Feb. 3, 2021

How to Date During Covid with New York Times Reporter, Valeriya Safronova

How to Date During Covid with New York Times Reporter, Valeriya Safronova

“The broad rules of consent still apply, but they’re just being applied in new ways. To me, it’s always about making sure that you’re clear on your expectations. I think it’s better to ask if something is ok than to be afraid it will be awkward, especially during the pandemic.” - Valeriya Safronova

Dating can be challenging in the best of times, but what is a single person to do while in the midst of a global pandemic? These times have brought up new issues when it comes to dating, and today on Brave By Design I’m speaking with someone who literally wrote the article on hooking up during Covid-19 to help shed some light on these topics. 

Valeriya Safronova is a reporter for The New York Times Style section, where she writes features on culture, personal technology and gender. She was a 2019-2020 Fulbright journalism fellow based in Munich.

As Valeriya reveals, even though we are in a new world with new rules the same old problems exist with dating. She learned many things from speaking with individuals who are navigating the dating world right now, and this is why it’s such an enlightening and eye-opening conversation to be having on the podcast today.

Connect with Valeryia: https://twitter.com/vsaffron

Remember to hit SUBSCRIBE wherever you listen to podcasts!

What You’ll Hear In This Episode: 

  • If Valeriya feels the pandemic is pushing people towards fast-tracking their romantic relationships [6:36]

  • Her thoughts on sliding the scales of safety versus mental health, and managing the risk factors associated [8:58]

  • Tips for when you’re getting judgement from others [11:59]

  • The real reasons that Valeriya decided to write her article [16:06]

  • What everyone needs to understand about consent and boundaries [18:11]

  • Ways to manage the difficult conversations with others around these topics when they arise [19:41]

Additional Links & Resources: 

Valeriya’s New York Times Article, True Stories of Hooking Up During Covid-19

Her Twitter 


Support the show (https://www.paypal.me/bravebydesign)

Transcript
Valeriya Safronova:

The broad rules of consensus still apply. They're just being applied in new ways. But to me, it's always about, you know, making sure that you're clear on your expectations. And I think it's better to ask if something is okay than to be afraid that it will be awkward, especially during this pandemic.

Laura Khalil:

Welcome to brave by design. I'm your host, Laura Khalil. I'm an entrepreneur, coach and speaker. I love thinking big, exploring the power of personal development and sharing the best strategies from thought leaders and pioneers in business to empower ambitious women and allies to bravely rise and thrive. Let's get started. Everyone, welcome to this very special episode of brave by design. Today, we are going to be talking about something we are going to be broaching a frontier we have not yet discussed on the show, which is dating and hooking up consent boundaries and all that during the pandemic. So that is something that you're like, I don't know if I

Unknown:

need that,

Laura Khalil:

skip on over to another episode. But if you have a single person in your life, even if you're in a relationship, you're gonna want to listen to this. Because I have brought on the woman who literally wrote the article on hooking up during COVID-19. This is valaria Safronova, she is a journalist for the New York Times. You've done tons of research into this. Let's talk about it. Welcome to the show. First, first and foremost, welcome to the show.

Valeriya Safronova:

Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here.

Laura Khalil:

So Val, let me ask you this. You're sitting around the newsroom. I'm trying to imagine you you're I mean, maybe it's not the newsroom because you're at home. But you're sitting on your home newsroom. And you're thinking, I need to write us a story on hooking up during the pandemic, what how did this come to you?

Valeriya Safronova:

I actually I wasn't at home, I was on a week long visit to New York after having not been there for I think, almost a year, and I was seeing some of my friends. And this was back in October. And a couple of them are single. And you know, they had told me little bits and pieces about what they were doing during the pandemic in terms of their dating lives. And it was basically nothing but at this point, it was October. So I was asking, you know, a friend what's been going on? What are you dating again? And she said, I have? And I said, Well, what made you restart? And she said, everyone around me started dating again. And I figured out was a signal that I could do it too. Yeah. And I said, Well, how are you just like going about it? Like, do you have any, like rules or anything? And she said, yes, if they kiss me, they can't kiss anyone else for a week afterwards, which I thought was very specific. And she's a very specific person. And I think there were some other rules, I don't really remember them. But that got me thinking about what other kinds of ways people are kind of managing this and protecting themselves. Because obviously, by October, you know, it had been a while. And I think it's pretty difficult to not date at all for that long if you're single. So, from what I've seen, a lot of people were dating, and I figured it was time to talk about it. Well, you know,

Laura Khalil:

you mentioned what your friend was doing in terms of managing safety because you have this quote in the article you say going on dates has involved a mental calculus, not unlike the kind applied to other social interactions in the COVID-19 era. Will I feel safe? What's the likelihood of infection? How many people could this hurt? Did you hear this a lot from the folks that you interviewed for this article?

