “And if you are around them this will increase your risk.”
Safer Date Ideas
If you talk through these questions and decide you want to meet up, make plans that minimize the risks for both of you. All of our experts agreed that outdoor dates are the way to go. Think walking, hiking, riding bikes or enjoying a coffee or picnic outside (you can each pack your own food and utensils) — all while avoiding close contact. Bring a facial covering with you for when you cannot maintain a safe social distance.
“You are at the highest risk of exposure and infection when you are in a closed environment indoors, in close contact and without a face mask,” Sorrell said.
Skip indoor restaurants and bars or any gathering or party where you’ll be around other people, Kuppalli recommended.
“If you do go on a date, avoid physical contact as much as possible and take precautions such as wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands often before, during and after the date and keep at least 6 feet apart from the date,” Patel said.
“If someone said they weren’t taking precautionary measures to protect the lives of other people, or that it wasn’t necessary, I’d bid them farewell real fast.”
After the date, if either of you starts exhibiting symptoms, it’s important that you let the other know ASAP. That way you can quarantine yourself, inform other people you’ve been interacting with and get tested.
“This is why it is important to have honest conversations with anyone you consider spending time with,” Sorrell said. “There also has to be trust that the person you are dating will tell you if they feel ill. If you start showing symptoms you need to call your doctor, get tested and tell your social circle so that they can get tested and/or home isolate. You would need to do this for anyone you’ve interacted with and then they would need to for their circles as well.”
Risky Business: Love And Sex In A Germaphobic World is a HuffPost series exploring the way that coronavirus is changing the way we date, have sex and enjoy intimacy.
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Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.