I’m Dating Someone New IRL… But We Haven’t Touched Yet

Illustrated by Naomi Blundell Meyer
Welcome to Love Lockdown: a weekly column about how people are navigating romantic relationships in the time of coronavirus.
I went on a first date the day after the government issued its social distancing edict – we could still meet, Boris said, but only at a distance. I sat on a park bench with my legs crossed like a schoolkid; he sat two metres away, on the grass, one leg folded at an angle and the other kicked out straight. He was wearing a plain T-shirt and on the left side of his neck I noticed the beginning of a constellation of freckles which disappeared beneath the shirt’s neckline.  
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I noticed, too, that the dips in the crooks of his arms were very deep and smooth. I wondered what it would be like to put my tongue in them and whether the pits behind his knees were as deep. Would it feel satisfying to put my tongue there, too – or would that just be weird?
There was nothing spectacular about the date. We performed the most palatable versions of ourselves, avoiding the topics – exes, alcoholics in the family, disappointing sex, money – that one avoids on first dates. Then, afterwards, the lockdown restrictions tightened and we put thoughts of meeting up again out of our minds. It could have gone nowhere, I suppose, but it’s like they say: boredom is great for creativity. So there we were, two atomised individuals bored enough to meet up every few nights on WhatsApp video call, to try to make something out of nothing.
At first I found it to be a frustratingly ersatz take on a love affair. Pits and dips, constellations of moles and freckles: these have always been the things I crave early in a relationship. Touch is how you get to know a person. 

In the pre-coronavirus world, it was never enough to like someone intellectually – to enjoy their conversation. There needed to be more: a 'body connection', a desire to put hands on them.

In the pre-coronavirus world, it was never enough to like someone intellectually – to enjoy their conversation. There needed to be more: a 'body connection', a desire to put hands on them. In those days, finding someone so magnetic that I couldn’t stop myself from touching them seemed like a good thing, like a sign that it was meant to be – but it often caused me problems. 
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I once dated someone who was very obviously not right for me. We argued about everything. Whether it was acceptable to go to Pizza Express for dinner when a much 'better' pizza place was a few minutes' walk away. It was an argument that ended in someone screaming "Go wherever you fucking want!" and someone going home. It was a spectacular level of misalignment and we both suspected it wasn’t working – but for the sex. It was like our bodies had an understanding that our minds did not. So even though we didn’t really get on, we both thought there must be something there. 
My contact-free love affair did not offer the easy out of kissing away bad conversation. The second time we talked, it was for two hours; the third time, it was for three. Where could this go? I wondered. We got on but I get on with a lot of people. Without ever touching someone, how do you know if you’re compatible? 
As lockdown progressed, I lay in bed at night thinking that maybe under his clothes he was smooth like glass and tracing my fingertip across his collarbone would feel no different to swiping a notification on my phone. Maybe his chest had the same pleasant spring-back as the space bar on my laptop. In my darker moments, I thought about a friend from uni who shocked me the first time he took his shirt off because his nipples were so close together that it looked like his chest was cross-eyed. And about another friend, who I saw topless for the first time on a Croatian festival holiday and whose nipples were fluorescent pink. "I know," he said, "it’s like they’ve been coloured in highlighter pen." I agreed, it was exactly like that. 
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What would the idiosyncrasies of my park date’s body be? And what if his kisses were withholding, what if he was ungenerous in bed? What if, what if... 

My contact-free love affair did not offer the easy out of kissing away bad conversation. The second time we talked, it was for two hours; the third time, it was for three. Where could this go? I wondered.

Four weeks into our no-touching dating, my friend suggested that this was a new and deeper level of compatibility – really getting to know someone without touch, that faux ami, getting in the way. And by now I knew a lot about this man: his family situation, the thing with his ex. I knew he’d say something funny if I was annoyed and something thoughtful if I was sad. I knew I would be crushed if we met again and I put my hand on him and felt no skin connection, no spark. 
On the screen, his face – bleached by the phone’s sickly blue light – was often pixellated and hazy because his Wi-Fi was shit. I would find my gaze straying to my own face, a tiny moon of consternation in the bottom right-hand corner. Our avatars meeting in cyberspace was enough to make us think like lovers, enough to make this dangerous – potentially painful if we were to meet again and find that actually, we are just good friends. So I suggested we pull back a bit, wait for lockdown to end, wait to have a proper date. 
"Okay," said his voice, his mouth making the shape of the word a few moments later because of the poor connection. "Guess I’ll see you sometime." That was three weeks ago. 

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