You may have heard the good news: everybody thinks this is going to be the hottest, steamiest, most debauched summer of all of our lives. They’re saying that climbing vaccination rates, imminent sultry weather and a year-plus of pent-up sexual energy will combine for a season of unprecedented single-mingling and libidinous living. People are planning to ditch their partners, fantasizing about making out with strangers, or even just looking forward to going on first dates that aren’t a “socially-distanced walk.”
Unfortunately, even as vaccines become widely available and the CDC has given the OK to some indoor gatherings, some singles have the sense of being stuck in a distinctly not-horny limbo. Navigating varying levels of vaccination, and by extension, immunity, can be tricky when you’re trying to date (safely)—especially if we’re still using that parenthetical. Sure, restrictions are beginning to loosen, depending on where you live, but experiencing a spontaneous meet-cute in the wild still feels like a fantasy. Socializing right now more often looks like sitting with your mutually-vax’ed pals at the park, or at an isolated table in a bar backyard, making it harder to, say, bump into a cute stranger on the dance floor, or strike up a conversation with a friend of a friend while you’re both grabbing another beer at a house party.
And for some unpartnered folks who dated infrequently during the pandemic, or not at all, getting started again can be intimidating. “I recently got a physical and realized that was the most physical touch I’ve gotten in a long time,” Andrea*, 29, told me. When we spoke, she was not quite two weeks out from her second jab, and admitted that “I think my brain still hasn’t caught up with the new freedom and I still feel pretty nervous about the prospect of putting my face on someone else’s face.”
Even though many of us are now partially, or fully immune, meeting and meeting up with dates so far just isn’t quite the uninhibited free-for-all. Robyn, 33, newly vaxxed, prefers to meet people IRL, through chance encounters at bars or shows, or via friends of friends who have been vetted first. But because those kinds of events are still slow to return, she’s resigned herself to swiping on the apps, as it’s the best current option and she’s desperate to jump back in after being mostly solo for the entirety of the pandemic. “I touched [only] one other person who wasn’t myself for over a year,” she says, recalling a brief affair.
Online does work, though: Robyn recently hooked up with a match, although she says she can tell the chemistry isn’t there. But “it’s fine for now,” she explains, because the experience helps her feel less rusty—like practice for when she can be fully out there again.
Others, you could call horny vaccine summer-hesitant. Jen*, 28, doesn’t feel quite emotionally ready to dive back in. “There’s a lot going on in my head,” as she describes it. Her last relationship fizzled out around the start of the pandemic, and she says she’s been trying to heal from that experience, in addition to working through traumas from prior relationships.
“Before anything starts, I really want to develop better mental health practices and get established in therapy so I can go into dating with a clearer idea of what I’m looking for in a partner,” Jen says. “I want to be better at setting boundaries and asking for what I want.”
But there’s reason to be optimistic, if patient. Andrea says she’s trying “not to feel too pressured to have a ton of sex right now,” and wants to take this time to allow herself to go slow. But she hopes when she does meet someone she clicks with and with whom she’s ready to be intimate, it’ll feel “like riding a bike.”
“How do I tackle this new world?” wonders Alex, a 26-year-old bartender who finds himself newly-single for the first time since college. In March, shortly after he got vaccinated, he and his girlfriend broke up due to the strains of a long-distance relationship. Friends told him to download Hinge, so he did, but he finds it “strange” and “stressful.” Instead, he’s focusing on “trying to be brave” and chat up cute strangers—masked, and respectful of their personal space—to put himself out there, and has gotten a few numbers that way. Even if it’s a bust, he’s seen a mostly encouraging response. One woman told him, “Thanks. I haven’t talked to anyone in forever.”
*Names have been changed.