How to Start Dating for the First Time

Whenever you’re ready is the right time.

Hi [Nona], I’ve never really dated before and seeing that I’m 24…I feel kind of ashamed of that fact. I want to put myself out there but I feel almost afraid to and especially with this pandemic, I’m not quite sure how to proceed. Any advice for a 24 year old novice to all things relationships and dating?

—[Bryanna], 24

Let’s get this out of the way: You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, it may be unusual to never have dated by age 24, but that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal, because “normal” doesn’t actually exist. It feels natural for some people to start sexually and romantically exploring as soon as they hit puberty, and some, such as people who identify as aromantic, never feel like dating at all. The extremes of the spectrum, and any situation in between, are all totally okay.

But let’s also discuss how to change your situation, since you expressed a desire to “put yourself out there.” You’re right to sense that some of my advice in a typical year—accept every party invite, join a new group or activity, get the word out among your friends—just won’t work during a pandemic. For people taking COVID-19 seriously, there are no party invites. Among states monitoring their cases closely, there are no crowded bars to go to, and lots of non-drinking organized activities have migrated to Zoom or have been paused completely. Colder temperatures are coming for much of the country, so the outdoor hangs we might have enjoyed during the summer are going to dwindle.

This is all true, and it’s a huge bummer. But if early data and reporting is any indication, the way dating has changed during COVID-19 might actually end up being a silver lining for someone in your situation.

Hear me out: Anecdotally, single people who’ve used dating apps during the pandemic have reported taking things slower than they did pre-COVID. They’re also being more intentional about who they’re chatting with; a recent survey of Hinge users, for instance, found that 69% of them are “thinking more about who they’re really looking for.” Chats can go on for weeks before there’s an expectation or even a possibility of meeting up. And video convos, which many think of as low-pressure versions of dates, have become more normalized. Someone like you, who has never dated before and might feel nervous about the prospect of IRL meetups or physical contact, might actually benefit from a slower, more intentional burn.

Before you jump right on the apps, though, I’d urge you to take a cue from Hinge users and think about what your goals are. You say “date,” but that could mean anything: Do you want to experience your first romance? Do you want to explore sexually, regardless of commitment? Do you just want to master the basics of flirting and the ritual of spending non-platonic time with another person? Do you have specific things you want to try, or really don’t want to try? Choose an app that aligns with what you feel ready for, and make it clear on your profile (in a cute way, of course) why you’re here. And pandemic or not, I still recommend being open to your friends about what you want. They may not be able to facilitate an elaborate run-in at their birthday party, but they certainly could arrange the digital equivalent of a blind date—or at least a blind flirt.

Teen Vogue
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