Dating is difficult. Dating while Black and Pagan is even more difficult. Tack a killer virus on top and it makes things way more difficult. Social distancing, mask wearing, lockdowns, it makes finding someone a bit tough, to say the least.

Already there are the usual barriers I face to dating, such as having a small dating pool on the account that I’m Pagan. Some people don’t know what that is so they’ll pass, or think it is a kooky faith because “you really believe in that stuff?” It’s even more ironic when it comes from the Christian crowd – a zombie carpenter is plausible but all other faiths and ideas are considered “out there”. At least I personally fare best with Muslims and Buddhists. Then there’s the fact that though I’m hetero-romantic, I’m demisexual, which reduces my pool further. Throw in anti-Black racism/good ol’ misogynoir and it shrinks even further.

Dating apps have spiked in use since the pandemic started, I’ve used them before myself. They’re great for those who are introverted and rather connect digitally than go out into the world and meet lots of people you sincerely wish you never had. At least in a dating app, I can screen bad choices and wary folks to the point that they can’t talk to me (or even see me) if I don’t want them to. And I never want them to. In the physical world, that doesn’t exists. But cat-calling and street harassment does and I am not interested at all in experiencing that while trying to date. So, dating apps it is.

The app usage is roughly the same as it would be in non-pandemic times. Some have taken a bit of a greedy advantage of the pandemic by piling on “Buy this, buy that, and get seen more/get better matches”. And the prices can be staggering, usually teetering around $80-100 for maybe three months of “Premium” access. For many, especially during a pandemic, that can be annoying, if not frustrating. Many people have lost their jobs or are bumbling down the dismal pipe of losing their job so shelling out any money to a dating app when there are stacking bills to pay seems like bad personal economics.

There are dating apps like Nuit (an astrology/natal chart based dating app), Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, Bumble and more which varies in taking pandemic concerns into account. All ping you for money (Hinge, OkCupid and Tinder being the worst, their services practically become unusable unless you shell out lots and lots of money) but some take into consideration that we’re all in a pandemic and jabbing pockets just to be functional isn’t that great an idea. Coffee Meets Bagel is a good example of that. Nuit is still starting out so they haven’t gotten into pocket-jousting yet.

Once upon meeting someone, there is the dating part. For those who grew up on the internet, this isn’t that tough because relationships blossom over the internet all the time. For others who are not super accustomed to exchanging digital interactions, it can be a weird and jarring experience because you’re talking through screens and avatars, not face to face. There were always places like IMVU, Second Life, etc etc. for more digitally apt folks to interact with each other and develop a bond. For example, in IMVU, you can sit in a winter cafe and talk to each other using floating chat bubbles via personalized avatars. Even hold hands, hug or kiss. Then there’s the upgraded version: Virtual Reality.

Virtual Reality allows you to interact with someone as if they are beside you. You can talk to them, play cooperative video games together, even hang out with them in your own personal private spaces. You can both be on a vast sun planet that has stars for flowers, you can be on a swaying pirate ship rampaged with little, cute chibis. You can create an entire movie theatre for you both to sit and be together in. Depending on your VR setup, there are even haptic vests and gloves which can easily simulate touch. Full body trackers that can simulate full body movement. For example, pair a Valve Index with Vive body trackers and your entire body, even individual fingers, will move. Pair that with a haptic vest and you can feel a hug. I own only a VR headset but that’s enough for virtual reality dates, even if whoever I date doesn’t have one. This brings back closeness during a time where we are all supposed to be apart. Granted VR can be a bit steep for some, the cheapest headset is an Oculus Quest 2, which is in the $200s range and a Facebook product, which brings in problems of privacy. It is also the only cheapest and best noted stand-alone VR headset so far on the market. All other VR headsets need a computer, which has to be “VR ready” because VR can be very intense on a computer system. I have a gaming laptop. Though it is not slated to be “VR Ready” like its more expensive counterparts, it does meet and exceed the requirements to run my VR headset, which is a Windows Mixed Reality VR headset. The only bonus with that is because I use Windows already, Windows Mixed Reality is already built into the computer or is super easy to get. But I’m not sure I would be able to run a Valve Index or the latest Vive, which is fine for me, I already can do enough with my current headset.

As said prior, dating is tough. Throw in a nasty virus and it gets even tougher. Thankfully, it is not the 90s and there are a bevy of ways of still connecting, even over a distance. The remaining hard part is finding those connections.