Before I begin I have to confess that I don't have first hand experience of this so I'm looking forward to the comments from other more knowledgeable individuals! However, many of my patients are in this predicament and since March we've been thinking together about how to navigate the situation. I say thinking together because as mental health professionals it's only right that we admit that we don't have any more answers than anybody else does at the moment.
Often in our conversations we find ourselves stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Staying home alone is the best way to avoid COVID 19 and all its possible complications. On the other hand staying home alone can be pretty devastating for mental and emotional health. Many people came here with ideas of dating, dancing, meeting new friends and enjoying the sights and until recently a trip to the supermarket is about as exciting as it gets.
So what have we come up with? The most striking observation has been that now we are having to have conversations that we have no idea how to have. It's entirely reasonable that before you get a coffee with someone (let alone exchange bodily fluids!) you want to know what their COVID 19 precautions look like. But how do you ask without making it sound like an interrogation? And then how do you handle the answer? What if you've been bleaching your dogs feet, scrubbing your vegetables and only seeing two close friends and it turns out that your prospective date doesn't even believe that the virus exists? Does that make them untouchable? And if it does how on earth do you tell them that without offending them? Will Tinder/Her/Grindr start giving us boxes to check so we don't have to ask?
Social occasions with friends are just as tricky. Now that a group of up to ten people can gather indoors single people, especially those that live alone, are breathing a sigh of relief. However, it's almost impossible to find out in advance how well ventilated the place is, how big it is, if the idea is to use masks and how careful the other guests have been during the pandemic. What if you arrive only to find out that the intention was to be careful but in practice it isn't working out that way?
The answer? No idea. But this reminds me a lot of when I was cycling alone in Chile. I was talking to a police officer who (quite rightly) told me I that was insane but gave me one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received - to politely and respectfully ask anyone I wasn't sure of to stand two metres away from me. The reason? Because if you're going to have a problem with that person, their reaction to your request will give you an immediate heads up. In the same way, no matter how different your opinions and approaches are with respect to the virus, their reaction to your questions or requests will give you an excellent insight into what kind of person they are and whether they are worthy of your time.
So when you're treading that fine line between looking after your physical health and your mental health my advice is to go for it. Ask what you need to ask. Keep asking until you feel comfortable. Explain why you're asking. Talk. Discuss. Think together. Your prospective date or friend's reaction will tell you what you need to know.