Love in the time of coronavirus
Dating, breaking up and being single in a pandemic

Love in the time of coronavirus

Jacques Gonsoulin, 27, of Denver, roller skates through an empty Denver street. Since coronavirus hit, Gonsoulin, a gender-fluid queer person with a compromised immune system, said dating has changed significantly, ./ Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Claire Cleveland/CPR News - 05/20/2020
It’s been 55 days since Colorado went under the stay-at-home order. It’s since been relaxed to safer-at-home, but that hasn’t made looking for love any easier. For people across the state, navigating love in the age of Tinder and Bumble was already difficult. Add in a pandemic that means there’s no opportunity to meet a potential partner at a bar or restaurant, and things get really hard.
 
And if two people do find a spark, they have to decide if it’s worth meeting in-person or if they keep it to video chats – and for how long.
 
A matchmaking company with offices in Denver called It’s Just Lunch centers on the philosophy that in-person connections are necessary to form good relationships. During COVID-19, matchmaker Hope Rike has been setting her clients up on virtual dates instead, and she’s found that it’s working well.
“Clients are getting to know that other person so much better because they don’t yet have that physical aspect complicating things or maybe rushing things,” Rike said. “When things slow down, it can allow more time for self-reflection. And not only self-reflection but relationship reflection – like, what is really important to me in a partner.”
 
After the video dates, Rike’s couples can choose to meet in person. She recommends they wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and go on dates in the outdoors. But how long is a couple supposed to maintain that distance?
 
State and federal public health agencies haven’t created a manual on what’s OK and not OK when it comes to risk management during the pandemic or even guidelines on when and how to meet up with others. 
 
Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard who wrote about quarantine fatigue for The Atlantic, argued that people need a guide on how to have a life in a pandemic. Without allowing individuals to assess their risk with the appropriate information, they’re left to make decisions on their own.
While the message is that it’s safer to stay away from others, especially those who you don’t usually interact with, it doesn’t mean that the need for human connection has gone away.
 
“Love is not canceled,” Rike said. “I write that in my planner every day. I put that up on my wall. We have to remember that more than ever we need love and more than ever, people want love and want to have that connection.” 
 
Here are six Coloradoans who are navigating love, break-ups, self-improvement and dating during the pandemic.
 
Meryn Holt, left, and Suzannah Yoesting in Denver on May 15./ Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
 
Suzannah Yoesting, 33, and Meryn Holt, 35, Denver
Three weeks ago, Suzannah Yoesting found herself with some time on her hands. Bored and lonely, she started swiping through Tinder when she matched with Meryn Holt. Almost immediately, Holt messaged her. They hit it off, and five days later, they were sitting on separate blankets across from one another in a Denver park in their masks. They talked for hours. 
 
“Then I walked her back to her car and I was like, ‘I don’t know how she would take it if I tried to like give her a hug or tried to kiss her,’” Holt said. “And so it’s like, ‘OK, bye!’ It was weird. I literally sat in my car and didn’t even pull away, and I was texting her. I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this again. Except not distanced.’” 
 
The next day was Holt’s birthday. They knew from the week of texting beforehand there was some physical attraction. The date only solidified it. They had a tough decision about how to see each other again. They wanted to be responsible, but they also really liked each other.
 
“I was like, well, you know, I think we need to have the discussion of do we have the COVID distancing mentality?” Holt said.
 
They chose to ditch the mentality. Before they did, they weighed their options and considered who they would be around and whether it was safe or not. They’ve been together nearly every day since, and it’s pretty obvious that their relationship was meant to be.
 
“She’s like, ‘If this makes you happy, I’m gonna do it,’ kind of attitude,” Yoesting said. “That makes me happier. It makes me want to be more lighthearted and not let the normal things that would upset me get in the way. And then the adventurous spirit that she has – that just really has drawn me to her.” 
 
Jacques Gonsoulin, 27, Denver
“In general, dating has obviously changed significantly,” Jacques Gonsoulin, a gender-fluid, queer person who lives in Denver said. “For me, it’s a total negotiative state where I’m like, should I take that risk? Should I risk my life as an immunocompromised person so that I can feel intimacy or love?” they said.
 
