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Love blossoms in the time of coronavirus

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Surprising though it may seem, COVID-19 hasn’t dampened the thriving dating scene across the Johannesburg Jewish community.

Lonely hearts are finding love in spite of social restrictions, and Jewish singles from across the religious spectrum are discovering new ways to meet and forge meaningful relationships.

“Just like businesses, dating has had to pivot under the circumstances,” says clinical psychologist Dorianne Weil (affectionately known as Dr D). “You’d think that the situation has narrowed opportunities, but people have shown tremendous creativity in getting on with their dating lives.”

Under ordinary circumstances, she says, the process of meeting a potential significant other often falls prey to dramatic acceleration, with people rushing into a relationship because they’re not in a headspace to reflect properly.

“Your brains are fried, and the chemicals are surging, and suddenly you’re close to making the most important decision of your life,” says Weil. “People tend to make snap decisions based on immediate physical attraction, and mistake that for love.

“You’re supposed to grow in love, get to know a person, and determine if you have enough in common. You need to feel it out as it goes along, relying on conversation to guide your interaction as you get to understand who the person is.”

COVID-19 has enforced this dynamic in the dating space.

“In many cases, people are finding that the new reality has forced them to take things slowly instead of [acting] immediately,” Weil says. “People are taking the time to get to grips with the process of connection, and many of them are actually finding that they’re relieved by the change.”

Because of social distancing protocols, many are opting to take their dates online, a conversion which is actually less awkward than you might think. Moving beyond text-based interaction, Zoom dates are becoming more prevalent, and while they’re not perfect, they’re proving effective.

“People recognise the potential of Zoom, and are trying to maximise it,” Weil says. “While not the same as meeting in person, it enables them to see what a person looks like, whether they put effort into their appearance and dress for the occasion.

“Lacking a restaurant setting, people are watching movies together online, arranging to eat the same food, having a casual coffee, or playing online games. Some are even taking their date on a virtual tour of their homes. All this is giving people time to get to know each other better and creatively.”

It’s not without it setbacks. Weil believes that while virtual dating may offer a good start, it can’t be maintained indefinitely. “You need to meet that person and see if you can engage with them, checking if your initial impression was correct,” she says. “Zoom may be a good start, but actual contact is still best.”

Still, she feels positive about the new normal. “If you are really looking to meet people and find a date, you can,” she says. “People are doing it. The fact is that this new reality has forced us to slow down and not just swipe left or right.”

Love continues to blossom among the more religious in our community as well, with shadchanim (matchmakers) finding that dating candidates are committed to finding their special someone.

“People are dating, but doing it very differently,” says local shadchanit Cindy Silberg. “They’ve adapted to the changes, and made frum dating dynamic, moving through lockdown and doing what they can to meet other people.”

Although they’re not necessarily using online platforms, religious people seeking to date have approached COVID-19 with creativity, navigating curfew and social distancing while adhering to the health protocols.

“When the lockdown was stricter, people started using garden spaces to have their first dates,” says Silberg. “Many people in the community offered their private gardens for the purpose, and some used their own gardens. Many people have said it’s a welcome change from a hotel lobby, and though it initially felt awkward, it was actually far more relaxed, casual, and fun.”

With more spaces opening up over the past few weeks, an increasing number of outdoor venues have become popular for dates, with hikes in Modderfontein and picnics at Zoo Lake growing in popularity.

“It’s becoming a new normal,” says Silberg. “I’m not sure if we’ll actually go back to using hotels the way we did before, although some people still prefer it. The date has been reinvented because people realised that life can’t be put on hold indefinitely, and the mindset of many has changed with it.

“Because of social distancing, some people are choosing to meet at their chosen venue instead of being fetched. While they may be wearing masks, I’ve suggested that they show one another their faces when they first meet, and then keep their masks on the rest of the time if they feel more comfortable that way. People are making it work, and staying safe.”

It seems the changes are working. Silberg says that plenty of engagements have taken place over the past few weeks, with couples pushing ahead with their lives in spite of the uncertainty and stress.

“People are carrying on,” she says. “COVID-19 has also changed the dynamic in that boys who would usually be away at yeshiva are stuck in South Africa and are on the dating scene. Girls would usually be waiting for the boys to come back, so this has worked in their favour.”

Silberg agrees with Weil’s assessment that more meaningful conversations are taking place on dates.

“The lack of activities to do on dates has meant that couples are talking properly,” she says. “They’ve begun their meaningful discussions sooner rather than later. With fewer distractions, couples are making more of an effort to communicate, and I feel that this will make for stronger relationships moving forward.

“Finding the right person is the most important aspect. This situation has made people realise what actually matters in dating, and what it means to make an effort and give of yourself. It’s no longer about where we go or what we do on a date, but whether I want to be in a relationship with this person.”

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