Social distance dating in strange times

Four local Jewish singles detail their pandemic dating lives

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Stefanie Groner, co-founder of Quarantine Bae, hosting a “Zoom Friendsover,” her adaptation of a social virtual Seder.

Dating is tough. Dating during a pandemic is tougher. We caught up with four Chicago Jewish singles who open up about socially distant dating--and how they're making lemonade out of pandemic lemons. 

The 'baemaker'

On the first weekend of the quarantine, Stefanie Groner and her friend Rebecca, both single 20-somethings, were playing virtual trivia and drinking wine when their conversation turned to dating.

Inspired by the NYC-based Love is Quarantine --a social media spinoff of the hit show Love is Blind -- the women chatted about creating a Windy City version of the experiment. A couple of glasses of vino later, "Quarantine Bae"--"Chicago's only COVID-conscious complimentary matchmaking service," as they dubbed it, was born. 

Targeting single Chicagoans, ages 25 to 36, "Quarantine Bae" has sent more than 400 people on virtual first dates, many of them Jewish. Here's how it works: "Baes," as they are called, submit an intake form with bio info and match preferences, and then the matchmakers, or "baemakers," set them up for blind phone dates. That's right--blind--meaning no photos are initially exchanged. After the call, both baes tell the matchmakers whether they want a second date. 

The purpose of the service, Groner said, is to foster a human connection--if not always a love connection. "The goal is to have positive human interactions with a stranger while people are feeling so isolated," she said. "If it leads to a romantic relationship, that's fantastic, but in general this has been a chance to create a moment on your calendar to look forward to in a really tough time."

'It feels like middle school'

Back in March, Ari Craven and his platonic roommate were cooking dinner and listening to a podcast about quarantine dating, when his roomie asked Craven if he would consider it. "Probably not," replied Craven, a gay man in his 20s.
But, just two weeks later, with no end to the quarantine in sight, Craven, a graphic designer, changed his tune and dove into the quarantine dating pool.

To Craven, dating during the pandemic has felt quaint. "It feels a little like middle school," he said. "I'm bound to my home and I take the call in my room to talk to a boy I like. As soon as we get off the phone, I sprint to my roommate and tell her what we talked about."

You can tell a lot about people, Craven said, by how they face a challenge, like the one we're living in now. He said he chatted with an "incredibly self-sufficient" man over the phone who told Craven that he's been content passing the weeks of quarantine at home alone. Craven, a true extrovert, thought to himself, "Maybe I'm going to be a bit much for this guy."

Her past prepped her for the present

Alexis Levy's previous long-distance relationships have helped prepare her for quarantine dating. Whereas some of her single friends had to adjust to not meeting a potential match "in real life" right away, Levy, a Connecticut transplant to Chicago, adapted easily because she had already learned to date in an atypical circumstance. 

"Dating long distance taught me how to date differently than everyone is used to," said Levy, who is in her 30s and works in the hospitality industry. "When you can't rely on [actual] dates, you have to rely on communicating more, building more of an emotional connection, and being more open about what you're looking for before you ever meet." 

Even with long distance dating experience in her back pocket, Levy still says dating these days isn't easy. "I find a bit more anxiety around all of this," she said. "I still have a yearning to go out, meet new people, and connect with them in the same room."    

'We're social beings'

When Harold Gerber was swiping through dating app profiles while sheltering in place, he noticed more than one woman write the following: "I don't want to go through another quarantine alone." Those poignant words resonated with Gerber, a gregarious early 40-something, who says the quarantine has only crystalized in him his desire to meet his beshert . "It's made me realize how important finding love with the right person is," said Gerber, who works in commercial real estate.

That's why he hasn't taken a hiatus from dating during these strange times. When he encounters a dating prospect, they usually talk over the phone or FaceTime first.  Once, Gerber said, a woman called him on FaceTime before he was ready for their virtual date. He's not sure, he recalled, which was messier--his apartment or his hair--but he picked up the phone anyway, adding a bit of levity to what can be an awkward circumstance.

And as awkward as these dates can be, Gerber, like so many other single people, will keep dating. "Humans want to lean in. We're social beings," he said. "Pandemic or no pandemic, people still want to find love."

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