Quarantine dating dilemmas
May 31, 2020 7:00 AM   Subscribe

When can we touch again?

I started dating a guy shortly before quarantine hit. It is fresh and new and early. We are not exclusive; we are strictly in the getting-to-know-each-other camp and that's it.

When this all started we stopped all physical contact and have only had a couple of distance hangouts. We are not touching at all and are hardly seeing each other, though we are still talking daily. My absolute number one priority in this situation is keeping the high risk people in my life safe. We are each still seeing our parents and I would never forgive myself if I got someone sick because I was careless, even a stranger. Please assume that we are each following every precaution and are dealing with a challenging situation in the best way we can. He is also VERY concerned. He is working remotely and is not even grocery shopping to be as careful as possible.

We cannot keep this up forever. We are either going to stop seeing each other or we are going to have to find a way to see each other safely. We would each really, really like to start seeing each other more properly. It is heartbreaking to have someone directly in front of you and not be able to touch.

Which gets me to my question - how? How do we know when it's safe? We are in New York state and on the cusp of tier 2. The cases have really stabilized. I know there are going to be a range of opinions here, but how can we gauge when it is safe to start seeing each other more often again?

I would like to agree on an extra set of precautions we will both take, i.e. not going to restaurants or gatherings, ordering groceries, etc. Obviously we will have to discuss this and agree on what we need to do and what we can basically sacrifice while all of this is going on. We also have access to regular testing. We are both going to get antibodies tests, and I think I will start getting tested for the virus regularly, especially before I see my family (my parents have some health issues and I need to see them - please don't question this). I will only go if the test is negative, especially as we approach a second wave. But is that enough? What else we can do?

I am especially interested in answers that provide research to back up how we can best handle this challenging situation. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Clarifying question: do you and the person you're dating both live alone?
posted by mekily at 8:03 AM on May 31, 2020

Can you also clarify how often you see your parents and if it's planned in advance or if you're sort of "on call" to assist them?
posted by TwoStride at 8:38 AM on May 31, 2020

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
We each live alone and we each see our parents a couple of times a month at least. My parents mainly have musculoskeletal issues, but as far as I know his father has heart disease.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:02 AM on May 31, 2020

As a start, I can refer you to previous Asks that address some of your questions, e.g. antibody tests, asymptomatic transmission, as well as a recent comment I made that tries to address what may be a false sense of security from broad population-level data while also offering links to articles that talk about tactics to reduce risk, a previous comment I made with links about issues related to the ongoing lack of adequate testing and contact tracing, and a comment about risk analysis. I will try to respond in more detail and depth later, but at least wanted to offer some of the research that your question is requesting, because it may be important to shift the perspective from "safe" to "safer" in the context of the ongoing pandemic and the ongoing confusion and uncertainty that currently exists.

I also want to be absolutely clear that in no way do I intend any of this information as a question of your need to see your parents. My heart goes out to you because these are truly heartbreaking times, and I am offering this information so that you may be able to have a more clear idea of the potential risks and can then make the best decisions you can. This may also be something that is worthwhile to discuss with a medical provider, or the medical provider for your parents, to see if they have any guidance to offer.
posted by katra at 9:11 AM on May 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think the biggest issue here is how careful his parents are being. I have to assume that this guy is trustworthy and will adhere to whatever rules the two of you agree to, but if his parents are not being equally careful, then you will essentially be exposing your parents to everyone his parents are exposed to. And he should have the same concern in the reverse direction.
posted by HotToddy at 9:12 AM on May 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think a lots of folks in situations like yours have continued to see their partners, even when they don’t live together. I think some folks have done this and just don’t talk about it. But if you’re looking for a guarantee of safety, you won’t get it because we don’t have those guarantees right now.

The Dutch have had a pretty sensible approach to this.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:29 AM on May 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Comment removed -- please direct answers towards the OPs specific issue
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:19 AM on May 31, 2020

Get together every months or so and commit to isolating a week or two til you see you parents? Or commit to having backyard distanced visits with your parents within 2 weeks of seeing or sleeping with your dude? Those seem to be the only options til we know more about this Virus.

We don’t even really know how accurate most antibody and other commercially available tests are — even those used in hospitals — so I think it would be highly irresponsible to advise you On that front

How and how soon are a function of your risk tolerance. I myself am not going to rely on any government-issued alert level to decide when I’m ready to date or have sex again because they’re using their own particular risk functions that also take the the potential economic devastation as an input. Im not willing to risk a 5 percent chance, say, of infecting my parents so I won’t be heading out into public anytime soon even if everything is deemed safe “enough” by my governor. But maybe my function will change as I get frustrated with my lack of sex life.
posted by shaademaan at 4:17 PM on May 31, 2020

I am assuming the Asker is in USA or some other place that is still struggling. Here in Oz the numbers are very low, and health advice is cool with reopening - but social distancing is STILL a requirement. I say that because the path to touch is long, and if your infection rate is still serious you are still (it seems) a long way off sanctioned touch. I am in a similar situation, and know exactly what the Asker is going through, and sympathise. I am about to raise the Dutch solution, but I have no vulnerable family or friends at risk.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:28 PM on May 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

The OP says they are in New York State.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think the honest answer here is that nobody knows if it's safe. Nobody and nothing is safe now. And if seeing parents is 100% nonnegotiable, then both sets of parents should probably be involved in any discussion of risks. I'm assuming from your levels of paranoia that both of you aren't getting physically near to your parents either, but if their lives are at risk so that you can touch, I suspect they should get a vote. If all six of you aren't having contact with others at very strict levels, maybe it'd be easier to take a risk, but as someone else said, we don't know what others are doing.

