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    The COVID compatibility test

    We exchanged emails for months. I was struck by his humility and quiet wit. Not only were we grammatically compatible, we were both socially and environmentally conscious animal lovers.

    He drove two hours to meet me at my house. But when he pulled up, I noticed immediately something crucial was missing. My enthusiastic welcome became a muttered request to please mask up.

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    I had assumed that because he was liberal, educated and well-read like my friends and me, he would follow similar mask-wearing guidelines.

    I was wrong.

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    Dating during the pandemic is difficult regardless, with limits to where you can go and what you can do and the pervasive fear of catching or spreading a potentially fatal disease. Then there’s the tricky question: At what point in your dating journey do you peel off your masks? The old “Seinfeld” phrase “Is he sponge-worthy?” has given way to questions of COVID-exposure worthiness.

    But the pandemic poses yet another unique set of challenges. You and your date may line up across all the OkCupid data points and still have very different ideas about pandemic etiquette, giving rise to all sorts of awkward exchanges and internal calculations.

    For instance, when I saw my date without a mask, I couldn’t help wondering whether he would be responsible — and considerate — in other aspects of life. And he’d probably feel more comfortable with someone who was more flexible about mask-wearing and social distancing.

    For those who choose to meet in the flesh, a person’s COVID etiquette can be very telling.
    For those who choose to meet in the flesh, a person’s COVID etiquette can be very telling. (ShutterStock)

    Dating sites such as Match and eHarmony have reported a surge in use during the pandemic, but surveys show that many users are opting for virtual over physical contact. For those who choose to meet in the flesh, a person’s COVID etiquette can be very telling, notes New York City psychoanalyst Randy Faerber.

    “It’s a window into a person and the risks they take,” says Faerber, who likens failure to mask up to refusal to wear a condom. “You have to ask, is he educable and will he care about you and protect you, or will he be careless or negligent?”

    One way to avoid the situation I encountered: Discuss your COVID-etiquette expectations before the date. As awkward as this may seem, it’s worse to deal with it in person.

    When I broached the topic to my therapist, he noted it’s been coming up “pretty much continuously” in his practice, as the dating pool’s concerns have shifted from #MeToo issues to how to have a semblance of a social life without catching COVID. Underpinning both conversations are questions of consent and personal boundaries. Relationships depend on both parties' ability to compromise, but compromise and COVID safety don’t go hand in hand.

    When I asked my date why he hadn’t worn a mask, he replied that he’s trying to find a balance between living his life and being safe. But that doesn’t take into account the point of the guidelines: to protect others as well as yourself.

    Getting on the same page with a man when it comes to safety isn’t always so simple. Decades of research suggest that men engage in riskier behavior than women and are more likely to speed, gamble and abuse drugs. An April study found that men are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID than women. That may be partly because men tend to downplay the virus’ severity and scrimp on protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    Dwight Brown, 57, of Albany practices cautious COVID protocol in his daily life, but says he wouldn’t run from a maskless date. After their second date, Brown recently invited a woman to his apartment, where they took off their masks and talked. “I’m so starved for a kiss or a hug I would throw caution to the wind,” says Brown, who works for a New York State public agency.

    As for my date, he returned to his car and grabbed a mask. I showed him around my property, and we chatted pleasantly. But when he asked if he could come inside to use my bathroom, I froze. Did he typically socialize without wearing a mask? I asked. Yes, he often hung out unmasked with a small meet-up group, and they had been eating indoors at restaurants. “It would make me very nervous,” I said.

    Although I had mentioned that I wanted to take separate cars, he walked up to mine and started to open the passenger-side door. But he did wear a mask for the rest of the time we spent together, except when we sat down to eat at separate tables outdoors. He didn’t criticize me, and he was responsive to the limits I set. Maybe there’s hope.

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    Angel is a freelance writer.

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