We met for brunch in Greektown just before it became apparent to me that COVID-19 was going to change everything. I was still living in a wash-your-hands-bump-elbows-don’t-stand-so-close-to-me world. I chose Greektown because of its short distance from Union Station, where he’d be transitioning through that day, stopping along a pre-planned journey from Houston to Chicago by plane, then Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin, by shuttle. I met him on Bumble sort of by accident. I wasn’t accidentally on Bumble, of course, but it was an accident that I’d liked someone living so far away. I was sure my distance settings were firmly planted for matches within a 10-mile radius of Chicago, but I’d been in Madison a couple of weeks before and swiped right before learning that 10 miles means from wherever I am at any time. Since he was cute AND liberal, I decided I’d give it a shot anyway.
As I entered the restaurant, I got a look at him from the side before he saw me and he actually looked like his cute pictures – score! One more date with someone 10 years older or two inches shorter than they said they were, and I was giving up. He stood as I came around the side of the table, and we awkwardly bumped elbows. I had considered canceling the meeting as things started escalating that week, but I figured we’d keep a safe distance, so why over-react?
Then we ordered and I discovered HE’S VEGAN! Cute, liberal and vegan – he was hitting all my YES buttons. Slow to warm up, he was a bit awkward for the first hour. Not socially inept, just shy. I am not shy, so I took the lead with some clever stories and pointed questions that led him to tell his stories, too. We stayed and talked until it was beyond the appropriate time to take up a table in a restaurant for brunch (not that there was anyone waiting), so we went for a walk. He stood, significantly taller than my 5’10” in 2-inch wedges, and we headed out into the crisp, breezy air on what was turning out to be a beautiful, sunny day. We walked through Greektown down Randolph and through the West Loop, where we stopped and peeked into the windows at City Winery, admiring the enormous steel vats of wine and talking about live music. As we continued through the Near West Community Area and into Union Park, I told stories about the two places I worked bordering Union Park, pointed out the buildings going condo, and gave my assessment of gentrification in the area – a good chance to see if he was on board with my social justice activist view of the world. I teased him that if he gave me COVID-19, I was giving up dating forever. I would not have joked so lightly about the virus if I’d have had any idea that things were going to get so bad. The teasing seemed to make him comfortable and he shared some of his own political views, giving me some insight into his passion for his job as a public defender. A long, lingering coffee in Starbucks was a perfect ending for our date (I know, we should have gone to a local coffee shop, and we did look up which one’s were closest, but Starbucks was right there!) After close to six hours, I gave him a ride back to where he’d left his luggage. His cute, flirty smile, tilt of the head, and elbow-bump as he got out of the car left me with the tingles. Dreamily, I turned on the radio.
That’s when I learned that Governor Pritzker had just ordered all restaurants in the state to close. Only then did I realize how serious this was – and wonder if I’d been much too risky to spend the afternoon in a restaurant with someone new, someone who’d just gotten off a plane! That night I woke burning up, soaked in sweat, my face flushed. Just a hot flash, I thought, since I am a woman of a certain age, but can a hot flash last for two hours? As I lay there staring into the dark wiping the sweat off my forehead and cheeks in a cycle that rapidly turned to cold shivers and back to the heat again, I got scared. Not only had I exposed myself, but I’d headed directly from this date to see my ex and her wife, who is immune-compromised, where I’d hugged close my two teenagers and drank a glass of seltzer while we set our family’s social distancing rules. Then I headed to a friend’s house to pick up some gluten-free carrot cake she had for me (yum!) and stayed there for a couple of hours. Horror washed over me with the cycles of hot and cold and I worried about the people I loved who I’d just exposed to COVID-19.
As it turned out, I was fine in the morning — menopause had just picked a very unfortunate time to ramp-up its attack. In relief, I swore allegiance to strict social distancing.
Now we are in a new world, ordered to shelter in place, work from home, and engage with others only through virtual interactions. It felt like the whole world changed while I was enjoying that date. And while dating is certainly not the biggest issue right now, I do ponder how to date in a virtual world. So far, it’s been nice getting to know my new friend, with some texting, a virtual happy hour through WhatsApp, and a long, rambling conversation by phone. I do like to get to know someone slowly, so this seems like a good opportunity to do just that. R-E-A-L-L-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y.
Then I ponder sex. Months of quarantine means months of NO SEX, which is a much scarier prospect than running out of toilet paper. A friend suggested sexting or cyber-sex, something I’ve never had any interest in. A picture of myself in lingerie, OK, but I have NO interest in dick-pics or naked pictures of myself floating about the cyberworld. The thought of sheltering in place expanding from weeks into months, however, made me curious, so I decided to do a little research. I wrote to Jera Brown at Just the Tip – because who knows where all of this is going.
For now, I’m happy to continue dating on WhatsApp, wearing a sexy top paired with old flannel pajama bottoms. As we head into uncharted territory, however, it doesn’t hurt to have some options.