MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Another part of many people's lives that's facing adjustment - dating, especially with social distancing becoming so important as a way to prevent the spread of illness. So what's the best way to start or keep a relationship going while trying to stay healthy - to even try to date at a time like this? To talk about this, we reached out to two people we like to check in with to talk about such matters. Steven Petrow is a USA Today columnist who writes about manners, among other things. And Lisa Bonos writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post. Thank you both so much for joining us at a distance, I have to say. Hearty fist bump to you both.
LISA BONOS: Thanks for having us.
STEVEN PETROW: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: All right, Steven, I'll start with you. You're a very social person, I think you've made that clear. How are you coping with social distancing in your relationships?
PETROW: Well, as people know, I am recently divorced, so I am out there on the market. And I took a pause, but I have just sort of pick up things and had a date this afternoon that was a walking date around the lake, 6 feet apart. It went fine.
MARTIN: It went fine. And - well, what about the - one of the things I said - I mentioned you write about manners a lot. When you first greet someone, you know, it is such a natural thing in American life to handshake, sometimes even hug. What are you suggesting? And what are you suggesting if somebody kind of goes in for the hug even if you're not feeling that? You shouldn't be feeling that.
PETROW: Well, you know, I'm very clear with people that we want to do the namaste bow, which is putting your hands together in front of your heart and sort of making a little bow, and that will stop people in their tracks and say, oh, you don't want to shake my hand and you want to keep your distance. And I think that's kind of a humorous way to make clear that we need to sort of abide by these new rules.
MARTIN: And just briefly, before I go to Lisa, how did you set up the date? Had you already been talking to the person?
PETROW: Yes, on an app - on one of those dating apps. And we actually kind of set the rules ahead of time that we both believed in social distancing. And I'll say the big plus was, you know, often at the end of the date you don't know whether to shake hands, give a kiss or whatever - well, that was easy. We just kind of bowed and went off.
MARTIN: Took it off the table. All right, Lisa, what about you? I mean, it's - I mean, it doesn't sound that romantic, I have to be honest. So at a time when we're self-quarantining and - what are you hearing and what are your contacts saying? What do you think about all this?
BONOS: Yeah. So I've spoken to several relationship experts who are talking about FaceTime and Skype dates and kind of how to make those fun. You can set yourself up - you know, if you're a writer, you can set your camera up in front of your bookshelf. Or if you're a musician, you can set - you can sit in front of your record collection. And they really talked about still making it seem special - putting on a nice shirt - you don't have to wear pants.
BONOS: But drinking out of a nice glass, not - you know, acting as if you were hosting someone in your home because you, virtually, are.
MARTIN: Are - Lisa, are - do you find that people are, in fact, observing these new rules? Have the attitudes changed? Because, you know, we've all seen the pictures from the beaches in Florida - the young folk - you know, young kid - you know, I'm showing my age right here - the kids, you know, partying. But you have you observed attitudes changing?
BONOS: I have. I spoke to one woman in London who went on her first FaceTime date, and it sort of happened by accident. She had met someone at a bar a couple of weeks ago. So the bars are still open in Britain, but they had met at a bar a couple weeks ago. And they were texting on WhatsApp, and she said something about how she was really craving wine, but she knows it's not good to drink alone. Pretty soon, the man she'd been texting with sent her 15 pounds and said, look, I'll buy the wine. Let's FaceTime at 8:00. And they spent several hours together talking and ended up getting the same bottle of wine for each of them so they could have similar experiences.
MARTIN: And, Lisa, you were saying that - like Steven just mentioned that at the end of his walking date that it kind of took off the table the pressure for - if I could just be blunt about it, it took off the pressure for other kinds of intimacy - right? - from the first date. It reimposed the new norm, would you think that that's accurate?
BONOS: Oh, for sure. Dating experts talk about how, you know, it takes that gamesmanship off the table of are you - you know, is this person coming home with me tonight? It's not an option now, so it's really a chance to connect emotionally and create that bond before doing anything physical.
MARTIN: Steven, sort of moving to a - kind of a more serious note here, you've called this the normal, but you've also likened it to another time when a crisis - a health crisis created new norms for social behavior. Would you talk a little bit more about that?
PETROW: Yeah. I wrote a column in USA Today last week which looked back at the AIDS epidemic - and especially the very beginning of that, when condoms were not being used pretty much by anybody except if they wanted to prevent pregnancy. And as a public health person at that time, we really wanted to instill this behavior change - this new social contract that condoms were a must. And a multitude of approaches were used, including humor, which is some of what we're talking about today. I remember putting a condom over my head, blowing it up so people could see - yes, it's - you know, it can get really big and it's really strong.
And so that kind of like brought humor as a way to model behavior. It was very effective, especially in a time of crisis. So, you know, we need to use all of our strategies now to maintain intimacy, you know, and to - you know, social distancing seems like not the right term. I think we're talking about physical distance, but we still want to find ways to be intimate and use our technologies and smarts.
MARTIN: And the same question I had - I asked Lisa earlier, are you observing that, in the - in your contacts, the people you speak with, your circle - these norms being observed? Do you find the attitude change taking hold?
PETROW: You know, I wrote with humor last week, and this week I am going to be writing with anger because, no, I am not seeing fast enough change. And when we see that curve of growth of cases and deaths, it's just - it's just frightening beyond belief. And people need to hear this message - stay 6 feet apart, and stay home when you're told to.
MARTIN: And, Lisa, this may or may not be on the more humorous note, but what about the ex factor, as in people who are tempted to text their ex or exes because, you know, people have some time on their hands, they're thinking about them, and perhaps they feel that somebody that they already know might be - I don't know, what's the word to use here? - you know, safer than somebody whom they've never met? What are you hearing about that? And do you have any advice about that?
BONOS: Yeah. I spoke to a psychologist who said that it makes sense that, in times of crisis, we think of or reach toward the person that we last felt safe with. But not every relationship ends well. So experts told me, you know, to think about how a relationship ended before you reach out to the person. But - and to be OK with - you know, you might reach out. And if - and that person might not respond. And so if you're OK with kind of saying - checking in and asking how someone is doing and knowing that you may not hear from them, then go ahead and do it.
MARTIN: And, Lisa, final thought from you, were - are you doing anything interesting to try to get through this time?
BONOS: I have been talking to my parents every day on the phone and calling at least one friend on the phone and not necessarily - sometimes it's a close friend, but it could be somebody I haven't talked to in months. And tonight, I do have a FaceTime date with an ex of mine, so there you go.
MARTIN: Oh. Steven, you going to - do you have any advice for Lisa here? (Laughter).
PETROW: Well, no, I know Lisa well. She is an expert in all things dating, so I'm sure that she'll have a great time, and the fellow is lucky.
MARTIN: All right. Well, keep us both posted. Lisa Bonos writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post. Steven Petrow is a columnist for USA Today. Thank you both so much.
BONOS: Thanks for having us.
PETROW: Thanks, Michel.
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