DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was hoping to get your opinion on a concern of mine.
I am in my mid thirties and foolishly waited until mere months before a global pandemic to start getting serious about living life and as pertains to your specialty, looking for love.
I wasn’t especially concerned as things kicked off, but as the situation worsened, I grew more and more despondent about it all. One thing in particular that I wanted to talk to you about was that most people where I live are not taking this at all seriously.
While I have observed plenty of carelessness in the general population, I thought I would look at my fellow employees as an example.
I work in a small company, and don’t know the exact number of employees off the top of my head, so let’s say more than thirty or so. Of these, I can count the number who are social distancing and wearing masks in both their professional and personal lives on the fingers of one hand. Many outright brag about not wearing masks off the clock, talk about their vacations to, I s--t you not, other states with extended family and friends, often pull their masks down off their noses or off entirely at work, say they will vote for whoever will stop this stupid mask nonsense, etc.
This obviously includes the potential dates I would be interested in, well, if they weren’t almost all already attached. Sucks to show up late to the party when everyone else already hooked up, but let’s not forget the Abundance Mentality that says there are more elsewhere, right?
Well, about that: I have decided for better or worse that not taking COVID-19 seriously is a dealbreaker for me. So, if these women are indicative of the general population, my available options have dwindled to basically single digits even in a crowd of more than a hundred people. What are the odds that any of these single digits also happen to mesh well with me otherwise and also happen to be single? How much abundance is there really? (A recent study or poll said that around 49% of Americans actually wear masks like they mean it…)
I guess what I want advice for here is: Am I wrong to expect anyone I want to date to care enough to wear a mask? Am I being overly critical? If so, how do I deal with essentially viewing everyone not taking COVID seriously in, shall we say, a rather bad light? Am I putting the cart in front of the horse here, since I have yet to actually get anyone to actually say yes to a date? Do you think I should consider dating someone who didn’t take COVID seriously in the future? Do you think I would have better luck moving elsewhere after all this is over? (I ask that because I was already planning to move to a larger city, but that kind of got put on hold…)
-No Longer Feeling the Abundance
DEAR NO LONGER FEELING THE ABUNDANCE: There’re a couple things to touch on here, NLFA. The first is the idea of perception vs. reality. Our brains don’t necessarily do all that well with a lot of abstract concepts. We tend to do a lot of extrapolation and filling in the gaps based on things that we already assume to be true because we feel like it is. Sometimes that comes down to simple confirmation bias, where we give credence to things that confirm what we already believe and dismiss the things that don’t line up with those beliefs. Other times it comes down to what’s known as an anchoring bias, where we tend to latch on to the first piece of information we got about a topic and use that as the basis for our decisions, even when it’s not necessarily relevant.
The other is simply a question of fundamental compatibility. I recently released a video on my YouTube channel about how to tell when somebody is right for you. One of the most important indicators of compatibility is that you and your potential partner have matching or well-matched values. This means looking deeper than just things like “we like the same tv shows or music” and focusing on things like “we have similar feelings about the role of faith in our lives” or “we’re on the same page that having children would be irresponsible”. Or, as Chidi Anagonye might posit: “What do we owe to each other?”
That last one hits dead bang in the center of your issue.
One of the things that’s incredibly frustrating about the various anti-maskers and people who don’t take COVID safety seriously is that they aren’t seeing past their own interests, comfort or convenience. It’s easy — if misguided — to be fatalistic and assume that “if I get it, I get it”. But the problem with that “If I get it” outlook is that getting infected with COVID doesn’t stay with them. If they get exposed and contract the virus, they may or may not suffer the consequences… but they also may end up infecting and killing other people, people who didn’t make the decision that they were cool rolling those particular dice. After all, the fatalities resulting of one the most infamous super-spreader events of the last several months — a wedding in Maine — were all people who weren’t at that event. They were innocent bystanders who died because of choices that other people made. And while those people may have been ok with taking that chance, the 170+ other people who got infected were never given the option to choose.
And even the upcoming vaccines aren’t going to be an immediate fix; it’s still going to take time to make life safe again, and that means continuing to take precautions.
