As summer begins to bloom and the days become longer, the lack of intimacy in my days seems magnified. I am waiting for the sticky touch of a loved one’s arms as we embrace one another at the beginning and end of an outing. The further I get from the last instance of touch, the less real my existence feels. How can I be sure I’m still here when the only person validating my tangible existence is me …? I am missing the regular signs of other’s lives in the world I inhabit. The small shop by my house allows two customers in at a time, and as I stand in the frozen food isle and let the sweat on my forehead be cooled by the freezers, I wonder, are we the last survivors of this world? Will the day come when we have to fight for the last pack of sausage rolls? It’s not likely, but all of a sudden it feels like a real possibility.
Having often felt secluded from the connection of others, to see others turn the other way or slightly widen the gap between us feels personal—even when I know it’s not. How can our relationships with others be understood when every bid we make for connection is rejected on the basis of self-preservation? And how can we continue to remind ourselves of that when our brains begin to rewrite the narrative as a personal failure?
As someone who entered lockdown single, my friend asked me whether I would continue my quest for dates despite the new limits on shared spaces. I considered the idea; thought about the possibility that this time could be spent texting a woman with whom I had intense day long conversationssa, uninterrupted by the journey to University or nights in the pub with friends. The unlimited time would give us the chance to delve so deeply into the enquiries of each other’s lives that when quarantine ended there would be nothing that we didn’t know about the other person. But is this really true? Can I claim to know someone whose arms I haven’t felt around me, or whose perfume I can’t recognise in a crowded room? Do I want to build something so deeply with someone whose fingers I haven’t felt entwined between mine, just to suddenly meet in the real world on an undetermined date in the distant future and find that actually being in my presence doesn’t illicit the same curiosity they felt for the words I type behind my screen? For me personally, the short answer is no, not really. My heart is simply too fragile to hold up against ‘unprecedented’ circumstances. So, what does that mean for me? Is my love life over for the foreseeable future? How will I know when it’s safe to try again? Will I ever lose that anxiety? Will I come out of this brutal lockdown and find that every queer woman in London has gotten engaged over FaceTime?
Having long identified as a part of a group that Hannah Gadsby dubs ‘the quiet gays,’ I have already come to depend on technology for my dating experience. With London’s LGBTQIA+ scene limited mostly to a small handful of pubs and clubs (and that one lesbian bar that’s the size of a shoebox!), if you’re a socially anxious person who prefers a quiet night in a restaurant to a 3 day bender, it’s hard to find areas where you can meet other people from the community. For this reason, amongst others, my dating life always begins online, whether it be a swipe or a DM slide, there is always virtual talk before there is in-real-life talk. My straight friends constantly warn me of the dangers of this, meeting dangerous people, being catfished, connection being stilted. But what are my alternatives? I hold privilege as a straight-passing lesbian, and this makes the ‘you will meet someone in person!’ advice difficult. Foregoing the tattooing of ‘hi, I’m gay’ on my forehead, it’s difficult to present myself as available to women rather than men. This invisibility is a small annoyance I have had to come to terms with. Even when I’m in designated queer spaces I feel anxious that I’ll be perceived as the straight friend that tagged along, but this is not a worry for me online—I don’t feel that pressure because I can plaster rainbow flags over any and every space I virtually inhabit.
I try to explain to my straight friend that the dating landscape shifts once you begin to search out experiences that aren’t heterosexual. I don’t necessarily love that most of my interactions begin online, I often wonder how the experience would change were I to meet someone accidentally, if it would be more natural or less anxiety inducing. But online dating also allows me to quickly surpass those whose views I don’t share, or whose relationship needs don’t match mine, and it will always be easier to send a quick ‘hello’ message than to approach someone in public. I hope that over time London’s queer spaces will diversify and I won’t have to feel disheartened every time I redownload Tinder, but for the current moment, this is where potential intimacy lingers.
Jodie Hare is a Postgraduate student currently working towards an MA in Modern Languages, Literature and Culture at King’s College London.