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Post-Lockdown, I’m Dipping Into My Dating Archives To See What I Missed

ILLUSTRATED BY MICHELLE MILDENBERG
In early 2018 I decided to go fuckboy-free for a year. I’d developed a habit of giving my time and body to narcissists who could barely remember my name so I took a break from casual sex and dating to reset. Without giving it much thought, one year turned into two and just as I psyched myself up to start dating again, the pandemic hit.
At first I resigned myself to staying resolutely single. Then, somewhere in the depths of the winter lockdown, I reinstalled Tinder out of sheer boredom. Mindlessly swiping, I saw a familiar face: a kind, funny and charming guy I’d dated five years ago. Then something odd happened. Three more profiles of men I’d dated whose pictures stirred something inside me. Either they’d gotten hotter or I’d been single for too long. 
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I live in a city with half a million residents but the universe (or Tinder algorithm) kept sending me men I’d dated or hooked up with in the past. Was it a sign I needed to widen my search or that I should give these guys another chance? I swiped right on all of them to see what would happen. 
When I picked up my phone an hour later, I found four new matches and messages. Variations on: "Hello stranger, how the hell are you?" Within minutes we were exchanging numbers and I was transported back in time. The chat was easy and comfortable, and I enjoyed the warm feeling of nostalgia in a strange and lonely time. 
I lost hours to messages catching up on the past few years, hearing about heartbreaks, house moves and new careers. We were honest and vulnerable in a way that’s difficult with a stranger. We had (albeit brief) history and that helped us connect during the weirdest year of our lives.
I struggled to remember why I had cut these men out of my life. I’m sure I ghosted one because he was 'too nice', another for being a noisy eater. These were not the vapid narcissists who made me want to stop dating altogether; these guys were genuine and caring.
I realised that none of them had changed but my attitude to their perceived flaws had.
I kept swiping right on guys I didn’t know but found it so hard to start a conversation with someone new. Despite having nothing but time, I didn’t have the energy to connect with a stranger. With the exes, there was a shorthand. We fell into easy patterns of checking in during the day, pondering how long we’d be living in pandemic limbo and what life might look like 'after'.
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I was shielding with my elderly father so any IRL meetings were off the menu. Not being able to meet up meant dates had to be more creative. Watching the same movie in different homes, going for walks ‘together’ via FaceTime or attending the same online comedy show helped break up lockdown tedium. It was all so drama-free, with no thoughts of Where is this going? Frankly, there was too much uncertainty in the world to think too far ahead.
I received my second vaccination just as the world started to open up again but was still cautious when I agreed to a socially distanced walk with Ben, the first ex I’d matched with. We walked and talked for four hours, never running out of conversation but frequently running out of pavement. At one point, our arms brushed against each other and my stomach flipped. Given that our first date in 2015 involved us getting very drunk and naked within hours, the reunion was incredibly pure but equally great. 
Sadly, despite some serious sexting and plans with three guys, there’ve been no more IRL dates. Yet. With the Delta variant wreaking havoc, meet-ups have been cancelled last minute due to dreaded pings from the NHS app. But I’m hoping that Second Chance Summer (as I’ve started calling it) will continue to provide opportunities for fun.
It’s taken me a while to realise that I’d been resisting these ‘good men’ because I didn’t think I deserved them. I may have judged these particular guys harshly the first time around but it was a deliberate act of self-sabotage from someone with low self-esteem. Now I know my worth and that I truly deserve happiness.
I have no real expectations that any of these dates will lead to a lasting relationship. I’m simply viewing it as a nice re-entry to the world of dating, spending time with men I like and trust. After years of picking the worst guys and almost 18 months of pandemic turmoil, I’m happy to relax and enjoy the ride.

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