‘Hey, Are You Vaccinated?’ Navigating Social and Romantic Relationships During COVID

Vanity Fair

Ashley Hopkins, Staff Writer |

As if COVID-19 hasn’t already infiltrated our lives enough, it’s also hurting our relationships. Maintaining social distance isn’t always possible, nor is it romantic. So, how do we navigate through our relationships during COVID-19?

Dr. Greg Hummel, a Communications professor, had some ideas and advice for those who may need a little help. He says that one of the reasons why we may feel a little lost is because we don’t have a “script” to interact with each other during a global pandemic. Most of us have never had to– or thought we would ever– live through a global pandemic. Hummel reassures us not to worry, and that everyone is in the same boat.

Hummel stresses the importance of two factors: open and honest communication, and consent. Starting off with the first point, Hummel acknowledges that sometimes having open and honest communication can be awkward, especially if you’re just getting to know someone. Hummel also pointed out that as a culture, we aren’t taught that awkward conversations are okay to have. We tend to beat around the bush when it comes to difficult or awkward topics, which are inevitable with today’s circumstances. Ultimately, the most important thing is to trust your gut and say what you want to say and ask what you want to ask. If not, this will only lead to you having lingering questions and unresolved feelings.

Consent is always an important factor, but even more important during the pandemic. Some are still wary of touch and want to maintain social distance, so it’s important to address these concerns before meeting in person. Hummel had a great line to break the ice when it comes to asking someone if they’re open to hugs, handshakes, or other touches. “Are you doing hugs today?” is a great way to break the ice when you’re unsure about the level of touch someone is comfortable with. It creates a funny interaction but makes it less awkward than straight-up asking for consent. This also allows for people to say yes or no to what you’re asking, thus making them feel more comfortable. If you’re on the receiving side of the question and are not open to hugs or handshakes, you can say, “I’m sorry, I’m not open to touch today.” This is a nice way of saying “no” to touch without coming off too strong.

Some other things you can say are, “Where are you at with masks?” If the other person is considerate, they will likely ask you the same question. If that’s still a little awkward for you, Hummel says that you can just show up with a mask, or meet at a place that may still require mask-wearing, so you can instead “blame it” on the facility’s policies. At the end of the day, always do what you need to do to feel safe. If the vibes are off and you’re not comfortable, it’s okay to remove yourself from that situation. Most importantly, own your voice! Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself and what makes you most comfortable.

Hummel wants to make it clear that you have every right to ask someone if they are vaccinated. However, that person also has every right not to answer. Hummel says that if talking about your concerns or what level of touch you are comfortable with “turns off” that person, then they may not be worth pursuing. Additionally, if you get COVID after meeting with someone, the right thing to do is to tell that person– no matter how awkward that may be. The right person is someone who will respect your boundaries and do everything they can to make you feel most comfortable.

Now, let’s get to the fun stuff. What are some fun things you can do dating during COVID? If you are someone that is still into socially distancing, dates where you don’t have to be so close (such as rollerblading, picnic dates, pumpkin/apple-picking dates, hiking, etc.) are great options. Utilizing video chatting apps like Zoom can also be a great way to have a fun, low-risk date. Have a dinner date through Zoom! You and the other person can cook the same meal or order from the same place, and have a dinner date like you normally would in real life. During these Zoom dates, you can play games that you may have played during your childhood like Mad Libs that are silly and fun.

When it comes to sexual intimacy, phone sex or video sex can be great options. If you are hooking up in real life and need ideas for safe sex, look into the CDC’s guidelines for safe sex during COVID. The “Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stock List” is a list that compiles a bunch of questions you and your date can ask each other to get to know one another’s sexual preferences– again, having those open and honest conversations.

While dating during COVID can be uncharted territory, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t, and that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. As long as you and the person you’re getting involved with are taking the necessary precautions and doing everything possible to make one another comfortable, you and your partner are on the right track!

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