Spring is blossoming as the world is opening up — and so is re-entry anxiety. Now that all U.S. adults are eligible for the COVID vaccine, the end of the pandemic, or at least the strictest of restrictions, is in sight.
Still, there are many unknowns we still have to face, and for singles looking to wade back into the dating pool, these unknowns are far too prevalent.
Maybe it’s , as Hinge coined. Or maybe it’s general blahs, or , as the New York Times noted. Seeing as we haven’t been able to meet anyone new face-to-face in so long, even the most experienced daters may be apprehensive not just to date, but to flirt — in person.
Anxiety and excitement are sometimes the best couple, though, and daters are feeling the latter: 67 percent of Hinge users said they’re optimistic about dating in 2021, according to a survey conducted at the end of last year. They also believed 2021 will be better than 2020, said Logan Ury, director of relationship science at Hinge and author of .
If you’re ready to get back into the dating pool headfirst and flirt with some masked (or unmasked) faces, here are some tips.
Know that everyone is nervous like you
Well, maybe not everyone, but we’ve all been through the past year and are navigating this new, ever-changing “normal.” Ury actually recommends not running away from it, but embracing it — and even using it as a tactic to relate to your flirt-ee.
“Calling something out and saying, ‘Hey, this is my first time actually meeting up with somebody in a while,’ or ‘I feel like I’m a little rusty’…it’s very likely that the other person will say, ‘Oh, me too,'” said Ury. “You’re actually starting from a place of connection.”
That’s not to say you should talk about your anxiety or the pandemic the entire date — that won’t be fun for either party — but just stating your anxieties can “let the air out of them,” as Ury put it.
Queer sex therapist said that, if you’re OK with some vulnerability, sharing that can be cute or coy. Saying something like, “I’m a bit nervous to be talking to you right now — but I’m also so happy to be talking to you right now,” can even be charming.
For people who are socialized as women, flirting in public can be especially intimidating, Tanner acknowledged. We’re not only taught to wait for someone (usually a man) to come to us, but also that if it doesn’t happen and we initiate ourselves, that that’s somehow “wrong.”
Obviously, that’s not the case, but internalized beliefs run deep. Tanner recommends exploring these beliefs in an effort to loosen up the unconscious biases about gender and dating.
If you’re out with a group and have taken off your mask, say at an outdoor restaurant, relationship coach and ‘s relationship expert recommends a simple wink if you see someone cute in the vicinity. “Non-verbals still work,” said Lewis, “and will at least maintain a fun connection in the event either of you choose to act upon it.”
Winking may not be your thing; other non-verbal cues Lewis recommends are a slight smile or wave if you see someone across a bar or restaurant. “Not a ‘Hey you, come over here’ wave,” Lewis said, “but a subtle acknowledgement that confirms you’ve taken notice.”
An even bolder move that requires no contact? Buying them a drink. “Boss up and have your server deliver a drink if you want to get their full attention,” Lewis suggested.
It’s nothing personal if the flirt-ee isn’t receptive. But if they wave back or happily take the drink, for example, that could be the move to get a little closer. If you’re in a public space that requires you to wear your mask anywhere but with your party/table, keep with that rule if you go up to them. Be courteous; you don’t know their comfort level with masks. If both of you agree to chat with masks off, go for it.
Don’t worry about being interesting
We can get in a habit of imitating flirting we see in movies and TV, said Tanner, and it can come off as performative. Instead, opt for finding your genuine style of flirting. If you’re not quippy, for example, humor may not be your best flirting move. Even just being polite can be charming.
Ury also warned against being performative. When flirting or on a first date, we may be so hyper focused on appearing “interesting” that we’re not present to the date itself. “The key to a great date is by being interested and getting to know someone,” said Ury. You can even flirt while getting to know someone, such as asking if they’re ticklish (if the conversation calls for it, that is).
Lewis also recommends asking real questions. Inquiring about topics, such as what someone has learned during the pandemic, can open up an authentic conversation. Deep questions and communication build a connection.
“You don’t have to put on a show,” Ury assured. “You don’t have to be a comedian.” If you show up — either walking up to someone or an actual date — with the intention of getting to know more about someone, it’s much more relaxing than going into it thinking you need to impress.
Tanner echoes these sentiments. When we’re nervous, we’re paying more attention to ourselves than to the other person. Especially when you’re flirting in person, take a step back and notice how they’re responding. Actively listen, make eye contact if you can, and pay attention to body language. If you lean in and they lean in too, for instance, that’s a good sign.
When flirting, don’t put the entire onus on the other person to drive the conversation. “Initiating with energy and specificity is a good way to go,” said Tanner. Instead of just “hi” or “how are you,” you can share specifics about why you walked over — if it’s safe to do so, say, if you’re at an all-vaccinated party or the other person said it’s OK to talk without masks — or give a specific (non-sexual) compliment.
Acknowledge that flirting comes with risks — and that’s OK
Approaching someone in public is riskier than matching or dating with someone on an app because you don’t know if the flirt-ee is available — or even if they’re attracted to your gender. These are indeed risks, but Tanner believes the risks are worth taking if flirting in person is important to you.
“Initiating with energy and specificity is a good way to go.”
“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Tanner asked. “Typically, you may walk away with a friend instead of a date or it’s just one more conversation you had that night.” The unavailable person may be flattered, as well. An easy reply to someone already being a relationship could be, “Oh, I’m not surprised you’re already partnered!” and you can either continue chatting to make a new friend or bow out.
This all being said, there’s a time and place for flirting. Tanner recommends not flirting at a place where people want their alone time, such as the gym. Dating as a queer person is a whole other minefield in itself, so Tanner recommends that if you want to flirt in person, the best place to do so is at a queer club or bar.
You have to sit with the ambiguity and discomfort, Ury said. “Many things worth doing are scary and hard,” she said. If your goal is to find your person this year, Ury said it’s worth overcoming those initial jitters; you may end up meeting someone great.
Flirting also runs the risk of speaking to someone you don’t know much about, including where their dating intentions lie. Do they want a casual relationship? Do they want something serious?
If you’re looking to hook up that night, it’s important to be straightforward about it, said Tanner. Otherwise, however, there’s no rush.
Ury cautions against stating your intention too quickly, in fact; it might be too intense to bring up right away. Instead, you can focus on yourself, what you’ve learned in the past year, and what you’re looking for in the (near) future.
Don’t forget video dates
Even though IRL dating is a possibility again, video dates can still be valuable. They’re also a great option if you’re feeling apprehensive about the virus or about jumping into in-person dates again. Dating app users believe so: 65 percent of Hinge users who’ve gone on a video date said they’ll continue to do so post-pandemic according to a press release, and do as well.
Video dates take the pressure off, said Ury, and make it so you don’t have to spend money or commute somewhere to see if you have potential. Even beyond that, though, you can use video dates for flirting.
“It gives you an advantage when you do meet up in person,” Ury said, “because you are not walking in cold. Maybe you’ve seen their kitchen, maybe you’ve listened to a playlist they made.” You’ve broken the ice even before the first in-person date.
Hinge is so confident in the power of video dates that they released their feature this month. If two people make a video call within the app, one chooses a prompt from a choice of eight themes, such as The Warm Up (basic questions to get to know each other) and Not So Serious (pretty self-explanatory). Once they both answer, they’ll go onto the next prompt card. Similar to the prompts a user answers when making their Hinge profile, Video Prompts serve as conversation starters.
Dating has never been easy — and it’s especially not easy when we’ve survived a pandemic. That doesn’t mean, however, that we need to be stuck with FODA. If we take sensible risks and put ourselves out there, we can be successful in-person flirters and daters.