Bumble; Photo illustration by John Lyman



Love and Dating in a Time of COVID

In early 2021, when the Swiss government announced its third lockdown, I was having dinner with my good friend Giovanni who challenged me to a bet. Since everything would be closed for an indeterminate time, and neither of us had any luck in finding anything but COVID in the previous year, Giovanni proposed to go on dating apps in search of love.

With a restrictive lockdown and rules of engagement, the winner would be the first one to go on a date. The loser would have to buy a $51 dollar bottle of wine to reward the winner. Luckily, Giovanni and I had our first dates on the same day, January 22. Since it was a draw, we decided to share the bottle and drink it together. Giovanni got luckier than me; his first date led to a second one, whereas mine did not.

I met Pedro by the train station, and we went for a walk. Unfortunately, we wanted different things. I was looking for something meaningful, and Pedro was looking for a hookup. We ended up sharing only a smile. This deceptive first date did not discourage me in my quest for love; I had decided that I’d find love before the end of the year.

I love making lists and checklists, so I came up with lists to help me keep up my spirits while looking for love. Thus, I created a list of questions to spot red flags, a checklist of requirements for those apt to make it to a second date, and an extensive and thorough list of attributes for the most compatible partner, from personal traits to political views. Within these 16 categories, I thought I had covered it all to find the best match.

So, before each date, I would meditate to connect with my inner self: “It is all about me and what I want, not about them.” That’s when I decided to write down how I felt before and after each first date. One funny thing about my lists, is the more I’d go on dates, the shorter the list of attributes of the best match would get. Things that I thought were important ended up being meaningless, whereas others ended up being red flags.

Being Brazilian, most men I went on dates with already had stereotyped me before we ever met, from physical appearance to personal traits, from upbringing to life goals. Pause here, I’m so proud of being Brazilian, firstly because anyone could be Brazilian; secondly, because we are all mestizos, descended from various different ethnic groups. Last but not least, anyone is welcome in Brazil, and no one is judged by her/his “cover.”

Brazil is a huge cultural melting pot resulting in racial diversity, and inclusiveness, where there is no such thing as one size, fits all. Thus, stereotyping or generalizing becomes a huge red flag.

Another red flag is lying, either a white lie or a big lie, it is a lie. If a guy lies about his name, height, or age, something is wrong with him, not with you. Back to the lists. The red flag list comprised of lies, minginess, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, judging attitude, mistrust, and disrespect. My routine was to meet in person at a public place, for a short walk or coffee. Usually, it takes 5 minutes to drink an espresso, so if the first five minutes went well, the date could be extended. The shortest date lasted around 10 minutes and the longest, five hours. Most of the remainder fell somewhere in between.

This quest for love was challenging, but it was definitely worth it. January was a busy month. I was in a competitive spirit because of Giovanni’s bet, and it felt good to be desired after having spent 18 months isolated. So, I managed to have seven first dates within a month.

When February started, I went on my first date with Ronald. It started absolutely unpretentiously. It was a cold night, but we managed to walk around the lake for around 3 hours nonstop. We shared some hot tea to keep us going and had a great time. He was born and raised in South America, so we shared the same passion for football. We also shared some personal stories about our divorces. Ronald made the cut to a second and third date. Date after date, Ronald started to grow on me. He seemed to be simple, witty, and laidback. Unluckily, he ghosted me a month later. The fact that he did not say anything left me very puzzled. It took me some time to date again and put myself together. By mid-July, I was back.

From July to December, I managed to go on 17 first dates. The more I went on dates, the more I got to know myself. I had written this on my bathroom mirror: “It is all about me and what I want, not about them.” Little by little I became more decisive and more attentive to spot red flags such as values and principles that are my core.

On a summer day, I met with Alexander at the Botanical Garden for a walk. Little did I know that we had quite conflicting views on COVID and vaccines. So, I looked at him and said the date was over. Though it took me around 10 minutes to call it off, I was glad I did. Each date felt like a learning opportunity. Ajay stated on his profile that he was 5-foot-6. Since I am 5-foot-3, when we started texting, I asked him how tall he was, and he confirmed it. When we met for coffee, it turned out he was shorter than me. In a similar way, Xavier had stated on his profile he was 43, but in reality, he was 53. When I asked him, he said he felt 10 years younger. These kinds of white lies made me wonder what else they were hiding.

By November, I realized it was a beautiful self-discovery journey and I could list a number of improvements, such as better communication, more self-confidence, and self-love. Date by date, my expectations were getting lower, and my self-love was getting bigger; therefore, my search for love was more tangible and real. That long list of attributes with 16 categories was reduced to one: “How he makes me feel.” After all, “it’s all about me, [and] what I want.”

I now acknowledge and recognize the badass woman I am. I pride myself on my origin, upbringing, path, values, and principles, and most importantly, what I bring to the table. I had 25 first dates within a year and I opened up completely to this experience. I dated men from all parts of the world, America (North and South), Europe (East, West, North, and South), Africa (North and South), Australia, and Asia (Middle East, South, and East). From atheists to protestants, from agnostics to Buddhists. From 32 to 54 years old. Here are some of my findings: 50% of these 25 men gave great importance to my job, which made me wonder if they wanted to go out with me or with someone with more status. 30% of them made very indiscreet and personal questions about salary, rent, and money related issues. 20% of them asked me if I was fertile. 30% of them asked me if I had a lip plump or a boob job. Most of them were going out with a Brazilian for the first time and had various stereotypes and preconceptions about me. Very few had met Brazilians before but also had their own preconceptions as high maintenance, neuroticas, and passive aggressive.

To top it off, some men were looking for love, some were curious and clueless, some were looking for hookups, and very few were looking for a relationship, not necessarily love. In the end, I finally found what I was looking for: self-love!

Nobody can give you what you can’t give yourself first. I now realize that all these 25 men were just personas that I attracted into my life so I could become a better person, with more self-love, self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-respect, inner trust, intuition, and gut feeling. I am grateful for these 25 men that somehow triggered parts of me that needed improvement.

Very few of them are still present in my life. Ronald became a good friend, and some I hope to never see again, but they all played a role in helping me become the best version of myself.

The funny thing is, a story that started with a bet turned out to be the most beautiful chapter of my life. I’ve never felt so good about myself. I fully accept who I am, and it is the most empowering realization one can have. I know there is still room for improvement, but this is what keeps me alive. My takeaway is to find yourself first and then, love will find you.