It’s pretty clear that you take COVID seriously. You want to not just protect yourself, but the people around you and in your orbit. That’s a pretty fundamental value, something deep that reaches to the core of who you are. It gets at that question of “what do we owe others”. People like your co-workers, on the other hand, are less worried about what they owe others. They’re not as concerned, they don’t take it seriously and they don’t seem to consider the potential fallout of their choices. Hopefully they will never be in the position of realizing they harmed or even caused the death of people in their lives because of that choice… but right now they don’t seem to give it much thought.
That sounds like a pretty clear example of a deep, fundamental incompatibility to me. So no, I don’t think you’re being overly critical by not wanting to date someone who doesn’t wear a mask or take precautions. This isn’t like preferring to date a non-smoker or preferring to date folks who don’t drink alcohol; this comes down to the question of “do we have a responsibility to others, as well as ourselves”. And it seems like the answer for your co-workers is “not really”.
Now, I don’t think you need to limit yourself to dating folks who take COVID precautions to extremes or will only go outside wearing a hazmat suit, but wanting to date people who mask up and are careful about avoiding exposure or exposing others is an entirely reasonable choice. That is as decision that says far more about them as a person, and how well your core values mesh. And that’s going to be true both now and in the future, when the pandemic has ended.
But let’s go back to the part about perception vs. reality. Like I said: it’s very easy for us to make assumptions based on faulty assumptions because we’re not a logical species. When you hear and see the same thing over and over again, it’s easy to assume that it’s more widespread than it actually is. It’s very easy for me, for example, to assume that most of the folks I encounter will be familiar with Critical Role, because a lot of the people in my online circles are fairly devoted Critters. But if I step away from Twitter and talk to other friends of mine — friends who are also geeky and into tabletop RPGs — lots of them will look at me strangely if I make a “hello bees” joke or say “I would like to rage”.
(And then there was the time when one of my friends told me they were doing CBT and I had to double check that they meant “cognitive behavioral therapy”…)
You’re working in an environment where you’re seeing more people who treat masking up and social distancing like an annoying option — something they don’t take seriously. It’s understandable that, seeing this every day, you feel like this is far more widespread than it actually is. It’s more immediately present and it gets reinforced by your day to day experience. But what you’re seeing is a limited and, to a certain extent, self-selected population sample. According to Pew Research, the number of Americans who wear masks regularly has actually been growing steadily; as of August, 87% of Americans wear masks when going out and about. In June, it was only 65%. So while it may feel like you’re limiting your dating pool drastically by prioritizing mask use, the numbers are actually in your favor. While yes, you will be limiting your dating pool by filtering out people who don’t mask up… you won’t be limiting things that significantly. You may need to start looking for partners outside of your social circles at work, but I can promise you that there are far more sexy single folks out there who mask up than it may feel right now.
Fortunately, you aren’t stuck dating the people you meet at work or their friends. Online dating has exploded since March, because people are still meeting, hooking up and falling in love. It has meant that people are having to settle in for a longer preliminary courtship, as they weigh not just chemistry and compatibility but safety. But at the same time, this gives you more of an opportunity to qualify folks for the traits you’re looking for… including their COVID safety precautions. If you meet someone on Hinge or Bumble or Tinder and you’re both feeling like you’re ready to meet up in person, that’s a good time to bring up the question about COVID prep and what social distancing would mean for you two. While you may find that some of your dates are a little more laissez-faire about safety than you’d prefer, that’s ultimately just a sign that they’re not right for you. On the other hand, someone who wants to make sure you’re both masked until you both feel safe enough to take things a bit further? That’s a pretty good sign that you’re talking to someone who’s right for you.
And yes, if you’re finding that you’re not happy where you live or that the culture isn’t a good fit for you, then that’s a great reason to move if you can. And honestly, moving to a larger city to improve the odds of finding someone you’d want to date is just as legitimate and valid as moving for work. But don’t let concerns about whether it’s “reasonable” to move somewhere to improve your odds of dating keep you from changing locales if you’ve got the resources and the inclination. Life’s short, the world is chaos; there’s no benefit to staying some place that makes you miserable if you have the option of leaving.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org