The Precarious Rise of Six-Feet-Apart Walking Dates

While video chatting can feel like way too little, and going to someone’s apartment can feel like way too much, going for a distanced stroll, though risky, has the potential to feel just right — and a little hot

When Lindsay, a 44-year-old in Brooklyn, met Brian on Hinge, they were both nearly two weeks into a seemingly indefinite quarantine. They Skyped for hours, gave each other tours of their apartments and went through their record collections together. Then he told her he was going for a bike ride. 

“If you want, you can bike by my apartment, and I’ll wave at you,” she messaged, never thinking he would. 

“What’s your address?” he responded. 

When he arrived an hour later, she went downstairs to say hello — from six feet away. They decided they may as well go for a walk around the block, right as thousands of New Yorkers were breaking into applause in their windows to support health-care workers and first responders. “That clapping was surreal,” Lindsay tells me. “For a second I was like, is this for us? We laughed and clapped too.”

The moment was unique, but the walking date itself is not. In fact, it’s one of many things a growing number of single people are trying in order to adapt to a new normal. Instead of indulging an onslaught of ex texts or abandoning a connection entirely, dating apps have seen a spike in active users since early March. And these daters are getting creative with Zoom, FaceTime, drones and bubble dates, finding the search for emotional intimacy over physical contact pretty romantic in the process. 

Lindsay admits she normally would’ve just gotten drunk at a dive bar and “fucked out of boredom,” but the pandemic forced more of an old-fashioned approach. People are more open, vulnerable and emotionally available than ever before, and though no one is happy about the state of the world, the novel coronavirus has made dating novel again, too. Because while video chatting can feel like way too little, and going to someone’s apartment can feel like way too much, going for a distanced stroll — though risky — has the potential to feel just right (and a little hot).

That said, not everyone on the apps are respectful of the strict physical boundaries these social-distancing times require. Taylor, a 33-year-old teacher in Washington D.C., learned this after not one, but two separate walking dates with men she met on Tinder. The dates were fun enough — until they both ruined it by going in for a goodbye hug. “I didn’t want to, but they kinda came in for it and it just happened,” she tells me. “They seemed disappointed when I didn’t want to meet up again because of social distancing, but they were open to video chatting until things settled down.”

When Branden, a 26-year-old in Utah, matched with a fellow introvert on Facebook’s dating feature, he bent the rules on their walking date. “We hugged at the end, and I wasn’t concerned,” he says, adding that they’d both been self-isolating for over a week without symptoms prior to meeting up. “It went really well, and she stayed over here during the weekend. I’m making her dinner tomorrow night.”

Julia Edelman, a 26-year-old in L.A., was more guarded when a guy she’d been texting asked her on a walk after the concert they were supposed to attend was canceled. Edelman, the author of Love Voltaire Us Apart: A Philosopher’s Guide to Relationships, thought it would be borderline irresponsible. “It felt like too big of a step in our relationship and also physically dangerous,” she tells me.

As a compromise, they went on separate walks while talking on the phone instead. She walked through Pan-Pacific Park in her neighborhood, he walked around Elysian Park near his and they spoke for a good hour. In particular, they talked about the virus and how it was affecting them, and it got very intense, very fast, which is how she likes a first date anyways. But although they have a second phone-walking date lined up, she doesn’t expect much from him, or men in general — at least until the CDC allows people to touch again. “I’m coming to terms with the fact that I may never get laid again, and that’s okay. Totally fine,” Edelman says. “I tried sexting just to keep my brain sharp, but it turns out I’m pretty bad at it so I gave up.” 

The exceptions to the rule, Lindsay and Brian, were able to maintain their distance on their walking date, aside from bumping elbows at the end to say goodbye. She attributes this more to spontaneity than self-control. “I don’t know why I trusted him to keep his distance,” Lindsay says. “But I didn’t have time to overthink it. I just went with it.”

They made plans for a second date, this time at her apartment to watch a movie, which she’s not sure is allowed. They both live alone, haven’t interacted with anyone else and don’t feel sick, but they acknowledge the possibility of being asymptomatic carriers. According to New York City Health Department guidelines for sex during the pandemic, Lindsay’s safest sex partner is herself, and her second safest partner is someone she lives with. Yet there’s nothing that prohibits them from watching a movie on the opposite ends of the couch. (Anything more than that, though, and he’s going to have to sign a lease.) 

Besides, without confirmation of physical touch or affection, she speculates that it’s possible he wasn’t into her and could cancel. “Honestly even if I never see him again, this was a pretty cool thing,” she says. “But I hope I see him again.”

In the end, that’s the problem with walking dates in a pandemic: Best-case scenario, there’s nowhere to go besides around and around in circles. Until, that is, someone breaks the rules. 

The MEL Guide to Life in Quarantine