If there’s one thing Erika Ettin can’t stand, it’s people who say Washington is a terrible place to date. As founder and CEO of A Little Nudge, a D.C.-based dating coach practice, Ettin said that in spite of the pandemic, people’s dating lives persist. But concern over COVID and the lack of in-person community events have led would-be daters to adjust their tactics, leading many toward dating apps, websites and matchmakers.
“From a business perspective, this is the busiest I’ve ever been,” Ettin said. “People want to meet someone. They see winter coming. They see that restrictions are going to be in place again and they want to put themselves out there, but in the safest way.”
To better understand the dos and don’ts of pandemic dating, WJW reached out to three Jewish matchmakers/dating coaches for advice. Here’s what they had to say:
The restrictions on bars and restaurants have put many in-person dates on hold. However, there are alternatives, said Leora Hoffman of Garrett Park, who has worked as a professional matchmaker since 1989. She’s also the author of “Catch Me A Catch: Chronicles of a Modern-Day Matchmaker.” Since COVID became a mortal threat, many of her clients have started going on virtual dates. Instead of eating out, they’ll dine in while video-chatting over Zoom.
For some, this can take the pressure off dating. There’s no driving involved. Nobody has to worry about who pays for what at the restaurant. There’s no internal debate over whether or not to initiate a kiss or a hug at the end of the night.
“And from a romantic point of view, in my opinion, it actually makes things a little sexier because it forces things to simmer for a while,” Hoffman said. “If there is that mutual attraction, it gives people something to anticipate down the road.”
But a Zoom date does come with its own rules of etiquette, according to Michelle Jacoby of Bethesda, owner of DC Matchmaking. A Zoom date is low energy, but still requires some effort. The camera needs to be positioned at eye level. Lighting needs to properly illuminate the person.
“And no green screen background please. Like that’s creepy. We want to see where you are. And those dark, poorly lit rooms, those dirty unmade beds in the background. You have to stage your spot for dating,” Jacoby said. “Having a nice spot to have your Zoom date is important. Even if the rest of your apartment is a mess, pick one corner, clean it up and get some good lighting.”
Sometimes there can be an awkwardness when chatting over Zoom, according to Hoffman. People may not know how to keep the conversation relaxed or fun when not held in person.
“They go into an interview or a job-seeking mode when they’re on a Zoom,” Hoffman said. “And they’ll start asking each other a series of questions, for example, and it becomes kind of a chore for that person to be asking or answering questions. And the mistake people make, I think, is to treat it more as a business transaction than an actual date.”
Jacoby tells people to avoid negative topics on a first date. Politics can be divisive, and the pandemic can be depressing. Conversation topics should be positive and focused on the present. Talk should be organic, playful and authentic. And whatever you do, don’t talk about past relationships on a first date.
“You don’t have to tell your whole life story. And you certainly don’t have to talk about past relationships,” Jacoby said. “Why on earth would you want to invite your ex on your date? Focus on the wonderful person you have in front of you.”
If asked about their exes, a person can always decline to answer and say they’ll talk about it another time.
“Just because you’re asked a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it,” Jacoby said. “We sure know that from politics, right?”
When it comes to using dating apps, like Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid, Hoffman recommends using recent photos that are an accurate representation of the person. Ettin recommends having exactly five on a dating profile (except for Hinge, where she recommends six).
“Too many and people have the opportunity to find one they don’t like and not choose you because of it,” Ettin said.
Jacoby says people should include a full-body picture and a headshot in their profiles. No group shots. No business suits. Just high-quality, clear photos that accurately depict how a person will look on a first date.
“So if you have curly hair, show up on your date with curly hair. If you have blonde hair, show up on your date with blonde hair,” Jacoby said. “And that’s what the picture should reflect in your profile. The way you look right now.”
Jacoby also recommends including photos that show a person doing something interesting or fun. If a person likes to hike or play guitar, then including a photo them doing either is a must.
When it comes to the written text of a profile, Ettin tells people to think of it like the front page of a newspaper, where the important stuff is above the fold. It should be “short and sweet.” And always be honest on your profile, Jacoby said. Don’t lie about your age or height or your life. If you have kids, Jacoby says to be honest about it.
How (not) to say no
It can take time for attraction to spark. Ettin generally recommends giving someone two dates before deciding whether you want to see them again. Shooting someone down can be uncomfortable, but the one thing not to do is ghost them. Ghosting is a colloquial term used to describe the act of ceasing all communication with a person without explanation and ignoring all contact. Some justify ghosting by saying it’s less confrontational than telling a date that you’re just not that interested. But what do the experts think? Ettin is blunt.
“Don’t do it. Ever. Those are my thoughts,” Ettin said.
Ghosting is especially consequential when dating within a small group, such as the Jewish community. Word can get around fast, leading to bad reputations. Jacoby also advises against ghosting.
“I know a lot of people ghost because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings,” Jacoby said. “But honestly, ghosting is unkind. And I don’t like when people do that. It takes more courage to say to someone you know, I don’t think we’re a fit, but people appreciate it.” A simple text is all it takes to break things off on good terms.
A perk of virtual dating, according to Hoffman, is that it forces people to focus more on getting to know one another and leads to relationships building more gradually. “Prior to COVID, my biggest complaint had been that people were looking for instantaneous results,” Hoffman said. “And generally not willing to spend more time together to give it a chance to develop. But because we’ve been forced to slow down because of COVID, I’m seeing more of that now.”
Jacoby said a major mistake that people make is to try to determine if this person, after one date, would make for a potential husband or wife. The point of the first date is to get to know somebody.
“The only goal of a first date should be to decide if you want to have a second date,” Jacoby said.
Added Ettin, “I always say the criteria for a second date should be: Do you want to have one more conversation with this person? People will say to me sometimes after a first date, ‘Oh, this is not going to be my future spouse.’ Seriously? It’s one date. How would anyone know that? So if you want to have one more conversation, it’s worth a second date.”