woman and man sitting in a coffee shop looking at each other romantically
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The coronavirus pandemic has been especially difficult for anyone who was single during the year 2020. In addition to not being able to socialize with their loved ones, they were also forced to put real-life dating on hold—or to totally transform the way in which they meet potential partners. “The usual process of texting and then meeting up to see if you got along IRL was short-circuited by the risk of COVID-19, which forced singles to turn to video chat as a means of ‘dating,” says Amy McManus, LMFT, relationship therapist and owner of Thrive Therapy, Inc. in Los Angeles. As a result of the pandemic, the online dating industry is forecasted to surpass 2019’s $912 million revenue by millions. 

Even though apps and dating websites may have served as one of the main ways singles connected during COVID, Dave Bowden, online dating expert, confidence coach and founder of Irreverent Gent, points out that they are mere tools used to establish connection and allow people to actually meet in person. “Many people feel like the best they can do for now is to strike up a connection online, and hopefully use online communication tools to keep the conversation going until they're both vaccinated and can move from online dating to real life,” he says.

With vaccinations being distributed across the country, as well as many parts of the globe, there is hope for a return to in-person dating, potentially even as early as this summer. Here are expert-approved tips for how to move from online dating to real life, offline dating. 

Don’t rush into it.

Instead of lining up a full month’s worth of dates at the first opportunity, McManus recommends taking things slow. “Take some time to think about the things you’ve learned about yourself during the quarantine, and try to incorporate those things into your dating life,” she says. Doing so will only enhance your chances of finding someone that meets your needs and expectations. 

Make sure the person you want to date is COVID-safe.

“Just because there’s been a vaccine doesn’t mean this potential date has been vaccinated, and we still don’t know the transmission risks of someone who hasn’t taken both doses, or what they may transmit even if you have been vaccinated,” says Tammy Nelson Ph.D.  licensed sex and couples therapist, TEDx speaker and the author of The New Monogamy. She recommends making your COVID status one of the first things you discuss before you have any physical contact. 

Establish a commonality or interest.

While you're figuring out how to move from online dating to real life, Amanda Rose, dating expert, matchmaker and founder and CEO of Dating Boutique and Prestige Connections, suggests finding a common interest or activity that you can do in-person when the time is right. “Not only is a shared activity more fun and interesting than meeting for a drink or coffee, but it will also show you're putting effort into creating a fun introduction,” she says. 

Switch to offline dating once you’ve created a connection.

Dating apps or websites will continue to be effective ways of finding potential partners long after the pandemic is in our rear-view window. But Rose notes that it’s best to move from online dating to real life sooner rather than later. “Chemistry and connection is built over time and is felt through human interaction,” she says. “A simple in-person introduction such as meeting for coffee, a cocktail or an outdoor activity gives you the opportunity to see if this person is worth pursuing.”

Limit the first date to an hour to take the pressure off.

If you’ve been mostly communicating through a dating app or face-to-face via Zoom, meeting up to gage chemistry is a great idea. However, Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., author of Dating from the Inside Out and Facebook Dating: from 1st Date to Soulmate and the host of The Love Psychologist podcast, recommends opting for an hour-long meeting to see the level of initial interest once you’ve met live before arranging a longer date. 

Be open to the differences between online and offline dating.

“It takes creativity, adaptability and the willingness to learn new skills, just like offline dating did when you started that,” says Laura F. Dabney, M.D., relationship psychiatrist in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Online dating won’t necessarily find you the perfect partner—you still have to do the work and put in the effort for online dating to be successful.” The best way she recommends going about this is to open your mind and proceed thoughtfully. “You can overlap your offline and online dating until you start to  get more comfortable and adept with the online options,” she adds.