“I wasn’t gonna kiss this guy on a first date during COVID,” my friend Abby firmly stated while describing a recent evening out.

I’m so far removed from the dating scene, and it’s fun to live vicariously through the adventures and thrills of my single friends. I was grilling her on COVID-19 dating protocol. She described how, despite dining face to face outdoors, it was a contactless experience, in that there was no touching, not even an elbow tap.

“I was incredibly fearful about dating during COVID and how hard it was going to be to meet people,” Abby said, but “there’s been a ton of guys” available.

To be clear, these are not chance encounters. Abby, 50, uses online dating platform Bumble to facilitate her connections. The app allows the woman to make the first move.

In this case, first contact is made on the site’s online messaging platform. From there, you can swap numbers, email or make plans to meet. After a few days of interaction, Abby and her match went from text to table with no preliminary calls or video chats.

What about COIVD-19 concerns?

“It’s really all about trust and intelligence,” Abby said.

In addition to sharing your comfort levels with a date, there are online filters to indicate your COVID-19 dating preferences, such as “virtual,” “socially distanced with mask” or without.

I didn’t know if I was more impressed that there was a profile indicator of COVID-19 safety preferences or that there were tons of guys available in a city not known for a robust dating scene.

I spoke with professional matchmaking maven Julie Ferman, who also believes the dating dearth in Santa Fe is a myth.

Upon moving here from Los Angeles, she set up a social media page for Santa Fe Matchmaking, and her dating service was flooded with interest. Her platform now hosts 650 New Mexicans to add to her roster of 33,000-plus singles she’s assisted over her decadeslong career.

The pandemic may have made dating trickier, but it has not been a deterrent.

Dating websites and Ferman’s own agency have seen a dramatic spike in usage since March. “Positive people are engaged,” Ferman said, “and are inspired to register.”

With many singles spending time in pseudo-quarantine, people are countering feelings of isolation by safely getting to know potential partners from home.

“It’s old-world courtship,” Ferman said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of her clients are meeting over the telephone followed by a video call before meeting in person. Clients might share a recipe and dine together over Zoom, for example.

The connection is built solely through conversation. “You’re not caught up in the physical energy, and the relationship progresses at a slower pace,” allowing a couple to truly get to know one another, Abby said.

Ferman said the good news for singles in Santa Fe is that her clients “are twice as likely to begin a relationship here than in a big city like L.A.” Since the pool is smaller, interested parties consider and pay more attention to every candidate. During the pandemic, she added, it’s an “act of generosity to extend an invitation.”

We are living in a time of great intention and careful decision-making.

A client might be willing to overlook a particular trait that is not high on their list of preferences. “Do you want to dismiss someone based on height and hair?” Ferman asked. She added, “What is society telling you to look for” versus what you are truly looking for?

When filling out your profile, think about criteria that are most important to you. Ask yourself, “Are certain traits a preference or a requirement?”

Abby is adamant that political affiliation, a hot-button topic, be aligned, thus narrowing the list of candidates. Even Bumble offers a filter for those who vote and those who don’t.

However, Ferman advised, “Look for your complement, not your clone.”

While Ferman’s clients, who tend to be in the 40-to-70 age range, may build a rapport remotely, they will eventually meet after careful preparation. Locations could include a picnic, a walk in a dog park or a socially distanced dinner on a portal.

When you do meet in person, wear a face mask upon arrival, which can be used as a flirty prop, Ferman said. Order one that reflects your personality, such as a sports team logo or favorite color. Use it as an ice breaker and remove it simultaneously when socially distancing or cleared for closer contact.

Speaking of the latter, the women’s liberation and #MeToo movements have influenced how intimacy, physical contact and chivalry are introduced. But amid a pandemic, there is a whole new set of rules on intimacy.

There are a number of precautionary and unromantic steps to be considered before a first hand holding, kiss or safe sex.

“I’m using corona as an excuse to give me time to determine if he’s worth risking my life for,” Abby said, only half sarcastically.

Ferman said there also is “a requirement that we communicate and have a grown-up conversation about sex.” This may entail both people getting tested for the novel coronavirus and practicing a COVID-conscientious and responsible lifestyle before becoming what Ferman calls “quarantine buddies.”

When putting yourself out there, online dating platforms and matchmakers both offer plentiful options. While the latter offers more vetting and personalized guidance, Ferman said you can develop your own singles network to meet new people.

u Create your own social mixers based on a hobby or activity such as hiking or charades (or an online group).

u Invite single friends and ask them to invite singles.

u Print up calling cards with your first name only and contact information. Include a photo or quote that reveals your personality. It’s a safe way to share your information.

u If someone catches your interest, share your card and invite them to join. If they’re not single, they might know someone.

Whether you seek the support of a dating service or are your own social navigator, be creative and courageous, Ferman advises.

While it may appear more complicated, dating in 2020 will come down to one thing: communication. May the words roll off your tongue.

Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Share your comments and conundrums at hello@etiquettesantafe.com or 505-988-2070.

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