Valeriya Safronova:

Yeah, I think actually people kind of, they didn't necessarily separate it in their head, like, Okay, this is what I do for dating. And this is what I do for other social interactions. I think they just kind of combine the two in their minds. And when I would pointedly start asking, is dating different guys. And some people had some thoughts, but I think for a lot of people, it was kind of like, Okay, well, I'm seeing some of these friends this way. Like, okay, so one of the people in the story, Allison, who's the lead of the story, the first anecdote at the top. She was like, I think one of the most careful daters I spoke to she basically only went on math dates, besides you, actually. Oh, wow. You

Laura Khalil:

only whenever I'm in the story, guys, we'll get to that.

Valeriya Safronova:

Went on master. She only went on that date, with a distance. And you know, one guy tried to get her to take the mask off. And she said no. And he made fun of her for that. And then eventually, someone she knew from the past. They went on a mass date. It went well, and she asked him if they could be exclusive. He could take a test for her. All that good stuff. And then they saw each other for I think four to five weeks exclusively. And then it just told me also. Yeah, because he said she was the convenience to him, which that's not a good is never good. I read

Laura Khalil:

that. And he is personally livid on her behalf.

Unknown:

Yeah, awful. I'm

Laura Khalil:

sorry, what else were you gonna say Val.

Valeriya Safronova:

So Alison in her outside of her dating life, she told me she's only really seeing her best friend and her roommate. And she's been in Los Angeles the whole the whole time. So she's being very careful in her social life outside of dating. And I think it was the same approach in dating, so they kind of go hand in hand. And then people who might be more free and seeing more friends from like, the whole other end of the spectrum. So

Laura Khalil:

you said, two people you interviewed were fairly cautious. What was the other end like?

Valeriya Safronova:

Oh, the other end? So Richard Smith, who's in the article is that him? It's some of the people he talked to on Tinder. So he is in Arizona, he moved there, I think halfway through the pandemic from Manhattan. And he, you know, this is actually a second interview I've done with him. And he said, You know what, I'm going to ask people on Tinder and Bumble what they think about meeting up in person, since you're asking you this, and from what I've seen in Arizona, no one cares. But so he asked, I think, like 10 people, he screenshotted their answers. And no one not a single person said, I'm uncomfortable with meeting in person. And I think out of the people, he asked at least two worked in healthcare, according to them. That's what they said that they work in healthcare. And so, you know, and he said, this is reflective of what he has seen living there for the last few months that no one is bothered by meeting in person. So and I don't think it's just Arizona, because Alison also told me in Los Angeles, she encountered a lot of people all throughout the pandemic, a lot of men who would say, like, Do you want to come over, which is also in the article, she said, It was as if nothing had changed. And she was so dismayed by it, because she, you know, she was like, you know, there's a pandemic happening, right. There's this opposite kind of end from the more careful behaviors, and I think we underestimate the extent to which it exists. And I think those people don't really want to go on the record and talk to the New York Times. But there were, you know, hints of it happening. And there were some sex parties around the country that were shut down, and things like that, that give us a glimpse into

Laura Khalil:

people are living their lives. Felt Did you find in this process that people had, did anyone describe like, Are people moving more quickly towards a relationship? Because of this? Because of some people want exclusivity? Is it sort of like, fast tracking relationships?

Valeriya Safronova:

Yeah, I think the people I spoke to, I think almost everyone is still dating, or is still not committed to anyone, although there are some exclusive physically exclusive relationships, which I think is a total COVID era products. You know, my friend said, Wait, so they're physically exclusive, but they're emotionally non exclusive. How does that? And I thought, Oh, you're right. That's

Laura Khalil:

crazy. That doesn't work.

