Eight months ago, as the first wave of lockdowns occurred across the United States, millions faced their singlehood in a completely new way. Dating had always been tough, but when entire cities were relegated to their homes and strictly instructed to not socialize for the sake of public health, well, that made it significantly harder to meet The One.
Thankfully, it’s the digital age. Unlike pandemics past, folks are experiencing this once-in-a-generation crisis with the luxuries of smartphones and broadband internet readily available.
And while COVID-19 has certainly made dating more difficult, it hasn’t made it impossible. People are still connecting, matching, and finding ways to “make it work,” even during a time when it seems like nothing is working.
Is there a secret to knowing when it’s worth taking a shot at love, even in the middle of so much uncertainty? Ahead, three happy couples open up to PEOPLE about what it was like to begin dating remotely at the beginning of the pandemic. They reveal how their relationships have — or haven’t — evolved in this timeframe, the advantages and challenges of meeting under unconventional circumstances, and their plans for the future.
Karlee Horton and Seth Cranford: From Instagram DMs to Engaged
Like so many great love stories of the day, it all started on Instagram. Seth Cranford, 24, stumbled upon the profile of Karlee Horton, 20, via some mutual friends, and replied to one of her posts about a school project. After he DMed her, she instantly started following him.
“We actually didn’t find each other on Instagram until April,” says Horton, an administrative assistant and program director in the Sacramento area. “Neither of us were on the dating scene. I had just gotten out of a relationship, and Seth was focusing on saving the last little chunk of money for his house down payment.”
There were instant sparks. After a week of nonstop DMs, he asked for her number and they began texting. For one month, they had exclusively virtual interactions. Cranford, a commercial installer, would text Horton at the same time every day to say hi and check in. They’d text back and forth before going to bed.
“It was definitely out of character for both of us, but we shared so much in common that we didn’t want to give up on it,” Horton recalls. “We’re both into the outdoors so we’d try to flex on each other by sending videos and pictures of our past adventures. We sent a couple selfies before meeting IRL as well.”
But one step they didn’t take in those initial weeks? Making a call — literally.
“Both of us were way too scared to ask the other if they wanted to call, so we waited until we were IRL to hear each other’s voices,” Horton says. “We both aren’t the type to take risks on wasting our time, so it was surprising that we actually stuck it out and kept texting each other.”
However, unsure of how Cranford felt about risking a face-to-face interaction during Covid, Horton avoided any suggestion of meeting up – which he interpreted as a lack of interest from her.
Finally, he went out on a limb and said we should meet up for coffee," Horton said. "I suggested the coffee shop we should meet at, but I was extremely embarrassed when I showed up because the coffee shop closed early due to COVID.”
So, they awkwardly stood in the parking lot, scrolling through their phones to find an alternative option.
“My thumb was shaking so much and there was so much on my mind that I actually wasn’t looking for another coffee shop at all,” Horton recalls. “I was just standing there hoping he would find one.”
He ultimately did find an open coffee shop in downtown Sacramento, and the nerves “finally wore off,” Horton says. Now, they’re engaged to be married in summer 2021 and gearing up to buy a house together.
“Our real selves ended up being better than our Instagrams and text messages,” Horton says. “It was like the opposite of a catfishing.”
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Jordan Michelle and Rick Wayne: From Cross-Country to Cohabiting
Just days before the country shut down in March, Jordan Michelle, 28, briefly met Rick Wayne, 31, while on vacation in Los Angeles. At the time, Michelle, a recording artist, was based in New York City. The two texted back and forth before deciding to move things to Zoom.
“We started Zooming more and more frequently, sometimes to the tune of eight hours where we’d both fall asleep on the ‘phone’,” Michelle recalls. “It was honestly really hard, when you really like someone and really want to be with them in person but you can’t.”
Two months later, they began half-joking about the possibility of quarantining together. In a matter of days, Michelle jumped in her convertible and drove from N.Y.C to L.A. to move in with Wayne.
“The biggest challenge has definitely been being thrust into a full-on domestic partnership while simultaneously still getting to know each other,” says Wayne, a film director. “It’s evolved the same way a relationship would in real life, just way faster. We had to skip the casual dating part because it simply wasn’t an option.”
After a few weeks of living together in L.A., Wayne made it official and asked Michelle to be his girlfriend. Since then, they’ve gotten matching tattoos, moved out of that home, and found a new place to start a fresh chapter together.
“We definitely are looking forward to the day where we get to take our relationship out of quarantine and experience a normal life together,” Michelle says. “If it’s been this much fun in quarantine, we can only imagine how much fun Disneyland will be.”
Vicki Salemi and Josh Handelsman: From College Friends to Facebook Flirting
When Vicki Salemi, 47, was traveling through Southern Italy just as the pandemic hit — she was there from February 21 to March 13 — she realized exactly what she didn’t want for her future.
“I’m a hopeless romantic and it really aligned my perspectives into never wanting to be single again,” Salemi, an author and career expert, says. “I defined the qualities I was seeking in my forever guy, which created new questions.”
Salemi started her quest for finding Mr. Right on Hinge and Bumble in April and started setting up virtual dates after a friend told her to give it a try.
“A friend of mine suggested I do online dating because it felt different and better during the pandemic,” she says. “I figured I had nothing to lose. And honestly, I wanted to meet new people just for the sake of it [because I was] feeling isolated — there’s literally no other alternatives during this time.”
Of course, jumping into the online dating game during a pandemic forced her to approach the process from a particular viewpoint.
“When I started Zooming or Facetiming dates, one of my lenses to view each date was: Would I actually want to quarantine with you or would you drive me crazy?” she says.
At first, several candidates were firmly in the latter category.
“One guy showed me his extensive knife collection — including machetes — in his N.Y.C. apartment,” Salemi recalls. “Thankfully that emerged during a video date. Another guy got a COVID test that came back negative just to show he could meet up with me, even though his son was gallivanting all over the city. No thanks, buddy.”
She messaged with more than a dozen guys and had five or six video dates.
“I felt we just didn’t click,” Salemi says. “It was disheartening and discouraging.”
Then, in May, her old college friend, Josh Handelsman, 46, reached out. They hadn’t seen each other since they were both students at Lafayette College in 1994, but had kept in touch through email and Facebook.
“I had just posted on Facebook that I had my first Zoom date,” Salemi says. “[Josh] got jealous. He messaged me and asked for a Facebook video chat. We hadn't seen each other all these years. It was like no time had passed.”
It was a calculated risk for Handelsman, an aviation consultant, who says that as the pandemic loomed, he wasn’t exactly in a rosy spot when it came to romance.
“I was rapid dating and friend zoning everybody because I didn’t like anybody,” Handelsman says. “I was [thinking about] giving up.”
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So he decided to take a chance and reach out to Salemi, mentioning that he was going to visit Delaware a few weeks later to visit his mother. Salemi invited him to get together. In late June, they met up for their first date, back at their alma mater. They had lunch outside at a restaurant and then went for a stroll around their old college campus.
They wore masks around other people, but they didn’t social distance from each other.
“We had been separately following CDC guidelines, didn’t have COVID symptoms, and weren’t exposed to anyone who had COVID,” Salemi says. “We wore masks and socially distanced on a daily basis. We trusted each other and had faith we were both safe.”
For now, they’re still long distance — Salemi is in N.Y.C. and Handelsman is in Fort Worth — but talk every day. They recently met each other’s moms.
“The pandemic actually brought us closer together,” Salemi says. “Conventional dates like going to a restaurant, movies, or Yankee games are fun, but they can also be distracting. We’ve kept it really simple and made our own fun. When the world opens back up, those things will be icing on the already delicious cake.”
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