by: Lara Limbaugh
At the beginning of 2020, I had all the hopes in the world (as did most of us). I remember a tweet going around at the end of 2019 detailing the exact holidays for 2020 and how they all aligned perfectly with weekends. 2020 seemed so promising just as every New Year does. My friends and I--along with thousands of Girls Gotta Eat listeners--were dreaming of the “Whoring” Twenties, a continuation of our self discovery that was the year 2019 (aka: Twenty Hoe-Teen). A romanticized vision of loving ‘em and leaving ‘em and putting ourselves first was just on the horizon. Nights and weekends spent at bars and on Hinge dates and rehashing all the dirty details hungover at brunch the next day. However, our resolutions to be our best nearly 30, flirty, and thriving selves were quickly dashed (like most hopes in 2020).
So, if you’ve been asleep most of 2020, let me fill you in. You’ve joined us just in time for a fucking pandemic, a human rights movement, a fascist take-over, an economic and environmental crisis, and, if you’re anything like me, a quarter-life crisis. Oh, yeah, quarter-life crises are real but that’s for another blog. Even though life as we knew it has halted; our hopes, desires, and dreams haven’t. We still want things for ourselves. It’s the sublime tragedy of human nature--perpetually optimistic about our own existence and mortality.
I spent the first 72 days of quarantine in complete solitude--partially in an agoraphobic paranoia and partially due to being abandoned by a roommate who was deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Somewhere around 27 days into that time period, I hit my absolute rock bottom. I had isolated myself so deeply that I started to believe the lies my depression was telling me. As much as I have prided myself in being self sufficient and headstrong, there came a point where I longed for company. A younger version of myself would have seen this as a weakness, but today I see it only as human.
I’ve been single most of my life. I’m comfortable being alone. It’s familiar and the risk of being hurt is nearly zero. For the past 12 months, I’ve been doing talk therapy to heal my wounds and 27 days into being completely alone in quarantine, I nearly gave up on all my hard work. It was at this point, I realized talk therapy would no longer be enough and I made the decision to medicate my depression. This was a huge step for me. Medicine is a touchy subject, since I’ve seen first hand how brutal the battle to find the right combination of drugs can be. Lucky for me, it's been an easy adjustment. You might be thinking, how is this relevant at all to dating during a pandemic? And, to be quite honest, it’s not but it is relevant when discussing dating. You have to be brave enough to fix yourself before you can ever really enter into a healthy partnership. Some part of me has always known that, I think, which is why I've never dated seriously. I knew my self worth would be wrapped up in what this other person thought of me. Also, a huge part of my depression is that it expresses as exhaustion. I simply did not have the energy to date people before. Dating is hard, y’all. You know that. However, since being medicated, the paranoia has been managed, my energy is up, and ironically I’ve never felt better. It feels fucked up to say that but my brain is just doing great right now.
Since starting to feel good, you know, mentally, I began to toy with the idea of dating again. I felt good about myself. I had overcome so much over the past few months. My roommate ditched me, I suffered a pay cut (but hey I still have my job), I found a new amazing spot to live in my dream neighborhood in LA, moved myself by myself, and had an emergency fund for the first time. She was feeling good! I re-downloaded the apps and settled in. I hit it off with a couple of dudes, just mostly bantering back and forth. I had just been asked to go on a socially distanced walking date when the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests happened. Needless to say, my free time and energy was quickly taken up by this movement. I was protesting, researching, educating myself, having hard conversations with my family about race, and my life was quickly thrown into another tailspinning obsession. The urgency of the BLM movement took over any momentum that my dating life had gained.
This was until early August. I had spent the day thrifting furniture for my new balcony and had created a beautiful outdoor oasis. That evening, I took myself on a little date so to speak. I set the mood by having candles burning, a record playing and a book of poetry in my hand. I also had a pen and paper in case I got inspired to write a verse or two myself. As it turned out, I did get inspired:
I then found myself gazing up at the full moon and wondering about love and life. Then, my mind wandered to the last actual date I had been on (a mediocre bumble date with a tv writer in November) and then it wandered to the last kiss I had (a sloppy smooch with a balding Australian on a Silver Lake dance floor in late February). Suddenly, this all seemed very unacceptable to my wine influenced mind. It’d been MONTHS since any actual romantic encounters and neither of them were anything to write home about. Y’all all know what comes next, I whipped out my phone and started swiping on Hinge.
