Russ Haywood

First dates in a pandemic introduce a whole new level of risk and vulnerability. Wondering how your date is masking their real self was already hard enough! Now you’re wondering what’s behind their pandemic mask as well? What’s their potential COVID exposure like? When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, will they get vaccinated? In this article, we’ll cover the pros and cons of five different ways of dating in these unprecedented times.

The Pandemic Talk

No one wakes up in the morning thinking: “Oh, I’m going to send my date tonight to the ICU next week.” But COVID-19 doesn’t care what you think or do, it’s only obsessed with spreading itself.

Getting on the same page with your own pandemic expectations is a tremendous amount of work, especially in an era fraught with politicized misinformation. When/where should you wear a mask? How can you safely meet friends and family? Are all of these precautions even worth it?

When you and your connections are responsible for each other’s health, it’s critically important to get on the same page about how to manage this pandemic. Yet, getting two people on the same page—even those you know, trust, and maybe even live with—can be a challenge. With every person added to your pandemic pod, mistakes become more far-reaching.

So, if it’s already immensely risky and challenging to safely interact with people you know in a pandemic, what snowball’s chance in hell do you have safely interacting with those you don’t know on a date!? It seems like daters today have five basic choices when it comes to seeking romance in a pandemic:

Five Pandemic Dating Styles

From most risk to least risk

  1. Date like a pandemic doesn’t matter/exist (highly unethical)
  2. Engage in a DIY pandemic expectation check-in, over, and over (and over)
  3. Distance “Date”
  4. The CanWe approach
  5. Don’t date! (Ugh…)

1. Date like a pandemic doesn’t matter (highly unethical)

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Of course, in-person dates are hard to match in terms of what they can tell you about attraction and compatibility. But what risks do they pose to you, those closest to you, and your community?

COVID-19 preys on our social life. People being close, sharing airspace; the more intimate the better. The whole point of social distancing is to clamp down on the virus’s ability to spread—because no one knows who they’ll inadvertently spread it to. Since asymptomatic people can spread COVID-19 without knowing it, going on multiple dates a week with multiple different people, in multiple different social settings (bars, coffee shops, events) is wholly inappropriate.

If you’re reading this, this probably isn’t your dating style. But, how do you make sure it’s not your date’s dating style?

2. The DIY Check-in

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

A wise dater might engage in a very tedious set of pandemic interview questions over the phone or chat—every time with every potential date, again and again.

If you’re asking the right questions in the right way at the right time, a potential date’s answers will help you find out if your pandemic practices align. They may also illuminate your date’s romantic intentions, and lead to an in-person meetup sooner rather than later.

But what if you miss a question? How do you know you’re asking the right ones to begin with? Meeting in-person may now pressure a relationship into being more serious, which may or may not be the right vibe for the moment or the person. 

Before, a dud date was just a dud. You wasted a few hours, twenty to forty bucks (or more), and certainly at least some energy. Now in a pandemic wasting an in-person date on a dud is more than an inconvenience, it’s highly risky (to yourself and others).

3. Distance Dating

Obviously, there’s a near zero viral risk being a shut-in, seeing everyone virtually. Provided your remote conversations include discussing hard worldview questions that surface during an election, social unrest, or some other highly sensitive debate, you can get to know someone this way.

Distance dating has no viral risks, but introduces a new risk: Totally wasting your time! Beyond the common limits of digital life, the physical gap between you two may let all sorts of fantasies and delusions fill the void. Are they really that great or are you projecting desperation and/or other needs onto them?

Socializing via screens often becomes a drag and that frustration may taint the relationship’s potential in numerous ways.

If distance dating is done well and you two like each other, have spent 10+ days in social isolation to minimize viral risks, and you want to meet outdoors in a park: the higher bandwidth of in-person dynamics may dramatically change romantic dating prospects. With “in-person” comes a veritable bouquet of stimuli, including pheromones, smells, body language, and unfiltered eye contact. Maybe you spent all that time to learn in-person that you’re just not attracted to them?

4. The Modern, Moderated Approach with CanWe

We hopefully agree that neither “dating as usual” and “not dating at all” are viable long-term options. We likewise suggest that the in-between options, “distance dating” and “extensive DIY pandemic check-ins”, aren’t stellar either.

So, we’ve built an app to help save your time and risk: CanWe: Relationship Compass securely unveils you and your date’s romantic alignments on big life questions and the pandemic practices you’re both doing to help keep each other safe. The app guides a conversation easily, efficiently, and in-person (distanced).

We built a feature specifically for touching base on COVID-19 compatibility, called the Something Pandemic intent. That way, you can get a sense of where you and your date truly align (and where you don’t align) on all things PPE and beyond. You can know you’re asking the right questions right away, and you don’t have to worry about missing questions or wasting time.

With CanWe, please date safely from 6+ feet away (ideally outdoors) to quickly test the risks of breaking quarantine.

5. Don’t Date!

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Just forget about dating? You’re strong and willing to do your part to save even one person from getting even mildly sick. As it is everyone’s ethical responsibility to slow the spread of a novel virus that has already caused over 200,000 deaths in the U.S. But is it fair to ask an entire generation to put the development of their lives on hold because a few selfish players in high-levels of government have chosen to irresponsibly manage a pandemic? Imagine this pandemic lasting another three months. Another three years. Loneliness is a threat to public health too. A massive 2015 meta-analysis suggested that being lonely is associated with a 26% increase in the likelihood of dying early. 

