Dating in a pandemic poses obstacles, for sure – masks, enforced distancing, nowhere to go, nothing to do.
Clark County residents Ilana Brown and Chris Cour, both 26, began dating in June. For them, the COVID-19 crisis stripped away distractions and pretense.
They met in 2019 through friends. She works for a public affairs consulting firm, and he works in sales for an auto parts manufacturer. They spent time together, but in groups.
When COVID-19 swept across the United States and forced lockdowns in early 2020, Brown and Cour exchanged text messages expressing disbelief and bewilderment.
“We were talking about NBA players who tested positive for COVID, and the NBA shutting down all together,” Brown said.
They said their messages started out along the lines of, “Oh this is so wild, all these things are shutting down,” and then turned more personal: “What are you doing to keep yourself sane?”
Their first date consisted of grabbing takeout and dining together distanced and outdoors at a park in east Vancouver. Their second date? Grocery shopping at Costco.
“I remember thinking, ‘How can I impress this guy?'” Brown said. In normal times, she would focus on her outfit, or rehearse funny stories to tell. But these weren’t normal times.
“We were joking, ‘This is all we can do is grocery shop and go to a park,’ ” Brown said.
“It’s not like we went to see a movie and to dinner, like a normal date. We were focused on each other the entire time,” Cour said. “That’s what we could do – sit together and talk. … It took away all the distractions and allowed us to focus on each other, and truly see if we had a real connection, if we have the same values and beliefs.”
They carefully observed safety procedures, they said. Although they are young and healthy, they didn’t want to unwittingly pass the virus to parents or grandparents more vulnerable to COVID-19.
As they got to know each other better, they were able to drop the masks. Just after they exchanged their first kiss, though, case counts spiked.
“We didn’t kiss from August to September,” Brown said.
In the fall and winter when the virus was heavily circulating, they spaced their in-person dates two weeks apart with video calls in between. They shared virtual movie nights by watching the same thing at the same time on streaming services.
They met each other’s parents but outdoors, in backyard gatherings.
“We’ve gotten tested several times, just to ensure we’re not going to get each other sick and spread things around,” Cour said. “Being careful has paid off for us.”
On March 12, Cour took Brown to brunch at La Provence in east Vancouver. Then they went to the Washougal Waterfront Park, the site of early dates, and Cour proposed marriage.
Brown said “yes.”
“I really credit my now fiance for helping me get through all the anxiety about COVID,” Brown said. “I’m very grateful that he came into my life at that moment.”
She said dating during a pandemic really isn’t that different, after all.
“It’s just like dating without COVID,” Brown said. “You want your boundaries respected. … If they don’t meet you there, they’re not the person for you. You say this is what’s important to you and why. If the person doesn’t accept it, move on.”
Cour and Brown decided that they want to enjoy the glow of their recent engagement before starting to plan a wedding. Even though pandemic restrictions are beginning to lift, Brown said she envisions a smaller gathering.
“The pandemic made me realize who is most important, and who I want there for big life moments.”