You may be wondering why a guy who has been happily married for 16 years is writing a column about how to date during the pandemic. There are two reasons: first, Margaret and I met when I was living in Seattle and she was living near Kansas City. Long-distance relationships are really all that’s possible now, even though the distances are shorter, so I have some experience.
Secondly, Valentine’s Day is upon us again, but this time we need a little humor. So that is my second goal: providing little humor.
I could say that these kernels of wisdom would help even a long-married couple find some added pleasure, but I’d be lying. In truth, the pleasure that comes from being in a long relationship is more about feeling like you have one brain between the two of you, of being able to predict each other’s reactions (some of us, mostly men, are missing that gene) and also being able to guess when it is our turn to do the dishes (correct answer: every night you’re not cooking).
It’s not that romance is unimportant when you’ve been together a long time, far from it, but you settle into the relationship in a way that was not available when you were newer at it. Some people think of this phase of a relationship as “boring.” I think of it this way: building a house takes a long time, a lot of work and a great deal of planning (not to mention plumbing and electrical). Setting fire to the house is exciting and will have some people wide-eyed, but you may not have a bed to sleep in at the end.
All of us now find ourselves in a virtual world, where we must limit our circles of exposure and stay home most of the time. This is easy for your typical Vashon couple because your typical Vashon couple is close to retirement age, does a lot of gardening, and spends much of the rest of the time putzing with hobbies (I collect doorknobs and Margaret does the crosswords) or watching Jeopardy. On the weekends, it’s Masterpiece Theater on Public Television. But you’ll never find me and Margaret in that group. We are far too youthful and athletic to be considered a “typical Vashon couple.” This is largely because we haven’t a garden, unless “mold and moss” are considered garden plants, in which case our house should be on the cover of the Mycological News.
Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that can become a chore the more times one does it, like birthdays and even Christmas. We fall into these routines partly to mark the seasons but mostly because others expect us to follow an age-old script. Gifts that cost a lot of money are often involved, which should make you wonder who wrote the script.
Expressions of love should never follow a script. It’s all about spontaneously expressing yourself, hopefully at a time when it’s appreciated. If your expression is ill-timed, you might be able to joke about it years later. If it’s really ill-timed, the police may be forgiving. Remember that we all make mistakes, what James Thurber referred to as the “mistaken exits and entrances” of his youth.
For those of you who have been in a relationship for some time, it would be presumptuous of me to give you advice. You already know how to celebrate Valentine’s Day, pandemic or not. All I can say is to mix it up. Try something new. Buy your partner a new jigsaw puzzle. See if the local thrift shop has any doorknobs.
Those of you who need advice at this moment are those who are not in a relationship but who desperately want to be. You’re looking at trying to arrange a first date and get up the courage to ask someone out at a time when “out” means a Zoom call.
Our first “in-person” date was when I met Margaret at the airport. She walked off the plane with that gorgeous smile of hers and, in front of God and everybody, gave me a big kiss. I was certain she had mistaken me for someone else. Maybe she thought I was George Clooney, I wondered. People have mentioned a resemblance (from about 100 yards, if you left your glasses at home) so it was possible. But despite all odds, she continues to like me.
The lesson here is to prepare. Make sure your intended has a picture of you that is reasonably accurate. You needn’t emphasize all the bits you don’t like. Emphasize the ones you do like unless they are doorknobs. Beyond that, my advice is this: Don’t do it.
Okay, you can do it if you both wear masks, stay outside of buildings, no closer than six feet apart, and wash your hands often. This means no handholding, no kissing, and no hugging, but you can do the crossword together on Zoom. And good luck.
Greg Wessel is an island geologist.