You certainly have an ethical duty to yourself to live a full and vibrant life.

With these five pandemic dating styles laid out in front of you, which will you choose? Do you think we missed any dating styles? Let us know in the comments.

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Your steady date asks, “What are we really?”

This question may strike a familiar panic for some. When a date or a new couple experiences a gap between relationship expectations and relationship realities the relationship becomes confused, counterproductive, and may cease to exist. It’s no wonder that a study of 5,000 singles showed over a quarter of people admit to trying to avoid the Define the Relationship (DTR) talk.

It’s really hard to talk about relationships. How does anyone even talk about relationships?! Whether in casual or blunt terms, conversations are the main means couples use to negotiate their relationship. 
CanWe helps speed up and deepen the relationship negotiation process, with…

A New “Relationship Grammar”

Modern dating calls for modern DTR talks. Let’s refine and strengthen the language, structure, and terms that articulate how relationships flourish. Our new “grammar” helps clearly articulate the direction and meaning for many relationship types (not just romantic ones).

Working with media psychologists, sociologists, and strategists, we’re outlining a new hierarchy of relationship expectations for the CanWe app. We’d like to introduce this new Relationship Grammar™  below to aid communication in both the digital and organic social realms. Our new hierarchy of terms includes Intents, Must-haves, Nice-to-haves, and Good-to-knows.

Let’s learn more about what each of these components have to offer to your dating ventures, in more detail…

INTENTS: Broad goals two people build a relationship toward. 

Intents encapsulate a relationship goal and are particularly defined by one’s personal configuration of their Must-have and Nice-to-have expectations.

How many times have you been networking with a co-worker only to discover halfway through the first drink “this is actually a date!?”. How many times have you gone head-over-heels to help a “friend,” only to have them ask for more help later after not inviting you to their party? It’s easy to assume or project where you think a relationship is going when the reality can be rather different.

Pursuing the right relationship with the right person, at the right time, is phenomenally difficult. The miss-match of romantic Intents is the foundation of many social faux pas and romantic comedy films. “Why is he cooking us breakfast when we just met at the bar?”. “Why is he interrupting my wedding to say he loves me?”.

CanWe challenges all users to explicitly connect through an Intent. Once paired in-person, you may unveil and test as many Intents as you desire with a connection, and neither side sees which Intents were not chosen to share—nor which intents were chosen but had zero supporting Must-have alignments. (More about Must-haves later). Thus, if a desired Intent fails to unveil, users have the plausible deniability that rather major expectations were missing!

The seven most common romantic relationship types that people are seeking…

*More to come…

MUST-HAVES: Truly important and foundational expectations.

As the sharp parameters that define a relationship Intent, Must-haves are truly important and foundational. An unalignment of these major expectations ought to stop a relationship cold. When a CanWe pairing fails to align on Must-haves for an Intent, it ought to feel like the couple has dodged a bullet…

Often Must-haves are obvious but also tragically assumed.

Examples of Must-haves for Something Serious:

Ideally, an Intent ought to be built with as few Must-haves as possible, to prevent the overly picky denial of possible relationships. However, the more involved a relationship Intent is, the more Must-haves and Nice-to-haves it needs to define and support it. Intents like Something Forever have many supporting expectations that define the Intent; whereas Something Physical totally sidesteps many long-term expectations altogether and focuses on the common expectations that come with a more casual, pleasure-focused relationship.

NICE-TO-HAVES: Important traits that shape a relationship, but are not instantly fatal to its sustainability.

Nice-to-haves are really important but not instantly fatal to a relationship (though they may become significant headwinds over time). Nice-to-haves provide a lot of color and richness to what a relationship Intent might actually look like for the couple. A Nice-to-have unalignment could be forgivable if everything else was going well.

Examples of Nice-to-haves for Something Serious:

Every CanWe pairing session will experience unalignments. There is no perfect algorithm that can tell if a relationship should proceed or end—nor will there ever be. Ultimately, every relationship takes work. The major question for couples on CanWe is exploring what that work will be and evaluating if that work is worth doing.

GOOD-TO-KNOWS: Traits that are not critical to a relationship but are helpful in generally supporting the relationship’s goals.

While not critical to a relationship, Good-to-knows are helpful in generally supporting the relationship’s goals. This category may include hobbies or relatively minor preferences. If you and a partner do not have them in common, it likely won’t be a big deal at all. If you do have them in common, they may make your bond stronger.

Examples Good-to-knows for Something Serious:


Whether your date is online or offline, with CanWe in hand or without, we hope this post has empowered you with a few more words to draw on for those tricky relationship-defining conversations.

Curious about how this grammar works in our app? Read Meet CanWe: Your New Relationship Compass or download it here.

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This is the story of our founder, Russ Haywood, and the journey that sparked the creation of CanWe. It’s a story of relationships ending and beginning, all while slogging through the dating world’s inherent inefficiencies. If you want to try out our solution, a relationship compass, feel free to download CanWe now on iOS or Android.

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