If it's harder to see him in person and not touch, then maybe just.... don't see each other distance-wise, then. I totally get it, I felt extremely weird the one time i saw anyone I know IRL from a distance and those weren't even people I want to be with. I don't want to see my crush IRL because I think I'd just freaking tackle him and I should not.

I think if it was me, I'd feel safeR after we both tested negative or had antibodies. However, it sounds like nobody's even sure if those tests work accurately at this point, so I might wait to see if testing improves before I relied on that one. I'm rather surprised that you indicate it's so easy to get tested (and frequently) at this point, but i don't know how testing in NYS is going. At any rate, testing proof, if/when it works easily and reliably, seems like that'd be the one thing that I might consider to be "okay-ish" short of a vaccine existing.

Is it possible for either of you to move in with the other one and quarantine together or is that a complete no-go?

I have coworkers that I've mentioned that are having a steady stream of people in and out of their house, of all ages, and they have continued to be perfectly fine as far as I've seen on Zoom. But we just don't freaking know, there's no guarantees, and this is utterly indefinite and nobody can even really guess timewise.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:17 PM on May 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

No one has a good answer about this. The true answer is it will be "safe" when we have a vaccine, a treatment so the disease isn't so deadly, or else the disease is either fully contained via testing + tracing. If you live in the US that last is seeming very unlikely. A vaccine is at least a year away, and a real treatment is a total wildcard. Bottom line: it could easily be year or more before there's less risk than we have right now.

I've really appreciated Julia Marcus' writing on the question of what we do in the interim. Her main thrust is "eliminate all risk" is not realistic and we need to move to risk reduction strategies. Two articles: Quarantine Fatigue Is Real and Americans Aren’t Getting the Advice They Need. She writes from the perspective of the AIDS crisis, and how safe sex education helped people figure out a way to have sex with each other despite the risks of an untreatable disease.

The analogy isn't direct; there's no equivalent of condoms or the like for Covid prevention. The articles are really about living in general, about going out in the world or socializing in ways that reduce risk if not prevent it entirely. But sex is part of what she talks about too.

Back to your situation, this article might argue for you and your boyfriend deciding it's OK to touch again. Kind of an analogy to a strategy of serial monogamy for AIDS prevention. The sexbuddy article daisyblue links to is more or less this strategy. It's not perfect, but it's better than (say) going to a bar with 20 people. And maybe it makes the next year more bearable. You're placing trust in him to not be taking unreasonable risks himself. And you are taking a risk yourself. But maybe it's the right compromise for you.
posted by Nelson at 7:52 AM on June 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

"...how can we gauge when it is safe to start seeing each other more often again?"

It won't be safe until there's a vaccine. That's a high benchmark though -- I think it's more a matter of risk management, looking at the contact environments each of you have had, a deciding that the risk is acceptable for your own particular situation. You don't need to be perfect, you only need to be reasonable and not stupid. I think you have a good game plan of establishing exposure rules -- expand your bubble a bit and then touch within that bubble. You don't need to be perfect, just good, and the steps you've outlined at the end of your question seem entirely reasonable to me.

I think you have to allow for touch if your relationship is going to grow. Finding other ways of engaging in intimacy works OK, but only to a point. We are constructed to want touch. Denying that (and especially in the early days of a developing relationship) simply does not work. Long-distance dating is not a thing.

I just lost my early relationship over just this. We had just been on Date #2 when the lockdown hit, and while we kept things going remotely for two months, eventually that was unsustainable. The stress of the situation, our individual abilities to engage in remote intimacy, the denial of pretty fundamental human drives -- it couldn't work for us, although we sure did try. Which is just to say -- I get it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:45 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

The way to figure out how much risk it's acceptable to expose your families to is by talking to your families.

Because if I was your mom, I would say "Please, go get within six feet of this guy. Make sure you trust what he's saying about his own precautions, and keep an eye on your own health, and go buy one of those pulse oximeters. And then please, go have fun." And if you kept refusing, and said it was for the sake of my health, I'd honestly be a bit annoyed at you for not letting me make my own decisions about my own safety.

So, ok, maybe it's not that easy. Maybe there are other people whose safety your parents have to worry about besides their own — but as long as they're sane adults, it's reasonable to let them decide how to handle that. Or maybe your parents are in denial about all this, and I'll admit that gets very messy. Maybe if they're in bad enough denial this advice stops applying. Or maybe your actual mom, who is not me, says "No, I'm not comfortable with that, please stay away" and then you're stuck respecting that.

And of course, if you were not already taking so many precautions in your lives, the set of people involved would be larger than your families, and you'd need consent from coworkers or roommates or whatever other people outside your families you were out there getting droplets on on a regular basis — you shouldn't go get on the subway and start licking things just because your mom said it was okay. But it doesn't sound like you're doing that, and it does sound like the set of people involved is a small group of people who trust each other and care about each other and can have a conversation about this.

What you're thinking about doing isn't safe. It is risky. But I think as long as everyone is of sound mind and understands the basic facts, and as long as "no" is also an option, it's okay to let people look at risks and say "yes" to them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:30 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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