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The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the way people perform everyday tasks, from buying groceries to getting a haircut. But perhaps no activity looks more different—and in some cases, more challenging—than dating.
Looking for love has always come with obstacles, and they've become even greater in an era of mask-wearing, social distancing and quarantining. Nevertheless, many Austinites continue to navigate these uncharted waters. Their stories make one thing clear: Dating during COVID-19 is no walk in the park—except for when it is.
Making it to the next round
Mary Añez is not a big fan of text-based communication. If she matches with somebody on the dating app Hinge, she's quick to invite them to talk via Zoom. The video chatting tool isn't seamless, but it's a good way to gauge chemistry before committing to an in-person date.
"I don't want to use the word interview, but it's kind of like that," Añez says with a laugh.
Añez has maintained a fairly strict quarantine, and she admits the path forward for dating during a pandemic is often unclear. She's gone on a few socially distanced walks and has the option to hang out with dates on her spacious balcony, but even then, she has to trust the other person has been respecting quarantine as well.
"I'm not about to be like, 'You have to only see me,' but there is a virus," she says. "So it's like, kind of, you do only have to see me, although that's not really the emotional terms of engagement that we have."
While COVID-19 presents a unique set of obstacles for dating, the principles are familiar. For Añez, maintaining a strict quarantine or opting to meet up at a spot where both people feel comfortable ultimately boils down to respecting boundaries.
"All I ask is that you respect my time, and you respect me as a person, which makes it sound like the bar's on the floor," Añez says. "But that, I think, is the highest bar that a lot of people never really reach."
"That escalated quickly"
Jett Anderson and Sean Moore couldn't have predicted how momentous their first date would be. Not because sparks flew, but because it took place one week before Austin partially shut down in March.
"That was the last time I went downtown," Moore says. "I was driving down there thinking, 'Why am I going to see a guy in a pandemic? Why am I doing this?' But it worked out, I guess."
Moore and Anderson have been dating for nearly four months now. From their second date onward, they've had to spend virtually all their time together at each other's homes.
"Literally on our second date, I'm inviting a strange man into my home," Moore jokes. "I remember just getting weirdly like, 'OK, I trust you with my family's life. I hope that you're serious.'"
Since then, they've enjoyed many blissful nights watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and What We Do in the Shadows and playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (They're keeping an eye on their in-game avatars as they talk to me via Zoom.) They're looking forward to the day they can safely go kayaking or play disc golf again, but they're grateful for the firm foundation they've established during the pandemic.
"I would like to do other things, yeah, but because of how close we've gotten and how hyper-focused we've been, I really enjoy that," Anderson says. "If it ever opens up again—"
"Please don't talk like that!" Moore interrupts.
Anderson tries again: "When it does, eventually, that foundation's there."
Pandemic pro tips
Britny Eubank was arguably better-equipped for pandemic dating than most people. She's been practicing extreme social distancing—about 1,600 miles—for the past eight months with her boyfriend, who lives just outside Philadelphia.
The two last saw each other in February; the pandemic derailed Eubank's plans to fly to Philly in June, and they're not sure when they'll see each other next.
"We have another attempt planned for the fall, but at this point, everything is 'wait and see,'" Eubank says.
In the meantime, they've stuck faithfully to phone and video dates every Thursday night for the last eight months; they boosted it to twice a week after Eubank's June trip got canceled. In that time, Eubank has picked up a few long-distance tips that could make pandemic dating more bearable.
"Do your small talk via text, that way you can find out what you have in common and talk about those more interesting things on actual 'dates,'" she says. "Try to be as patient as possible with technical difficulties. And if your relationship seems like it's going in the long-term direction, definitely be intentional about the time you spend together."
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In a match marred by injuries and key player absences, Austin FC lost 2-0 in Los Angeles for the second time on Saturday to West Division titan LA Galaxy.
Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver was tasked with the near-insurmountable task of holding back the LA Galaxy's Chicharito, who is now the league's top scorer this season, and he nearly succeeded.
The club saw its first major threat from the formidable Chicharito when a penalty was drawn on Jhohan Romana. In his usual game-saving fashion, Stuver leapt to the right to kept the scoreboard empty and block what many thought would be the league leader's first goal of the match.
With a Hector Jimenez injury midway through play, a Jon Gallagher absence due to injury and a man down as Captain Alex Ring sat the bench, however, the team was unable to get a win in their second trip to Los Angeles.
Austin FC was slated to play against the odds after Ring was benched due to a second yellow card last week. To cover the wound, the club put standout rookie Daniel Pereira in his stead and placed Danny Hoesen back at the crown of the lineup after fellow striker Gallagher stayed home.
Hector Jimenez got his first start with the club at right back in the stead of Nick Lima, but the run was short-lived. The 32-year-old suffered an injury after attempting to save the first LA Galaxy goal, but Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget still scored the match opener after popping a shot over Stuver to make the match 1-0.
Austin FC plateaued through much of the first half, and the forces of the universe were in the Galaxy's favor as they encroached on Austin's defense.
The club found new stamina, as they usually do, when a set of subs were brought in to up the club's tempo, and ten minutes of the match were entirely Kekuta Manneh's. Manneh, the club's only player with Austin ties, subbed in the 60th minute of play and immediately made an attempt on goal. The winger would make three more attempts, one of which just missed the top right corner of goal, before LA made its next advances on Austin's defense.
Head coach Josh Wolff said he hoped for a goal for Manneh, who doesn't often get to hit the pitch.
"His contributions were obvious, and I would have liked to see him get a goal there," Wolff said.
It looked like Austin might tie it up during the "Kekuta Era," but Chicharito played true to his stats. Stuver went head-to-head with Chicharrito once again and lost as he scored his seventh goal in five matches in the 77th minute of play.
⚽️ x 7️⃣@CH14_ scores his league-leading seventh of the season! #LAvATX pic.twitter.com/28zLnOmKWb
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 15, 2021
Matt Besler said he was up for a challenge as the club's central defender and he's unsurprised at Chicharito's success. Besler also said and he respects Chicharito on and off the pitch becuase of his openness about mental illness.
"I was looking forward to the challenge," Besler said. "His recognition of where the space is world class, and it's no surprise that he's scored goals everywhere that he's gone. I respect him as a player and I also respect him off the field."
Another attempt on goal was made by the Galaxy's Kevin Cabral, who sunk one in past Stuver just minutes later, but the goal was called offsides. Still, the match came to an anticlimactic end as Austin FC was unable to get one in goal and lost 2-0.
Besler, who has seen the ebbs and flows of his Sporting Kansas City, his club of 12 years, said that it takes patience to be a successful team. Still, he's impressed that Austin FC has made as much ground as they have in their expansion year.
"I understand that it's going to be a process, and we are in our fifth game of our existence, but the fact that we're at where we are at isa good sign," Besler said. "Towards the last third of the season, that's when hopefully we can peak and look a lot like our final product."
Austin FC will have a chance to snap their two-match losing streak as they head to Nashville SC for their sixth-straight road match at 8 p.m.on Sunday.