Dating & Relationships in The Time of COVID with Dr. Stephanie Lesk

Dr. Stephanie Lesk is our go-to when it comes to relationship & dating advice. And we recently noticed an uptick in questions we were receiving in this area (especially when it came to making COVID-related adjustments & adaptations), so we wanted to bring in an expert. Here are your top questions, answered by Dr. Lesk:

How do you suggest dating during COVID, and what specific precautions should definitely be adhered to?

I think it’s fair to ask someone about their lifestyle to get a sense if they are being responsible.  It’s all about minimizing risk, as there’s no way to eliminate it unless you have zero contact with anyone.  That’s not realistic. How about this: Let’s go on dates that are outside and decide not to touch or kiss or fool around and get to know the person. It can really be refreshing to eliminate the physical part and decide if you like the person without clouding the picture. There’s this trend of people wanting someone to want them… even if they don’t like the person.  Just because it’s different does not make it a problem. 

How to make Facetime dates less cringe…?

For this, let’s focus on what we can control, meaning how we view virtual dates.  It’s a way to decide if you want to meet someone.  Keep it short and sweet instead of going on for hours in the hopes that they ask you out.  Similarly, weeks of endless texting before meeting someone doesn’t mean much really.  If he doesn’t ask you out, he’s not ready, available, or into it.  And that is ok.  Not everyone is going to like or love us, hard as that is to imagine!  Still, our attitudes make things stressful or enjoyable. And if you’re temporarily living elsewhere, and you’ve had a good chat, it’s fine to say ‘I’ll be home next month so maybe we can pick this up then’. We want to avoid heavy texting relationships that make us feeeel like we are dating someone. Whatever the story, stay positive and remember that you’re dating to meet someone and have nice experiences.

How to tell if it’s a real connection vs. COVID boredom/loneliness?

I have a feeling you may know the answer to this deep down.  Sitting with uncertainty in relationships has become this painful experience for people.  Not knowing is part of dating so keep it simple: Do you enjoy your time with this person…do you feel good about yourself when you’re with them…is there positive energy.  Think about what you want or like, rather than exhausting yourself wondering what he/she wants or thinks.  I find that many young woman, and men, too, decide someone is right for them and it must work out for reasons they do not know.  Remember, dating is about learning more about who you are, seeing how you fit, and figuring out what works for you.  You get to choose how your dating years go: Decide that dating is interesting and fun and it will be; decide that it sucks and, well, it will.  Perspective and attitude are everything!

Seeing a lot of guys flaking over text before a date even happens, what gives?

This always happened, we just have more time to notice it now. Not quite sure why they are flaking but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is, you do not need to participate. (Sidebar on texting, a big source of distress: Someone blowing up your phone doesn’t mean he really likes you…and taking hours to return a text doesn’t mean he’s awful or not interested.) What is important here is that someone is making you wonder if they are into it.  Please do not take this as a challenge to get his/her attention. Again, watch that tendency to decide someone is great for no reason.  Move on, stay sweet, and do not let a stranger impact your mood or worth. Ever. Be thankful they showed you this side before the date and not after.

Do you see a lot of people’s relationships escalating quicker because of COVID, and what are your thoughts on this?

I sure do. Many quarantined together for long periods of time way too early on. It starts off nice but steps were skipped, the ones that earn trust, the ones where real care develops.  Relationships take time to develop that supportive core, much like happens in fitness. This reveals itself as life starts to pick up a little bit. For example, when you live with someone you just met, you don’t get the opportunity to learn how they manage the relationship when you aren’t together or how much they prioritize spending time with you, or how they plan/text and so on. Expectation management is everything: We cannot possibly know someone completely after such short, even if intense, time periods. Note: I have yet to see one Covid relationship stick.

What do you think about patterns around seeking out emotionally unavailable people, especially right now?

Perhaps you’re just not ready and maybe you experienced this before Covid as well.  It’s ok to not be ready. Dating to date or to show people you are trying leads to empty dating.  We want to be intentional about it and that starts from within.  If someone is unavailable, believe it.  What seems to happen all too often is that people think this is code for ‘Try harder and they will like me’.  You know, we are told that we can make anything happen if we put in the effort and that applies to many things (grades, fitness, jobs).  But we have to let relationships happen without force.  So if you feel resistance, that sense that you’re going against the flow and stressed, or that there is no consistency or warmth to the situation, well, give yourself permission to look elsewhere. Things either click and fall into a groove or they become underwhelming. 

Should “exclusivity” always be a conversation, aka a DTR (defining the relationship)?

I’m mixed on this.  Some decide to be exclusive after a month, only to have it combust. We cannot cut corners so how about we let relationships unfold naturally until some substantive feelings occur.  If you are doubtful because something is missing or doesn’t feel right, that conversation is different.  Try and keep an eye on whether their actions and words line up.  I hear all the time that he asked me to be exclusive but I’m still disappointed in xyz.  Lesson: We have to see the value of uncertainty that naturally accompanies dating and make sure that what you are experiencing feels good to you. Your only priority every day is to feel good. That’s your responsibility.  And the way to feel good is with positive self-talk, appreciating your life, and acting in a way that is consistent with what you want.

How to best navigate living with your s/o’s family for an extended period during this time?

Hopefully it has been a good experience!  For all couples in this situation, please have date nights, even if it’s a picnic in the backyard.  Careful not to regress while in your childhood home, where laundry and food are magically handled.  This is very generous of course but months of it can affect perspective.  Create healthy space so you remember to adult.  Make sure you cook for them one night, pay for something here and there, and take a weekend away with each other.  People are starting to come back to their lives, different as that may be, so maybe it is time to consider that to reset your equilibrium.

Advice for long distance dating when there’s uncertainty about when you’ll see each other again? 

Distance really highlights the importance of having a strong connection and relationship management skills.  This is an opportunity to get to know your other on a deeper level, without all the physicality that can happen when living blocks away.  You get to learn how they handle the relationship, how much they value staying connected, and what the flow of conversation is like when touch is off the table.  What’s important here is that you have good situational awareness, a hot topic in therapy, and pay attention to what is actually happening instead of what you wish or want to happen.  If you’re hunting someone down and focused on how they aren’t reaching out, time to reassess.  We write these scripts of how situations will go only to get disappointed when things don’t play out as hoped or penned.  So let’s stay open and flexible as best we can.  Who knows, burn the script and all those checklists and you might be pleasantly surprised at what happens…

Parting thoughts…

We are all right where we are supposed to be.  We can view all of these unique challenges of the last few months as opportunities to learn and grow.  You know, most people in my office say, ‘I don’t like change’ or ‘I’m not good with uncertainty’.  Yet change and uncertainty have been part of our lives always and they are better at it than they realize!  We got flat tires, relationships ended, jobs fell through, cable went out, and other sudden things we all had to navigate.  Maybe we decided we had more control than we actually did to make ourselves feel better.  What I know for sure is that we are being asked to be incredibly adaptive and patient so make sure to focus on what you have, rather than what is missing or different.  Maybe we have to just lean into this retro lifestyle for the time being, one of bbqs, walks, and hanging with a few close friends or family.

xx e +d
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