Itâ€™s the question weighing on nearly every single vaccinated personâ€™s mind when dating someone new right now: â€œWhen, exactly, were you vaxxed?â€
Dating app Tinder, which has some 7 million users, said in a survey it recently conducted that more than half of its younger users were interested only in dating someone who had been vaccinated.
The app is certainly catering to that â€œvaxxed only, pleaseâ€ preference. Late last month, Tinder and other big-name dating apps including Bumble, Match and Hinge announced theyâ€™d be partnering with the White House to encourage singles to get their COVID-19 vaccines and then match with others who have also been â€œFauci-ouchieâ€™d.â€
â€œWe have finally found the one thing that makes us all more attractive: a vaccination,â€ Andy Slavitt, one of President Joe Bidenâ€™s top coronavirus advisers, joked during a briefing with reporters.
The new features allow users to find the nearest vaccination spot and filter potential matches by their vaccination status. Vaccinated users also gain access to some freebie premium features including â€œboosts,â€ â€œsuper likesâ€ and â€œsuper swipes.â€
Of course, these in-app changes havenâ€™t been fully embraced by everyone.
â€œToday a guy on Bumble called me a simp for big pharma because I got vaccinated,â€ one woman joked on Twitter recently. â€œI love dating.â€
Awkward DMs with anti-vaxxers aside, the vaccinated singles we spoke to say theyâ€™re cautiously optimistic about getting back out there.
â€œAfter so long of not trusting those around me, tâ€™s difficult to get your brain to stop running with that narrative, and trust that when someone says theyâ€™re vaccinated, they actually are.â€- Callie, a 20-year-old college student in the Boston Area.
Callie, a 20-year-old college student in the Boston area, has been single throughout COVID. (Though she did go on one Tinder â€œdate,â€ which consisted of walking around her college campus masked and six feet apart.)
â€œAt this point, Iâ€™m excited that vaccination gives me the opportunity to be dating again, but at the same time, Iâ€™m still cautious,â€ she told HuffPost. â€œAfter so long of not trusting those around me (do they have COVID? If I get too close will I get infected?), itâ€™s difficult to get your brain to stop running with that narrative, and trust that when someone says theyâ€™re vaccinated, they actually are.â€
Elena, a 24-year-old from New Hampshire, is also ready to get back out there now that sheâ€™s vaccinated â€• she broke up with her boyfriend during the lockdown â€• but sheâ€™s got some anxiety around it, too.
â€œMy biggest concern is not myself, but others â€• and especially service workers â€• who arenâ€™t fortunate enough to be vaccinated,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t want my good time to put anyone else at risk even if I myself am safe.â€
Regardless of vaccination status, thereâ€™s clearly still some lingering questions and concerns about dating in a post-COVID world. Below, medical practitioners address some of the top questions among singles dipping their feet back in the dating pool.
Is it safe to date again?
Now that half of all adults in the United States are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the risk of getting severely ill after catching the virus from an infected young person has decreased significantly. According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, itâ€™s safe for fully vaccinated people to gather indoors without masks.
If youâ€™re vaccinated, the risks associated with going out on dates â€œare vanishingly low,â€ Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, told The New York Times recently.
If youâ€™re immunized, youâ€™re also much less likely to pass the virus on if youâ€™re infected but without symptoms.
If youâ€™re in a community with a high proportion of people vaccinated, even better. (To see what community spread looks like in your state or county, head here.)
â€œYour risk is dependent on the prevalence of COVID in your community and the number of people who are vaccinated,â€ said Nikole Benders-Hadi, the medical director of behavioral health at Doctor On Demand.
â€œIf COVID numbers are low in your community, itâ€™s relatively safe to go on dates in those areas,â€ she told HuffPost.
What about a non-immunized person? If youâ€™re a young, fairly healthy person who lives alone, dating an unvaccinated person comes with relatively little risk. That said, if you have underlying health issues, are over 65 or live with someone who is 65 or over, you should leave your mask on and social distance as much as possible on your date, said Sachin Nagrani, a physician and medical director for Heal, a telemedicine provider of doctor house calls.
â€œThe possibility of contracting and/or transmitting the virus still exists,â€ he told HuffPost. â€œSingle peopleâ€™s dating considerations should include the individualsâ€™ health risks, age, the health risks and vaccination status of the people with whom they live or interact closely with and the degree of community spread of coronavirus in their locale.â€
Whatâ€™s the best way to ask someone if theyâ€™ve been vaccinated?