Valeriya Safronova:

Yeah. But I think so most of the people I spoke with are still no one's like when the long term relationship. But I think it has sped up when people make the decision, either to commit to something to this one person in whatever way it is. or to just break things off, for example, Anna, who was an anonymous source, she traveled to Chicago from DC for this whole weekend in the hotel with this guy, that she was talking to over FaceTime and text for a month. And she came back and it was done. And she said, it was just you know, why if I have to travel so far to see this person, if I'm taking this kind of risk, to go see this man, it has to be worth it. And maybe in that, that one weekend was worth it. And she said it really was for her she needed that time. And to have that feeling of connection with someone. Yeah. But she said it just didn't it after that it was just done because it was too much effort for such a thing. And I think that's kind of what it has come to is, is the effort worth it? Is it worth it for me to, you know, constantly think about the like the potential that could harm this other person who's not maybe like a best friend or a family member? Is it worth it to get test regular? Is it worth it to be exclusive with you? So I think people have to decide much faster.

Laura Khalil:

I definitely agree. No one at the time that you and I talked which was probably a month or so ago. I remember saying to you like I hadn't actually been touched by anyone for many months including my my own parents who both have pre existing are old like I was terrified to even be in a room with them. So where does you know the when you look at the sort of the scales of safety versus converses mental health and emotional well being How does it all land and I spoke with doctors about this correct?

Unknown:

Mm hmm. Did they talk about that?

Valeriya Safronova:

Yeah, I mean, they like one of the actually two of the sort of expert sources that I had in the story. They work on HIV, like that's kind of their main area of focus. And he talks about managing sort of risk factors, right? They said, We have to assume that people will have sex, and sometimes it'll be unprotected. But how do we manage it to get the rate down as low as possible? rather than, you know, it's the kind of like, age old, like, do we say people should abstain? Or do we acknowledge that people are going to do these things anyway, and figure out how to best manage that risk. So for sure, I think it was the experts are very aware, people that need to have intimacy or need to have connection, people need to be touched. I mean, I was actually at the beginning of the pandemic, I was in Germany, and we went into a full scale lockdown kind that the US has not experienced at all. So basically, at the very beginning, we were told we couldn't see anyone outside of our household at all, and we would be fine. If we did, outside or inside, we could only go out to maybe get groceries or go to the post office. And I don't even think the post office was open. But it was, you know, those like only essential activities, all the restaurants were closed fully, all the bars were closed fully. They still did delivery. And you know, we could only go outside if you had to go to work, or if you wanted some exercise, and it was kind of scary, because it was the first like lockdown have ever experienced. And it was the first lockdown everyone had experienced around me. And so everyone was terrified of going outside for more than an hour. And no one would even sit down because we thought if we're not walking or moving, then we could be accused of not exercising, and then we wind like 2000 euros or some amount. I forget what it was. Whoa. And that was scary. Because I was away from my family I lived with, you know, a roommate I'd had for six months.

Laura Khalil:

And then you guys are suddenly like buddies friends. So we Yeah,

Valeriya Safronova:

well. Germans are not huggers. Oh, okay. So yeah, so well, that I was sorry, I was it was a long lead to explain that I was. I remember feeling so anxious at the time that I couldn't even get a hug. Like from one of my friends living nearby. And even I actually did end up seeing a friend, we decided to be exclusive buddies. And until we realized we could see a few more people and they wish to know restrictions. But we wouldn't even hug because we thought it was dangerous. So it was kind of like, you know, stuck alone in a foreign country. You know, no one no, nothing happening. And I remember it was very anxiety provoking. I think that made me a lot more sympathetic to people when I was writing the story and recording the story.

Laura Khalil:

Yeah. Do you think, you know, it's funny as a single person? I think they're sometimes a little bit of judgment that can come from friends who are coupled or married,

Unknown:

who say, what

Laura Khalil:

the heck are you doing right now?

Valeriya Safronova:

Yeah, I think well, especially people were really, I think worried about facing that judgment when they were me. And I kind of was aware of that too. And it was a little worried for them. But I didn't realize since the article came out in the comments have started rolling in that where we are in the pandemic today is different than where we were in, let's say, like, may or August. And I think people have found a lot more compassion for each other. And everyone has experienced, you know, an exhaustion with things that they stand a deep, deep bone deep exhaustion and things as they stand and has more compassion for people. Actually, can I read a comment? I, too, that I thought was Oh, did you?

