Several years ago, when we were still living in precedented times, I went out to dinner with a friend and spent the whole evening eavesdropping on someone else’s extremely awkward first date. It was a ramen restaurant: He criticized her order. Then he ordered chicken nuggets and French fries off the kids’ menu. (For the record: I love chicken nuggets, but not the time or place, dude!) He went on to spend the entire time monologuing about a vacation he was planning; she was plainly uninterested and not even trying to hide her boredom. My friend and I barely talked to each other, we were so transfixed.
Recently, my friend texted me about that night. “I have so many memories of us eavesdropping on the worst people and dates,” she told me.
Over the past few months, there have been several trend pieces published about how the pandemic has deprived us all of gossip, and yeah, I definitely miss it—but I miss watching strangers’ first dates even more than I miss hearing about that friend or friend-of-a-friend’s or friend’s coworkers’ turbulent on-again, off-again ’ship. I feed my urge for gossip by following DeuxMoi, subscribing to the Who? Weekly podcast, and watching distant acquaintances’ dramas play out on social media. (Hello, former coworker I haven’t seen in 5+ years, your IG Stories about your breakup are fascinating.) But over the past 11 months, the closest I’ve come to eavesdropping on someone’s date is briefly watching two people flirt behind masks while we all stood in line to pick up takeout.
Why have I been reminiscing about total strangers’ small talk? Truthfully, I’m not totally sure. Part of it is probably that attempting to date in a pandemic is incredibly exhausting—I’ve done a handful of phone or FaceTime dates and one whole socially distanced outdoor date. It’s hard to muster up any enthusiasm for my own love life right now, so maybe seeing other people bravely go on first dates might be encouraging?
Or maybe it’s that before March 2020, dates didn’t require that much bravery. Now, whenever I spend IRL time with someone, I accept some measure of COVID-19 risk. But it’s hard to feel like a cute stranger from Hinge is worth, IDK, risking death (!!) for, even if they did tell me their birth time. (BTW, I’m Cosmopolitan’s senior astrology editor. IYKYK.) On the occasion when I do take some kind of risk, I tend to tell nobody about it because I don’t want other people to judge whether or not it was worth it. (I’m also a private Scorpio. IYKYK.) In New York, where I live, restaurants are reopening for indoor dining on February 12, so technically, I could go and listen in on someone’s V-Day date-night convo. But that’s really not worth putting myself or the servers at risk, ya know? Plus, the tables are probs too spaced out to hear something juicy anyway.
So I guess I’ll just add “listening to two strangers struggle to find anything in common” to my long list of completely mundane everyday things I miss about life in the Before Times: seeing a movie in theaters, killing an hour by browsing in a bookstore, having a subway crush, leaving my apartment to hang out in a café for a few hours. But trust: When we’re all vaccinated and social distancing is no longer a thing, you’ll find me perched in a corner of a bar with a book I’m not reading, listening in.
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