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I really miss making out with strangers. Whether it was a recruit I vetted from Tinder or some guy I had been grinding on for fifteen minutes in a skeevy club, I didn’t appreciate how much I needed all that physical contact with near perfect strangers until COVID-19 ripped it away from me. Those moments ranged from euphoric to sexy to honestly kinda sweaty. But at least it was something and I’m craving it.
These last couple of months, I’ve found myself grieving the small things—like showing someone something on your phone and letting their hand rest on yours or making up an excuse to move your body closer to theirs.
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My love language is physical touch and I am literally being starved of it. I miss bar crawling and whispering barely coherent, tipsy thoughts in the ear of a cute stranger. I even miss brushing hands with the cute cashier at Whole Foods as he handed me my receipt.
Apparently it’s not just a “me” problem, though.
“Receiving physical touch helps people feel safe and connected,” says love coach Aesha Adams-Robert, PhD. And I’m apparently experiencing a thing called “skin hunger” to which the only remedy is, well, skin-to-skin contact.
According to Dr. Adams-Robert, not being able to make out with strangers on the dance floor is depleting my serotonin. Okay, my words, not hers exactly. But Dr. Adams-Roberts does say physical touch helps boost serotonin levels. This means for the past nine months, this sharp decrease in physical touch has been biologically affecting my happiness and well-being. Makes sense.
But dating during a pandemic where you can’t touch anyone…sucks.
My first pandemic “date” was virtual and involved playing games like 20 questions and online checkers via FaceTime while I drank a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine, alone, in my bedroom.
All of my first date tips and tricks like “initiate physical contact so he knows you’re into him” were useless to me. I was talking to someone miles away. There was no way to let my hand casually touch his chest or let my legs press against his under the dinner table.
Instead, I spent two hours pretending not to stare at myself on my FaceTime camera.
When I later met up with him in person, I kept my distance from him like an MMA fighter that didn’t want to give their opponent an opening. In other words, the complete opposite of how I usually like to date. I couldn’t focus on whether or not I was sexually attracted to the guy because I kept wondering if I was sitting far enough away from him.
The lack of even the slightest amount of physical intimacy or even physical contact led me to write the guy off before he ever really had a chance.
The next few months consisted of three or four repeats of my first COVID-19 date. I found that sitting six feet away from someone makes it hard to assess whether or not you want them on top of you. But more than that, these dates made me feel sad.
So is physical intimacy with strangers cancelled forever?
The one thing that is making this lack of physical intimacy worse: Not knowing when I’ll ever be able to have those experiences again.
Talks of a COVID-19 vaccine are numerous and confusing. We don’t know how or when enough people will be vaccinated for us to go back to our pre-COVID behaviors. For the foreseeable future, many of us are going to be missing out on something fundamental to the human experience: touch.
And it’s not just regular human touch. It’s the random, surprising ones. Holding someone that you’ll never see again. Caressing someone that you hope to see again, but have no guarantees. COVID-19 has made every touch feel like a life or death decision.
Yes, I know this pandemic has cost people far more than intimacy, like their jobs, their housing situations, and their lives. But when I spoke to New York Times best-selling author and relationship sexpert Mary Honey B Morrison about the future of intimacy, she said: “Without air, without water, without intimacy, we perish.”
That may seem wild, right? But think about it: People are still risking their lives to socially-distant meet with each other during a pandemic. Folks are still dating and meeting new people. Some are purchasing virtual sex toys to try with new partners. Others are speedily taking the next steps in their relationships.
We are trying to adjust our lives so we can wring out the slightest amounts of intimacy. Because we think it’s worth it. And I’m grieving the physical intimacy I once took for granted that may never be the same again.
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