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 May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."