Pre-Covid, I was not much of a dating app user or messenger for that matter. I prefered to exchange a couple of messages and if we vibed there we’d meet up for a drink. In lieu of our new #pandemiclyf3, I had all but abandoned this idea of online dating. However, I matched with this musician ("Alexa, play Boys in Bands by Silver Sphere"). We bantered most of the evening. I had written off the exchange the next morning as a mutual loneliness that evaporated with morning dew; when the unthinkable happened--he asked me to meet up for coffee that day.
I was absolutely taken aback and flooded with so many conflicting thoughts and emotions. “Do I go,” being one of the first. Going on a date with an internet (and I can’t emphasize this enough) stranger seemed so frivolous. Like, I'm going to risk my health, the health of my roommates and coworkers, for what? For coffee with a stranger because I was feeling??? lonely? Unthinkable, weak even, I was stronger than this urge… wasn’t I? So, like any conflicted young woman in her mid-twenties I called Mommott (AKA my grandma) and she actually convinced me to go as funny as that sounds. Yes. My 80 year old grandma, who can’t even fathom what a dating app is, convinced me to go on a date with an internet stranger. But you know what, I’m glad I did.
Dating in quarantine is… different, but not impossible. In fact, I honestly think it makes people communicate more efficiently about their boundaries, on a level that most couples don’t communicate on until much later into the relationship. You are immediately forced to be direct and open about your safety boundaries when dating during a global pandemic. Go figure. For me, it was a must to wear masks and be outdoors. So, that’s what we did. We went to get coffee and sat in Glassell Park while we discussed music, life, and other first date topics while his German Shepard ran around us in the middle of an LA Heatwave.
The date was fine. I hoped for a second date but wasn’t really sure if it was out of boredom or interest. To be completely honest, I left the ball 100% in his court and to my surprise, he shot his shot. He pursued me. Our second date was takeout on my back porch. We played cards and talked until it was too late. Soon, 2 dates turned into 5 and we had yet to kiss. I think we were both hesitant. What is the protocol for kissing in 2020?! Do we get tested, and then kiss? Or just trust the other person? It's truly going out on a limb. You’re fully trusting this person with your health. A first kiss in 2020 is loaded and each person will have to decide what that looks like for them and then communicate that clearly.
For me, personally, this open and honest communication has been something I have struggled with in my past. Hence, my love ‘em and leave ‘em lifestyle. If you keep someone at arm's length or keep an emotional distance, you don’t have to have these conversations. You can simply leave. 2019 was the year of the fuck boi. 2020 has ushered in a new era. We can no longer get away with ghosting or the path of least resistance. Lives are literally on the line here.
It’s obvious to say that 2020 has been a year of grief and pain. We’ve collectively lost so much. We’ve lost so many opportunities, memories, experiences, and the list goes on. All the while, I have gained so much. I salvaged previously written off friendships, experienced personal growth, had hard conversations with my family, and proved to myself that I am resilient, strong, and capable of changing for the better. It’s hard to describe that feeling of personal success right now. It's the kind of sensation that everything is crashing down around you in a whirl. You’re just looking up at a spot of light, cupping your happiness to your chest and holding on for dear life, because you know the storm will settle soon.
Don’t let this pandemic steal your opportunity to find happiness with another person. Go forth and date. Just be smart and communicate your safety boundaries. Your health and safety should be your priority right now, of course, but your happiness has to be one too.
Lara Limbaugh is a fashion nerd and rule breaker (for the most part). As of late, she has been navigating a quarter-life crisis whilst trying to acclimate to the new normal in LA. She spends much of her time listening to podcasts, reading, and having nightly conversations with her Mommott. You can follow her eternal search for love, life, and happiness on Instagram (@laralimbaugh) and Twitter (@lara_michelle)
art by Jena McCollum (Lara's talented cousin!!!)