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L.A. Affairs: The pandemic was traumatic enough, and then I tried dating again

Aren’t we all a little traumatized by this pandemic?
(Lori Saint Rome / For The Times)

We messaged briefly on Hinge. I was impressed when he commented — actually commented — on the dating profile prompt I used to let guys know I’m looking for more than a pen pal: “You should leave a comment if ... you want to meet in person.” (That meant a lot, because many guys simply “like” that prompt, indicating a basic lack of reading comprehension or that they don’t want to meet in person but “like” the idea of it. Life is short. I’m not here for DMs.)

The point is, we had a date. Friday night even. We had confirmed the day before, but as I left my apartment in East Hollywood, I noticed he’d left a couple of new messages in the dating app. He asked whether we were still on and then messaged again saying he was 20 minutes away. I let him know I’d be there on time, and he’d responded immediately. He was looking for parking. His double confirmation was weird, right? It was hard to tell when I was filled with my own anxieties.

I want to say that the air sparkled with excitement and possibility as I walked down the street, the magic-hour sunset casting my world in a rosy glow, but this wasn’t my first rodeo. My experience of dating during a pandemic is that everyone who is single — especially those of us who live alone — is now incredibly lonely and also terrified of strangers.

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The first in-person date I went on during the pandemic was before vaccines were available to everyone, and even though he (a chef) was vaccinated, I was not. I brought a blanket and a fear of getting closer than six feet. He brought tequila and a joint to share. Clearly, we were in different places mentally. He would end up going home alone to smoke that joint.

The anxieties didn’t quit when vaccines became more available. I was all set to meet up with a musician in Echo Park, and when he mentioned we would absolutely need to meet outside, I thought to ask whether he was vaccinated. He wasn’t, and he was offended that I would ask him such a “deep and sensitive” question. Date canceled.

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A date falling through was bad enough, but now I knew there were men like him out there just, like, existing.

I didn’t feel totally hopeless though. There was another night, when I met a guy at the Black Cat. After, out on the street, he kissed me and I felt a flush of excitement. (He was vaccinated.) We made out while we waited for his bus, and even if it wasn’t love, it was fun while it lasted. (He stopped texting, and I realized he was a little young for me anyway.)

There was another date where I met a guy in Griffith Park with a bottle of wine, and he brought his dog. There wasn’t a spark between us, but there was a dog. Again, it was fun.

And maybe tonight would be too.

I shook off any lingering skepticism as I approached the wine bar where my Hinge date suggested we meet, Lolo on Sunset Boulevard. He was probably parked by now. Sure enough, there was a message on my phone. “Walking over now,” it said. I put my name in for a table for two and stepped out to the sidewalk to wait.

There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic, and I found myself in that awkward situation of assuming everyone walking down the street might be there to see me. The older man trudging down the sidewalk, the Postmates guy — they all got a vague smile.

After 10 more minutes or so, the hostess asked whether I wanted to wait at the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and started a tab. I messaged my date telling him where I would be. I texted a couple of friends about how cute the bar was, a satisfying mix of leather and plants plus a dining patio with a checkered floor reminiscent of a European cafe. I had a seat in the corner, a big leather chair under a little light. The night was starting to feel like a win, even if I was starting to wonder where the hell he’d parked. He may have “panic parked” farther away from the restaurant than he realized, my friend assured me via text. “I got a glass of wine so I suppose he has until I finish it,” I joked back.

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I wasn’t too worried. After all, he had texted multiple times to let me know he was almost there. But I had been stood up before. Back when dates were strictly regulated to meeting in a park, a man whose name I can no longer remember offered to bring a bottle of wine to our first date and even asked what kind I liked. I packed plastic baggies of cheese and crackers (a bag for each of us, for easy not-sharing), but he never showed, leaving me with cute little snacks and absolutely no wine. I walked home, sad but not defeated. It was just one date.

I checked my Hinge messages again — surely there had to be some kind of update — but the conversation was ... gone. He had effectively blocked me in the app. I opened and closed the app a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, the memory of plastic snack baggies nudging at me.

It’s funny how you can believe and not believe a thing is happening at the same time.

I texted my friends again, this time a little less focused on how cute the bar was: “I got stood up!”

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It felt ridiculous, all those parking texts. But in retrospect it was also weird that he was texting so much about parking. But what had happened? He didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d do this for laughs. I imagined him at home, alone, assuming I’d flake on him first and then texting to buy himself some time when he’d realized I was on my way. He’d seemed anxious and a little needy. And also, possibly traumatized by a pandemic.

That’s the other trick about dating during a pandemic: It’s hard to tell whether someone isn’t interested or they’re just severely depressed and experiencing trauma-induced social anxiety. I get it. I’ve spent the last year and a half alone in my studio apartment, feeling the weight of the whole thing pressing on me with loneliness and dirty dishes, the experience colored by a desperation to connect with others.

My phone buzzed. “Do you want me to come over?” It was one of my friends. She said she’d meet me back at my place. And as suddenly as my phone had vibrated, I started crying. In the bar, under that little light that now felt a bit too much like a spotlight, especially when I looked up and a diner on the nearby patio was looking right at me. I cried because it’s been almost two years and everything still feels hard. I cried because the vaccine didn’t end the pandemic. I cried because of buying groceries at restaurants and being scared to touch my mail. I cried because all of these dates sucked. And I cried because, despite all that, I wasn’t really alone. I finished my wine through silent tears, trying to wipe them away as nonchalantly as I would smudged mascara.

A guy walked in by himself, and I worried that it was my date, finally arriving from where he had parked, presumably five miles away. It didn’t look like him, but I didn’t feel like myself, so we’d be even. Then the stranger greeted his friends, and I went back to taking deep breaths and pretending I’d gotten something in my eye.

When I saw the hostess, I let her know I would not be needing a table after all. In my head, this was going to be a quick clarification, but I started crying all over again and told her I had been stood up. “We here at Lolo love you,” she promised. It was a bit of a dramatic response, but the pandemic has been a bit dramatic. As I walked onto the street, she shouted after me, “Don’t forget who you are.”

I had had enough. I was done with online dating. I decided to remove my profile from SilverSingles. But that very day, I found a new profile waiting for me.

Who I am — who we are — is the part of humanity that has survived a pandemic. This was one date, but it was all my dates. Every moment of hope, disappointment, swipes, likes, texts, anxieties — these were happening in the context of a shift in how we move through the world. All the dates can’t erase the time I’ve spent alone, but they also can’t erase who I am.

And on this Friday night, I was a woman walking to my apartment to meet a friend and watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” And while there is no good version of living through a pandemic, as Friday nights go, this was a pretty good one.

The author is a television writer and playwright. She is on Twitter @MeghanPleticha.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.


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