Laura Khalil:

Yes, read it.

Valeriya Safronova:

This person said I work with COVID testing hotline in the city. Through this summer, I was really mad at the 20 somethings calling in a panic looking for a test. The calls that came on Monday mornings were always the same young people admitted to hooking up and are now worried. I was mad about that. But now 10 months into this, I can't be anymore. I look back to when I was 20 and living in the city. And I couldn't imagine going 10 months without a random casual hookup. I still want the bars closed, though. You know, 10 months is a long time. So I think a couple of people have started to imagine what it would be like to be single. And they're realizing Okay, like how would I feel at this stage? I wouldn't feel great. And I would want to date and I would want to maybe like make out with someone or do something?

Laura Khalil:

Yeah, definitely. So I'll say after you and I So guys, if you want to read about my experience, you can go read the article where Valles actually interviewed me and I talked about what I did at the time of our interview. And it's interesting because after we spoke, I was very and I still am very kind of. I don't remember if I brought this up to you, but there was Christmas coming up at that time. And I wanted to see my parents and I was also moving and I could not imagine in this world. more scary prospect There is no way I can get sick. And after I sort of moved and settled in, and we had Christmas, and you know, nobody's died, thank God, or gotten sick or anything. I was like, Okay, I think I'm gonna hit it a little harder, you know, like, I feel safer. And also, I had a roommate before. So I was also concerned about her. So now I'm like, I think I'm really only primarily risking my own health. And so in Michigan, we're on pretty much it's a lockdown, everything is pretty much closed. You know, although that's not really even true. Retail is open, but restaurants are closed, you know, all the typical things you do in dating, and it's also like 20 degrees outside. So it's, you can't really go for a walk. So I was thinking about this. So I met a guy on one of these apps. And I thought, well, what the heck are we going to go to? Like, how are we going to stand outside, I'm gonna be there for five minutes, and then run away. I got one word for you, Costco. So you go to Costco. It's like your shopping, you can go you go to any grocery store. And you walk around, and you know, check out the things and talk to someone you're indoors. It's really big and like, kind of open space. And I was like, well, this is kind of weird. But it's like, what else? Am I not going to my car with you

Valeriya Safronova:

like going? At least in Costco, there are things to prompt conversation

Laura Khalil:

Exactly. Like what would you buy? Do you like how much toilet paper Do you want to buy for you know, you know, you play games and stuff like that. And it's just kind of fun and silly. And I obviously never in my wildest dreams would ever go to a supermarket or Costco, or any of that stuff on the date ever. Except here. What else am I gonna do? And so, one last thing I want to ask you, a lot of this article is about hooking up. And it's about casual dating. Is that a function of the fact that you didn't find people who were building relationships? Or is that just the angle you chose to pursue?

Valeriya Safronova:

was definitely the angle because I think it just sounded more complex. They think building a relationship is kind of a different story. And I think, you know, when people go into it thinking, I want to be exclusive. And there are people who have started relationships, many people during this pandemic, and I think they just go from, you know, from we just met to hang out all the time exclusivity. And that's what they want. That's what they're comfortable with. And I think it's a lot easier than what some of the people I spoke with, are trying to do, which is meet multiple people keep trying, you know, maybe not everyone wants to be in a long term relationship. People sometimes just want to have sex, and that doesn't go away for 10 months. That desire still there. And how do people do it? That was, I think, a bit more tricky to ask an answer.

Laura Khalil:

You did a really good job, though, with how you would ask questions I did to say that because I think it's a really delicate topic, but you're so gentle, you kind of navigate it. At least that's how I felt. I was like, what she's me knows where this is going.

Valeriya Safronova:

Everyone is different, though. Like some people Cooper being one of them. I think also Cooper was anonymous. So he you know, anonymity provides some measure of comfort, but he wanted to talk about sex. And he was, you know, la dee da dee, da dee da here is everything I did, you know, nothing could stop him. I didn't have to prompt. You know, when I didn't have to kind of dig around for juicy tidbits, he wanted to tell me exactly what was going on. So you know, everyone's different, and everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to talking about their personal life and sex. So,

Laura Khalil:

so Well, let me ask you this. If you learn any tips about consent or boundaries, what would you share with the audience?

