How Do You Start Dating in a New City During a Pandemic?

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Illustration for article titled How Do You Start Dating in a New City During a Pandemic?

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Not all advice need be professional. Sometimes your problems merit a bit of unvarnished honesty from a dude equipped with nothing more than a computer and a conscience. Luckily for you, I’m that guy. Welcome back to Tough Love. (If you’d like to be featured, email me at sblum@lifehacker.com)

Today we’re discussing a common problem for singles weathering the isolation of the pandemic: How do you start dating when you’re shut off from the rest of the world? Especially if you’re living in a brand new city?

Note: I’m a columnist, not a therapist or certified healthcare professional. My advice should be interpreted with that in mind. If you have a problem with anything I say, file a complaint here. Now, let us begin.

Dear Sam,

Synopsis: 67 yr. old long divorced man looking for love & hopefully marriage in an unfamiliar city during a pandemic, after being “forced to retire” while on LOA to care for dying mother.

My job, as a defense systems engineer, involved living at various overseas military bases for the past 10 years. Thus I don’t have “roots” or friends anywhere. In Oct 2020 I returned to the US to take care of my mother. She is gone now. My LOA expired and I reluctantly “chose” to retire. Now I find myself in a suburb of Detroit, MI. I do not know anyone socially or know much about the city.

As this situation developed rapidly I had not yet considered where or when to retire. My finances are sound, I have a very nice apartment, have established doctors, retained a “coach,” have an amazing Belgian Shepherd (that I brought back from overseas after he came down with canine PTSD). Also found a local church with a virtual community. I’m open to moving but have established the basics here.

I have tried Plenty of Fish and OkCupid but there are few women in my age group here.

How do I start the process of dating in this situation?

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

New In Town

Dear New In Town,

Your first paragraph signals to me that you’ve been through quite the personal ordeal recently, which is saying nothing of the mental strain isolation has wrought on us all over the last year and change. But despite the compounded difficulties you’re enduring, I want to assure you: You’re doing everything right.

I get that the gradual process of slowly building a life can feel onerous and even futile at times. When you’re trying to get established—especially after so many years living overseas—progress can feel like it’s in especially short supply as you watch the clock tick away on another week spent mostly indoors. From what you’ve outlined here, you’ve expressed to me that you’re a giver. You dedicated your career to a cause you believe to be righteous, and even though it was your decades-long calling, you cut it short to help your mother when she needed you. You’ve also adopted a dog with special needs. You understand what it means to be selfless, which is a quality that can and will make someone else very happy.

Think of how you can channel that selflessness into forming new relationships with others. You understand the basics of reaching out to your community, but how can you expand upon that? Maybe you are already attending regular Zooms or virtual hangouts with your church group, but socializing is way different. Joining a group is a positive first step, but you also need to make an effort to strike up one-on-one relationships with people in those groups. Moreover, your pursuit of friendship and potential courtship doesn’t have to start and end with church. Have you been to your local dog park? There are probably other local meetups for dog owners, so if you’ve been vaccinated (or the events are held safely outdoors)—and provided your dog can handle it—that could be another great way to meet people, including potential romantic partners.

I wouldn’t recommend moving again. Setting up the “basics,” as you described them, takes work, and you’ve already laid a solid foundation on which to build something more permanent. When it comes to building up your social network, let your instincts guide you. It might seem basic, but think about what you like to do. If you were to join, say, a bowling league (after you’re vaccinated and cleared to do so), you’re far more likely to make friends and perhaps meet a potential partner if you are both genuinely interested in that activity, rather than just using it as a way to maybe make a connection. If bowling isn’t for you, the same general rule applies to whatever it is that sparks your interest. You like baseball? Join a league! You like bird watching? Join a group! Start with your passions and use them to make connections.

In terms of more targeted ways to find a romantic partner, there are tons of resources for people in exactly your position. You’ve tried two dating sites, but there are many more out there with a much better track record of matching couples in your age group. That said, you can start dating more easily by following your intuition and doing what makes you happy, but only you really know what that will look like. The more you focus on what brings you fulfillment, the greater likelihood you’ll find someone who’s compatible with you. It’s a matter of gradually thinning the social herd, letting that selfless, caring demeanor shine through all the while.


That’s it for this week, but there’s plenty more Tough Love to go around. If you’d like to be featured, please get in touch by describing your dilemmas in an email to me (please include “ADVICE” or “TOUGH LOVE” in the subject line). Or, tweet at me with the hashtag #ToughLove. Serious inquiries only: Don’t email or message me if you don’t want to be featured in the column. Disclaimer: I can’t respond to everyone, so please make sure you outline a specific problem in your note. I won’t respond to generalizations, like someone “being mean” or vague descriptions of “relationship problems” without any concrete examples of what’s ailing you. Until next time, take care of yourselves!

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