Gonsoulin has some gastrointestinal disorders that affect their immune system, and they’re awaiting the results of tests for autoimmune disorders they suspect they were exposed to through past partners. The pandemic has only complicated medical access and treatment options. 
 
It’s not that they don’t want to date – before the pandemic they were talking to a few prospective partners and had been regularly going out.
 
Since the stay-at-home orders, they’ve relied exclusively on video calls to date and connect with others. It’s still a level of connection that’s nice, but they’ve wondered what the pay-off will be.
 
“What am I planning for? What relationship am I setting myself up for when there is a crumbling society afoot?” they said. “I would rather choose to be lonely and ostracize myself. I think I need to keep myself safe because I would rather be alive and have the prospect of dating someone afterwards, than even risk it.”
 
Kathrine Warren
Kathrine Warren, 33, Telluride 
In Telluride, the offerings on dating apps can seem a bit slim to those who live there.
Kathrine Warren (in full disclosure, a Durango native and former Telegraph intern) said she gets on the apps, scrolls through, and sees the same people every time and then gets off. Telluride draws a lot of tourists, but this year, none of that is happening because of COVID-19. She and her friends joke about importing a boyfriend. 
“During the festivals, people come here just like I did when I was a kid and they’re like ‘this place is amazing,’” she said. “So our joke was like, just find a good guy who can telecommute, and show him how amazing Telluride is.”
On a more serious note, she’s interested in finding someone to settle down with. She thinks about her mom, who had two kids at the age Warren is now. She said staying at home during the pandemic has made her think hard about what she wants in a relationship. 
“It’s a topic that’s been weighing heavy on me,” she said. “(COVID) is a roadblock, and who knows how big of a roadblock or how long. And it’s like, cool, well maybe when I’m 35 we’ll have a vaccine, and I can meet someone who’s into live music and bluegrass like I had originally thought.” 
After she was interviewed for this story, Warren met someone on Bumble. They talked on the phone and hit it off. He lives in Durango, but he’s planning to visit Warren for a socially distanced walk this week. 
 
Angelique Chappelle, 45, Westminster 
Angelique Chappelle, 45, Westminster 
 
Just before the stay-at-home order, Angelique Chappelle serendipitously met a man in a parking lot. She commented on his Bears hoodie and they started talking about football. He asked her for her number, and they talked a few times.
 
And then, COVID-19 hit.
“I’m probably less inclined right now to meet anyone face-to-face. I’m definitely open to cyber dates, but I’m 45, you know, in full-blown Gen X. We’re just a little bit different,” Chappelle said. “Like, we’re just not as into all the types of stuff – the virtual dating and all that.” 
 
She prefers face-to-face interaction and connection. The man she met in the parking lot is a paramedic, so it doesn’t make sense for her to meet him in person and risk their health.
 
Instead, she’s decided to focus on herself during the pandemic. In the beginning, she was anxious about getting sick but also went through a cycle of thinking about how and why she wasn’t in a relationship. It was hard, but she came out knowing she’s still a catch, despite her single status, and that the pandemic is a good time to work on herself. 
 
“I’m reading and I’m writing, and I’m doing little things and then I’m starting to practice yoga,” she said. “It’s made me feel like I’m in a good place now. But it was a cycle, like I went through different phases during that time.”
 
Will Thompson
Will Thompson, 27, Denver 
 
Dating, sadly, sometimes involves breaking up. Will Thompson started seeing someone before the pandemic, and when it hit, they made the decision to not see each other in person anymore.
 
They’re both essential workers, and his work requires he go into grocery stores and interface with the public. After a few weeks of not-so-great communication, things broke down. Thompson was dumped over text. 
 
“I feel like we have a responsibility to stay separated as people and adhere to the rules,” he said. “But like, I would love to hang out with her with a mask on or something like that.” 
 
However, she was ready to be done. Thompson downloaded some dating apps and promptly deleted them – like Chappelle, he prefers in-person connection. He decided to take the post-break-up advice he often gives his friends: focus on you. 
 
“Instead of being alone and lonely … be comfortable with being alone, which I think is really important,” Thompson said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading, exercising and getting out of the house for bike rides and mask-on activities.”
To read more from Colorado Public Radio, go to www.cpr.org.