Valeriya Safronova:

Oh, so I think the broad rules of consent still apply. They're just being applied in new ways. But to me, it's always about you know, making sure that you're clear on your expectations. And I think it's better to ask if something is okay, than to be afraid that it will be awkward, especially during this pandemic, I would say always, you know, I've heard this whole thing Oh, it's not sexy. If a guy asks you if he can kiss you. I think it's nice. I think it shows that that guy cares about your boundaries. And once he asked, once you start kissing, I don't think you're gonna remember that. You know, that awkwardness of that moment will easily pass exactly, I kid and then I, you know, in that case, nothing would have made it better. But I think it's always good to ask, not be afraid of something being awkward and you know, be as vocal as possible about what you're comfortable with. And don't be afraid to tell someone that you know, I want to wear a mask on our date. I don't feel comfortable taking the mask. Golf until I know you better, I think you have the best advice on all of this. You were walking me through a five step plan? Yes. Like we need to shut this up. It didn't fit in the article badly. I snuck in a little bit of your advice, which was listen to what they're saying, right? You were saying take them at their word words and actions, their actions and words don't match.

Laura Khalil:

So true. So for our audience, you guys know, I love to talk about how to have hard conversations. For those of you who are listening. And guys, here's the thing, apply this, to dating, apply this to work in with your boss, you can apply how to have hard conversations in any area of your life. It's not just about dating. So I want you to first think about what are the facts of the situation, that's where we start. And the facts are like indisputable facts. So if we were in a court of law, you know, 11am, the sky is blue. Like we cannot dispute these things. And then we talk about feelings. And that's the part that's so hard for people to say, Hey, this is what happened. And this is how it made me feel. And that's the vulnerability. But see, when we're vulnerable, it gives someone else permission to open up. If I come and attack you like a barracuda. How on earth would I expect you to open up and be honest, or you know, open up with me and share your feelings? After we share how we feel? We move on to asking, What is your experience? Tell me? How do you see this because often we're looking at the world through very different lenses, even if the facts are the same. hear from that person? Listen, listen, seek to understand instead of waiting to respond, because that's where we also get we don't listen. And I even recommend people take notes. And I have to take notes. And I know it seems weird, especially when I'm talking to friends.

Unknown:

I'm like,

Laura Khalil:

sorry, do you mind if I write this down? Because like, I want to make sure I'm not missing what was said. And, you know, we sort of work towards a shared outcome if possible. And I know that that seems scary to people. But, boy, what's on the other side of a hard conversation is a lot of clarity. In my experience. It certainly feels a lot better. I don't know. That's what I think.

Valeriya Safronova:

I agree. Actually, one thing I wanted to mention is I think we talked about this a bit. And I talked about it with everyone. And it didn't make it into the article. But the conversations around COVID that I think more people are now having with people they're dating and sexual partners are very similar into conversations about STDs, STI and condoms. And I think people you know, we're gonna exit this pandemic. Soon, I hope Fingers crossed. And I hope people can apply some of these lessons. Hopefully, they're learning about how to talk and how to communicate their needs, to things that will continue to be present, like condom use, like protection from sex and STDs, like testing for all those things, you know, prep, all of these should be on the table and we shouldn't be terrified of them. Like they're the boogeyman.

Laura Khalil:

I know, I mean, and that is the truth. Preach. I mean, I really hope that people feel more comfortable having those discussions Because ultimately, it's about protecting yourself and and the person you're with just like COVID, right. It's the same thing. Now, this has been so much fun to have you on brave by design. Thanks for joining me.

Unknown:

Thanks for having me.

Laura Khalil:

Of course, we're gonna pop a link in the show notes to this episode for where people can go and find your article. It's called True Stories of hooking up during COVID-19 on New York Times website, Val, how would you like people connect with you or follow you?

Valeriya Safronova:

So I'm on Twitter. It's at V Safran as a FF r o n, silly handle from when I was 17. And I just kept it or you know, whatever, whenever Twitter came around. That's the best way to find me in dm.

Laura Khalil:

Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us. I want to thank you for joining me and remember to subscribe to your favorite app so you can stay up to date, and I would love your review. If you've enjoyed this episode, please leave a review and comment on Apple podcasts. You can also keep in touch with me online. You can find me on LinkedIn and I'm also on Instagram at force of badassery. All that information will be available in the show notes. Until next time, stay brave.