Stories & Features

Valentine's Day: Romance and dating in the age of COVID

Image of a couple walking and wearing disposable face masks
Going for a walk, snowshoe or hike can be good options for those who want a break from virtual dating.

Thought and creativity are key, says B.C. executive matchmaker

It's a crazy time for couples, and also for singles looking for love. We're either supposed to be observing social distance rules under COVID-19 pandemic guidelines, or we're too close, too much of the time.

"If you're living with someone, you're probably home more than usual, and that makes for a lot more intensity," says Susan Semeniw, who helps singles and couples with advice as the head of Vancouver-based Divine Intervention executive matchmaking service. "Whatever issues you may already have around your relationship, they're just going to be heightened and exacerbated."

Meanwhile, singles are either breaking the rules by hanging out in bars in search of love, or trying to make dating work by phone or Zoom. "What I'm hearing from women who are dating," says Semeniw, "is that most guys don't know how to social distance, especially if there's a drink involved. So if you're going to see someone in person, just make sure that you discuss rules first."

Heading into Valentine's Day, here's a grab bag of advice from Semeniw – plus some creative "date night" ideas – for either starting or rekindling romance.

Valentine's Day is overblown... but get it right

Semeniw stresses that Valentine's Day is just one day a year, and while it can be important to women in particular, it shouldn't be seen as the barometer of a relationship's health.

"It's like a marriage versus a wedding," she says. "It's more important to acknowledge a person on a regular basis and really put some thought into your time with them. So while you can make Valentine's Day special, you don't have to spend a lot of money."

Women still love to receive cards, says Semeniw, especially when they're meaningful. She says a card with something thoughtful like "20 reasons why I love you" tend to carry the biggest impact. Valentine's Day can also be a good time to offer an apology. "If you've been a bit of a cow during COVID, because you've been more stressed, you're not alone," she says. "Acknowledge that you haven't been at your best."

To spice up Valentine's Day, consider some of these ideas (plus the list of specific "date night" ideas at the end of this story):

  • A photo collage or digital slide show that take the two of you down memory lane.
  • Takeout dinner from one of your favourite local restaurants.
  • Re-create a memorable date or favourite meal, while sticking to COVID restrictions.
  • At-home spa experience, complete with bubble bath/salts, scented candles, a favourite magazine or two, a bath pillow and/or a pre-packaged facial mask. Extra points for running the bath when your partner is 15 minutes from home, and turning the lights down low for a grand entrance.
  • An evening of travel planning, for a long-awaited getaway once COVID travel restrictions are relaxed
  • Sharing a dinner and/or a movie with another couple, via Zoom or Netflix Party.

Dating? Rediscover the art of good phone

As part of Semeniw's executive matchmaking, she spends time helping men and women prepare for their first date. And she recommends that the first virtual meeting shouldn't be via Zoom, but on the phone, for a short and predetermined amount of time (with an option to extend if things are going well).

"I always recommend to have a phone call first," she says. "Make it relatively short, and always leave them wanting more. Later on, go ahead and move to Zoom if you're comfortable, and be mindful of how you look. It's a visual medium, so wear colours that work, take care with lighting, and smile."

Semeniw is also big on walks, hiking, or snowshoeing, which can all be done within social distancing guidelines and which all provide ample opportunity to talk.

"For the most part people are taking more time to get to know someone," she says. "At the end of the day, chemistry does happen in person but you can really create a connection and bond with someone on the phone, too."

One couple that recently got together through Semeniw's matchmaking service, a man from Calgary and a woman in Vancouver, were initially resistant to spending much time on the phone. But after a short first call went well, they found themselves engaging regularly in four-hour calls in the early months of the pandemic. They've since spent lots of time together in person, and are considering getting a place together... and perhaps even marriage.

As a relationship progresses, Semeniw recommends opting for phone calls over texts or emails. The lost art of a good phone call is on the rebound in COVID, and it reduces the chance of being misunderstood.

5 ideas for making that date, or date night, special

Remember the fun things you used to be able to do to share an evening with a date or your partner? Now think of how you might replicate that experience from the safety of your home, or at a safe distance, during this time of COVID-19 restrictions.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here are some ideas to get you going as you explore dating or "night out" options.

1. Cook up a night to remember

Whether you're on an online date or at home with your partner, cooking together can be a fun way to break the routine. You can tackle a new recipe you've found, join an online cooking class, or cook together at an in-person (but distanced) cooking class. Vancouver's Dirty Apron, for example, has a variety of classes Tuesdays through Saturdays with reduced numbers in their kitchen. Dirty Apron's February 12 Ocean Inspired Couples' Class, for example, features a menu of warm lobster and sturgeon caviar salad, salt crusted whole sea bream, and lemon basil crepes.

Did you know? Small appliances such as toaster ovens, Instant Pots, and air fryers can use up to 75% less electricity than using the oven or stovetop for the same recipe. Check out some great recipes at powersmart.ca.

2. Order in

Help keep your favourite restaurant afloat with takeout or food delivery. If you're on a distanced date, consider ordering from the same place then sharing your meal and impressions of the food via Zoom.

Did you know? A December survey by Restaurants Canada found that 48% of small and medium-sized independent restaurants in Canada were facing the danger of permanent closure.

3. Virtual travel

Take a stroll down memory lane with a partner by viewing a digital slideshow from a past trip or revisiting a favourite location via one of several virtual travel sites online. Consider recreating a memorable meal you had on a trip. And if you're just getting to know someone, why not take them on a guided virtual tour or embark on a destination totally new to both of you. Some virtual travel sites charge a fee, while many are free, including 360cities.net, and globotreks.com.

Here are a few specific virtual tours available online:

Did you know? While there's nothing like actually travelling to a place, the carbon costs of international travel – especially by air – are enormous. Flight-related CO2 emissions for a family of three flying round trip from Vancouver to France is 7.74 tonnes. That's the equivalent of driving an SUV from Vancouver to Yoho National Park in the Rockies (and back) 10 times. One solution: once travel restrictions are lifted, consider travel in Canada, and try to take fewer international flights, for longer vacation durations, rather than flying somewhere each year.

4. Night at the museum

Google Arts & Culture is a treasure chest of visual experiences that include visits to many of the world's top museums, including the Musée D'Orsay in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. For maximum visual impact, find the tours via a browser on your smart TV or plug your TV into a laptop.

Did you know? A 2020 46-inch ENERGY STAR® Smart TV uses about a fifth of the electricity of a 2010 42-inch plasma TV.

5. Attend a virtual concert

You can catch the energy of a live concert by searching YouTube for live concert footage – sometimes for a whole concert – on YouTube. Or for generally better sound quality, opt for in-studio segments or fantastic NPR Tinydesk performances that have featured the likes of Dua Lipa, Michael Kiwanuka, Ty Dolla $ign, Billie Eilish, and John Legend. If you're more into the alternative scene, Seattle's kexp.org has a great archive of in-studio sessions.

Did you know? Musicians have lost revenue from doing live shows, and in many cases, it's their biggest revenue stream. If you want to support a musician, consider buying band merchandise or music from their official site and/or purchasing their music from the likes of bandcamp.com.