Single at the holidays: an infamous drag, and this year worse than others. Singles got especially hosed during the COVID pandemic. Sure, uncoupled millennials are generally not grappling with remote learning, limited childcare or the actual virus, but dating is no walk in the park — except, I guess, when walking in the park is the only permissible date.
Take me. I’ve just crossed that Rubicon where well-meaning friends and family have changed their tune about my romantic prospects. It used to be that no one was good enough for me; now, the refrain is ‘No one’s perfect!’
And no one is. After my ’rona- related evacuation from New York, I decided to explore the options near my parents’ home in Pennsylvania. I met a man from a neighboring county on a dating app. We chatted on-and-off for about two months, during which time I saw no person outside my immediate family. As our respective counties emerged from ‘red’ lockdown to ‘yellow’ semi-lockdown, we had a few phone calls and FaceTimes: so far, so good. When it became possible to meet, my expectations were high. A date! I used to do this all the time. Imagine!
The man was a very nice man. He was not too young or too old, with a PhD, a job, a car and a really excellent thick, shaggy head of black hair. We met one afternoon in June for lunch on the campus of the nearby college I once attended. Over frozen yogurt, I shared a few of the less-embarrassing anecdotes of my school days. In the ensuing weeks, we went to a drive-in movie, an outdoor restaurant and a BBQ. We were chased inside by the rain on one of these evenings — high-risk behavior these days — and he lent me his Brooks Brothers umbrella on the way home.
After a few weeks of these outings, the sheen of dating someone again wore off. I began to notice that I didn’t actually like him. It wasn’t his fault; it’s just the way these things go sometimes. But if I had to give a reason, I might suggest his hobbies. They were exhausting. If I mentioned I enjoyed something, he had a sideline doing it. He brews beer, he refinishes houses, he makes wine and grows vegetables and plays two instruments and catches wild salmon in upstate New York. I love my hobbies too — knitting, reading, complaining — but his all seemed a bit much.
He had also started texting me the same message every day at 6:30 a.m.: ‘Good morning!’ How nice to have someone checking in, I thought at first, until I noticed that these exchanges were like something out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
‘Good morning,’ I’d respond, and start a little conversation: ‘I’m giving up my lease in New York, we’re going strawberry picking this afternoon, I’m babysitting 150 chickens in the Catskills, my brother has cancer.’ These items would disappear into thin air. No matter what I said in return, our exchange would expire after one or two additional messages, and the next day he would renew with ‘Good morning!’
As happens in COVID-time, we went a while without seeing each other. He vacationed, I vacationed, I quarantined in order to visit my grandparents, he went on a work trip, I was de facto imprisoned when my mother got sick and went for a COVID test which took 16 calendar days to return negative. My view of our potential as a couple dimmed with each abortive ‘Good morning!’ My hopeful, well-meaning sisters-in-law lobbied hard on his behalf. ‘It’s a strange time,’ they said. ‘No one’s perfect,’ they pointed out. ‘I’ll marry him,’ they offered.
It was no use. At the end of the summer, I received a truly unfortunate selfie involving a fedora and a lot of chest hair. My resolve was steel. But, having gone a six-week stretch without laying eyes on him, how to back out? I tried ignoring the daily greeting, but my silence had as little effect as my responses, and at some point you just feel rude. I was in the enraging position of having to formally break up with a person I had seen four times in five months of acquaintance, but there you have it: dating in 2020.
Some of my girlfriends have done the opposite: moving in after the first date in order to maximally protect themselves from both COVID and lockdown-related despair. My reservations about this approach aside, they do report a much more pleasant experience than mine. My COVID romance, such as it was, ended in front of the waitress in the bar below my apartment, with whom I had had more contact than the man himself. He was nice about it — he’s a nice guy, after all — but he wanted the Brooks Brothers umbrella back. With profound dread, I realized the prized umbrella was buried in moving boxes in my half-unpacked apartment.
You’d be shocked at how difficult it is to find a USPS-approved mailer for items the size and shape of this umbrella, which looks, by the way, like it was stolen from an undertaker. Doesn’t anyone else ever need to mail similarly sized items — camera tripods, individual golf clubs, those brooms used by the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins? I spent weeks trying to figure out how to buy a skinny rectangular box in a denomination of one or even 10 rather than 50 or 100, until finally a friend took pity and bought me a similar umbrella off Amazon, so I could re-use the packaging. My erstwhile love interest hasn’t confirmed receipt, but I got USPS tracking, so I’m about 42 percent sure the umbrella arrived safely.
After all this, I’m still single at Christmas. That’s OK: the love of friends and family is enduring and sustaining, in a COVID year even more than a normal one. Was my quarantine diversion worth the headache? Probably not. Then again, no one’s perfect.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2020 US edition.