Valentine’s day is usually a time to celebrate new relationships. However, as the pandemic rages on, nuanced issues of safety confront students looking for a date this year.
The gravity of the situation is not lost on Brian Badesco, a former medical worker and current junior in UNC Asheville’s physics department. He has seen firsthand what the virus can do.
“Especially now with a virus that can kill you, and this is coming from a health care worker, it can kill you at your age. I’ve seen it happen,” he said.
Badesco said the looming threat of the virus has changed the way he goes about finding a date for this year.
“Being over 21, I used to go to bars. Now that bars close at like 9 p.m., it’s already difficult and I don’t want to get corona. So, going out to meet people physically? Not so much anymore,” he said.
While the times between open and close vary from bar to bar and month to month, the threat of COVID-19 remains.
Laura Jones, assistant professor of health and wellness at UNCA, said students are subject to a host of new stressors due to the pandemic as well as the move to an online format.
“Struggles with depression and anxiety have skyrocketed,” she said.
However, if you are able to brave dating apps or are lucky enough to find someone outside of the internet, right now could be one of the best times to pursue a new relationship, according to Jones.
“It has required people to step back and evaluate the importance of social connection in their lives and how they get that connection,” Jones said.
Because we are all starved of the connections we may have taken for granted before the outbreak, Jones said that we can expect people to be more grateful for the interactions they find themselves in.
“Anecdotally, it seems like there’s a level of vulnerability that people are willing to go to now that they weren’t before,” she said.
However, there are some caveats to dating during a pandemic. One being the nuanced issue of safety and how people define it, according to Jones.
“We know that social support, connections with others, they enhance our mental health, they enhance our physical health, they enhance our spiritual health, they enhance almost every aspect of our wellness. And, during COVID, other people have become the source of a potential disease,” she said.
Different people have different stances on the subject of safety during a pandemic. According to Jones, these differences can make or break new relationships.
“One of the things from a relationship standpoint that clinicians are hearing a lot is the difficulty in relationships that COVID is creating from the standpoint of partners feeling different about that level of safety,” Jones said.
The conversation about how comfortable you and your special someone are with masks, attending restaurants, or even seeing each other in person is one that needs to happen, according to Jones.
“It’s like this whole other new level of consent, communication and conversation,” she said.
According to Badesco, it’s more important now than ever to have good communication, especially as it relates to an individual’s definition of safety.
“You should have a tougher conversation about corona, because some of you guys might not see eye-to-eye on it. That in and of itself might make a regrettable evening,” he said.
Aubrey Mast, a lecturer in UNCA’s health and wellness department, said students can take steps right now to help make sure their Valentine’s day will be a safe one.
“One of the things that I think is really important for anybody right now is immune system support. Getting outdoors and breathing in fresh air as often as possible,” she said.
According to Mast, getting outdoors could be a crucial aspect of defending our health against the virus.
“That’s the key for all of us, as much as it is to wear the mask and not be irresponsible, it’s also to take responsibility for our health and our well-being where we can,” she said. “Making sure we’re drinking lots of water, getting lots of sleep, getting outside– but in terms of food choices, really cutting out and reducing the things that are inflammatory.”
Mast said the perfect date for Valentine’s day might look like a picnic in the botanical gardens.
“Walking around campus or going to the botanical gardens would be a great way to have a date that is also safe where you’re having some form of a distance but also supporting your immune system at the same time,” she said.
For those students who are either struggling to find a date or have written off the event entirely, this could be the best year to fly solo, according to Jones.
“This is the best time to not have a date for Valentine’s day. This is not a time to feel bad about yourself if you don’t have someone on Valentine’s day because, from a public health standpoint, that’s probably smart– at least if you’re meeting someone new,” she said.
Even if you find yourself stuck at home behind a screen or out practicing safe social distancing, we can all find a way to connect with another person. That connection, in whatever form, might mean a whole lot more, according to Jones.
“Always remember that right now, everybody could benefit from connecting with someone. It doesn’t matter if it’s romantic, it doesn’t matter if it’s social, everybody is in a place of feeling disconnected in some way,” she said.