Attempting to date in quarantine is like being trapped in the worst version of the Boy and Girl Texting meme — with no escape. The meme, which surfaced before the pandemic but has really taken off during it, highlights the horny circle of hell known as “the talking stage,” that awkward period where two singles are just getting to know each other, but there’s an established mutual romantic interest.
Psychologist Donna Novak describes it as “a big first step that opens the door to getting to know one another and ultimately seeing if you’re a good fit.” “It’s an opportunity to let down walls and allow for vulnerability, to see if you have things in common, and connect on a deeper level,” she explains.
Vetting someone for a potential relationship may seem casual, light and even fun, but it provokes a surprising amount of anxiety. “During the talking stage, all your hormones and neurotransmitters go haywire, so you get that nervous butterflies feeling that makes some people feel like throwing up,” explains Chelsea Reynolds, assistant professor of communications at California State University, Fullerton.
As such, many single people hate the talking stage. The bad news for them is that quarantine has only drawn it out longer. Pre-pandemic, the talking stage could last anywhere from a few weeks to three months, or about the time when people typically decide to commit or go their separate ways. But in lockdown, the talking stage can last well beyond that, mostly because it can take that long — if not longer — to get comfortable with the idea of meeting in person. “Theoretically, if you’re online-only dating during lockdown, you could trick your body into feeling that anxiety high for a longer period,” Reynolds says.
Unfortunately, the more single people push back against the talking stage, the more they risk self-sabotaging relationships before they start. Specifically, single individuals who “use the talking stage as a petri dish for the rest of their relationship may act ‘extra’ during the talking stage in order to weed people out,” Reynolds explains. “The philosophy ‘If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best’ applies here.”
It can be especially easy to act out over simple miscommunications in quarantine, when there’s an assumption that everyone is available for constant communication. Or if there are gaps in talking, it’s seen as a sign that something is wrong. “To avoid feeling anxious and acting out, it’s important to establish boundaries when talking with someone,” Novak says. For instance, if texting all day is too much, a person may want to establish that they aren’t available to text during work hours. For the person being told to pump the breaks and text less during the talking stage, Novak suggests focusing that energy on improving self-talk. Since most of the defensiveness early on in dating tends to be about how we feel about ourselves, working on that first will help insecure individuals “be confident and wait it out.”
Novak and Reynolds agree that single people shouldn’t be discouraged, but they should accept that it’s much more difficult to start a new relationship under the current circumstances. That’s what makes the Boy and Girl Texting Meme resonate so much. “I like self-deprecating memes because they turn our weird neuroses into something lighthearted,” Reynolds says. “People are feeling so needy, lonely and desirous of connection, so it can be super frustrating to have a missed connection while online dating. The ‘boy and girl texting’ meme allows us to express that frustration and bond over it with strangers.”