My boyfriend and I are used to being apart: his job in construction keeps him in northwest England, near Liverpool, while mine firmly ties me to London. We met in a pub in the Irish countryside three years ago and have never known anything different; we just knew we could make it work and, somehow, it does. That’s not to say it’s easy — like all couples, we have arguments and disagree on certain things, but we’ve learnt a few golden rules along the way. We text every day and speak on the phone several times a week, even if it’s just to say goodnight, and we never, ever go to sleep on an argument. Even in our most stubborn and furious moments, one of us will pick up the phone before we go to sleep to say that we’re sorry. We make the effort to meet up at least every other weekend, whether that’s me going up to Liverpool on a Friday after work or him coming down to London, and we’ve spent fortnights together on summer holidays and weeks at his home in Ireland visiting his family. Our plan is to save, then find a mutual base and live together, but for now we’re focusing on carving out careers and taking things as they come. So when the UK government announced a lockdown on March 23, I wasn’t too worried about what it would mean for us. Being long distance definitely has its challenges, but we knew the importance of phone calls, texts and FaceTime and all the little ways of letting someone know you love them, without physically being there. However, remove the security of knowing when you’ll next see each other, and things quickly become more complicated. So how do we navigate this new territory, where we don’t know when normality will resume and sometimes an “I love you” on WhatsApp isn’t enough? Luckily, there are a host of ways to adapt dating to the virtual world, from watching shows apart-but-together on Netflix to digital dinner-and-drinks date nights.
VIRTUAL DATING IDEAS
Phone calls and FaceTime are important, but how do you recreate the buzz of a real-life date?
1. Dress up
Long-distance dating can feel like an endless stream of phone calls and texts, so I’ve found it helpful to separate everyday conversations with a dedicated FaceTime date once every few weeks. I do my make-up and get dressed up, and we both pour a glass of wine to make things more special.
A foodie friend who is missing cooking with her boyfriend recommends exchanging recipes to try. Pick a night of the week and the recipe you’re going for and chat while you both cook. She and her boyfriend then exchange photos of their creations and choose who made it best.
4. Take a class
Even if you’re not really in the mindset for learning something new at the moment, taking a virtual class or course with your partner can be a lot of fun. Trawling through Instagram stories, I’ve seen friends trying online painting tutorials, virtual dance classes, crafting and cocktail-making, to name but a few.
THE EXPERTS’ GUIDE TO CYBER-SEX
One of the most challenging parts of going long periods without seeing your partner is having to forgo physical closeness and intimacy. With no certain date in sight, how do you get creative with virtual sex?
1. Toys and apps
At the beginning of the month, Ann Summers reported that sales of sex toys were up 27% compared with this time last year, and the adult entertainment store Olivia Ocean saw sales soar by 38% in the first week of lockdown alone. For couples already comfortable in the realm of virtual sex, sexologist Gigi Engle says now is a good time to experiment and try new things. “You can try haptic sex toys, which allow your partner to control the vibration settings from a distance via an app. People love the We-Vibe Sync and its We-Connect app.” If toys aren’t your thing but you’re looking to try something a little different, she also recommends websites and apps such as Dipsea or FrolicMe, where you and your partner can listen to an erotic story together.
While couples who are used to doing long distance may already be well-acquainted with virtual sex, for those who are newly separated it can be slightly scary territory. So how do you enter the world of cyber-sex safely? “Discuss and communicate about trying anything new together in advance. The more comfortable you feel about moving your sex life to a new medium, the more you will be able to relax and enjoy it and find it a more satisfying experience,” says psycho-sexologist Kate Moyle. Have a chat about what you’d be interested in trying — if this feels too formal and awkward, start the conversation with a game of yes/no to cyber-sex activities to learn each others boundaries.
3. Feel confident
Engle says, “Feeling good about yourself during phone sex, especially when you’re new to it, is crucial in having a good time,” so make sure you feel the best you can. She recommends finding lighting that is flattering — good natural lighting is best, but make sure you’re not backlit by a window, as this will wash out your face and ruin the mood. If the natural lighting isn’t great, try a single well-placed lamp, so you can work with shadows more easily. A warm, yellow-coloured light is more flattering, and check what is in the background — piles of dirty laundry or clutter and objects like toilets will be distracting for your partner. Wear something you feel good in, even if you’re only using audio. As for what to actually say during phone sex, Engle advises: “Talking dirty is a big part of phone sex because you’re not physically touching, so it’s all about the audio-sensation. When in doubt, just describe exactly what you’d want to do to your partner and vice versa.”
4. Know the boundaries
If you’re going to try sexting, phone or video sex, you should always agree boundaries with your partner beforehand. “Knowing that your partner won’t share any of it or introduce you to something you weren’t expecting or aren’t OK with, as well as being on the same page as to times of the day when you are relaxed or open to intimacy and which communication channels you are both happy using, are all really important,” says sex and relationship therapist Miranda Christophers. “Try and get comfortable with a method first, and be understanding, as not everyone feels comfortable being intimately photographed or seen on camera.”
SINGLE LIFE IN LOCKDOWN
How to meet people in the virtual world
With pubs, clubs and other common meeting places shut for the foreseeable future, dating apps are seeing a sharp increase in users. Tinder has seen a 20% increase in conversations since February 20, and March 29 was the busiest day globally for swipes in the app’s history. As a result, apps are encouraging virtual dating with a range of new features. Hinge now asks if active users would consider a video call via its new “date from home” feature, and 70% of users say they are open to the offer, and Bumble is encouraging daters to use its built-in video and voice call feature after seeing a 21% increase in video calls in recent weeks.
The thought of a video first date horrifies me, but a single serial-dater friend tells me about a virtual first date she had last week with a man she had been speaking to on Hinge. They conducted it via the Houseparty app, as they thought the games and activities would be a good icebreaker. She had all the nerves of a real-life date, but they spoke for almost two hours and gave each other a tour of their rooms, which prompted conversations about books, art and their interests.
For those looking for something less serious, one of my more adventurous friends recommends Feeld, an app for people of all genders and sexual identities looking for polyamorous relationships or more kink. With physical meet-ups strictly banned for now, Feeld is allowing users to join three virtual hubs within the app: quarantine, remote threesomes and the sext bunker. Within them, participants have the option to explore experimental micro-communities such as “FaceTime foreplay” or “online orgasm control”.
If you’re not looking for anything specific, Let’s Day In, an adaptation of the original Let’s Day Out for these times of self-isolation, gives young professionals the chance to meet like-minded people through virtual events such as cook-a-longs, stand-up comedy, parties, classes and workshops, leading to friendships, networking and dating.
Published on The Times
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April 10, 2020
April 7, 2020