If you met on a dating app, ideally the other person has enabled the â€œIâ€™m vaccinatedâ€ badge and isnâ€™t lying. But if youâ€™re in the dark about their vaccination status, just ask, as early on in the dating process as possible.
â€œSlip it into the conversation casually,â€ said Amelia Aldao, a psychologist and anxiety specialist in a private practice in New York. â€œYou might want to start sharing your own vaccination status first and then ask them where they are in the process.â€
Aldao said to be direct and kind when asking this sometimes-loaded question.
â€œThe directness will help you set clear boundaries and assert yourself, which is always a great way to start a relationship and also a good way to identify red flags,â€ she said. â€œAnd the kindness might give you an opening to educate someone who might be experiencing vaccine hesitancy.â€
Is it safe to go to crowded restaurants or bars for a date?
Bars and crowded restaurants are notorious spots for spreading COVID-19 because people are prone to taking off their masks and talking loudly when eating and drinking.
You may want to avoid going to a bar or restaurant if you or someone you live with is high-risk or your neighborhood is experiencing community spread right now, the experts said. (Hey, a socially distanced picnic in the park is always a good time, especially now that the weatherâ€™s heating up.)
If vaccine rates are high in your area and you and everyone you live with is vaccinated and relatively healthy, the bar is a different story â€• though there are still precautions you can take to make the evening as safe as possible.
â€œWhen considering going to a bar or restaurant, Iâ€™d say to consider reservations as this is how venues can limit the size of gatherings [and] whether the setting is outdoors or indoors,â€ Nagrani said. â€œVentilation and spacing become really important indoors.â€
The good news is, a lot of food and drink businesses are advertising the COVID-19 precautions theyâ€™re taking on their websites, so you can check beforehand. Another tip? Look for their Yelp or Instagram page and check out the recent tagged pics. You might be able to get a glimpse of what the crowd situation is like just from that.
Is it safe to invite friends to your dates?
Unless you feel comfortable asking about the vaccine status of your new love interestâ€™s friends, err on the side of caution and make your first few dates a one-on-one affair.
â€œYou have to be careful when considering group outings if you donâ€™t know everyone elseâ€™s risk level or whether theyâ€™ve been exposed to COVID,â€ Benders-Hadi said.
Do some research on the bar or restaurant to see what the crowds are like before going on your date.
Is it safe to kiss someone new?
If youâ€™re both vaccinated, the risk of getting COVID-19 while kissing or getting busy is pretty low. Still, exercise caution.
â€œYou should, of course, consider the risks for each other and those close to you, and how those influence your risk tolerances,â€ Nagrani said. â€œBut for both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the first dose provides some immunity and the full effect is achieved two weeks after the second dose.â€
If your anxieties are less about catching COVID and more about feeling anxious about getting intimate after a year of basically what amounts to abstinence, you could also talk to your date about what you and arenâ€™t comfortable doing prior to meeting up.
Say something like, â€œIf we meet up in person, do you feel comfortable kissing? Anything beyond that?â€ (If youâ€™ve been Zoom dating for a while, broaching this topic shouldnâ€™t be too awkward.)
And just so you know, plenty of single people are feeling hesitant about having sex again, according to Los Angeles-sex therapist Shannon Chavez.
â€œThe pandemic brought about sudden change and uncertainty that directly impacted how people enjoy and engage in sex â€• we were all worried about getting close to people,â€ she told HuffPost recently. â€œIt makes sense that people are nervous about how to get back into it.â€
Is it common to feel anxious about dating again and getting â€œback to normalâ€?
Nervousness about dating in general is pretty common, according to Aldao.
â€œMy single clients are excited, but also worried. They are eager, but also hesitant. This mental struggle can really be draining,â€ she said.
In therapy sessions, Aldao said a lot of the work she does with clients involves recognizing these two voices in their heads â€• worried and excited â€• and then making some room for the worries while also leaning into the excitement.
â€œSometimes we get into a mental trap of wanting to wait until our worries and anxieties completely go away to allow ourselves to do things and enjoy life,â€ she said. â€ But thatâ€™s one of the biggest paradoxes of anxiety. It never fully completely disappears. We just have to learn to manage it and live our lives despite it and thatâ€™s true with dating now, too.â€