Dating is hard. Dating during a pandemic in the middle of the winter in Maine, when your safest bet is to stay outside, is even harder. But there are some good ways to do it.
Outdoor dates allow for people to better adhere to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to limit the potential for being infected with the COVID-19 virus.
“The virus has a better chance to dissipate in the outdoor air rather than circulate the way it can indoors,” said Amy Blake, a counselor specializing in couples therapy with practices in Augusta and Yarmouth. “It is easier outdoors to maintain the recommended six foot distance and we are used to covering our faces in the winter so masking up will not be such a barrier.”
Luckily, the pandemic has brought out the creative side of Mainers looking for love. Across the board, matchmakers in Maine said that the pandemic has not slowed down their business. Instead, people are approaching dating in a different way.
“I have never seen more happy matches than in the last seven months,” said Noreen Rochester, founder of Cara Matchmaking in Portland. “What I’m seeing is people are way more serious about the person that’s in front of them. People are way more open to meeting someone than they were before.”
So dress warmly, don your best mask and get out there. Here are 5 socially-distant, outdoor dates for you to get your groove back this upcoming winter.
Take a romantic walk or hike
Winter hiking is a great way to get your blood pumping with a new beau in a pandemic-safe way.
“[On a] short day hike, [you’re] walking, talking, getting to know each other,” said Ron Cater, owner of the Matchmaker of Maine personalized matchmaking service in Portland. “They can practice some level of social distancing. That makes them feel more comfortable.”
If you are less athletically inclined, you can still get moving outdoors. Head downtown with face masks and a Thermos filled with hot chocolate (or Allen’s coffee brandy) and enjoy the seasonal decorations together. Blake still said to be sure to bring along some crampons or microspikes in case the sidewalks or paths are slippery.
There are a number of ways to make your walk more fun and interesting, even if you don’t live near a decked-out downtown area. Start a flirty snowball fight, or build a snowman together in an open field. If you both have dogs, walking them together can be another great way to bond, Jill Hinckley, founder of Hinckley Introductions matchmaking agency with an office in Portland, said.
Head to the beach
Maybe it’s not the time for sunbathing and splashing around in the waves, but Maine’s beaches have a unique beauty that is perhaps enhanced by cool winter days.
Winter is also a great time for Mainers who live here year-round to be a tourist. Remember that lighthouse that’s less than an hour away but you never go to because there are too many tourists? Well, now might be the time to check it out with a date.
“[Check out] places that would be an almost ‘touristy’ point of interest, a fun thing if you weren’t from Maine you would go to,” Cater suggested.
Added benefit: no summer crowds, making social distancing even easier.
Dine al fresco
Though dining indoors is not the safest option, many restaurants are still doing curbside pick-up. You can have a takeout picnic with your favorite dishes, or even bring some food of your own. Another good option for a takeout picnic is to go to a food truck.
“You don’t have to go into a restaurant, it’s inexpensive, it’s kind of fun,” Hinckley said. “The food trucks are kind of taking advantage of the fact that people can’t go into restaurants.”
To make it a little more comfortable during the winter, Rochester said to bundle up, bring blankets, warm drinks and maybe a portable space heater. If you are lucky enough to have a fire pit in your backyard, you can eat around the fire and make s’mores for dessert.
If you don’t have a yard that is big enough for a fire pit, you can also purchase space heaters for your patio and perhaps dine al fresco, or have a winter BBQ.
Try a new winter sport — or an old favorite
There are plenty of winter sports to enjoy in Maine. If you have your favorites, maybe your date will be interested in them, too.
“As the winter comes, that’s a really safe way to meet,” Cater said. “We’ll find a lot of people saying, ‘ Let’s plan a day of cross country skiing or snowshoeing.’”
Even if you have never tried some of these sports, now might be the time to do it.
“If you’ve never gone snowshoeing before, you can do it at some of these open areas and parks,” Hinckley said.“It’s kind of fun to try snowshoeing for the first time [as well as] cross country skiing.”
It may be worth investing in some basic winter sports equipment. Rochester said that ice skates are a great one because if rinks are open you can go there with masks, but you can also ice skate on ponds once they freeze over.
If you’re really bold, Rochester said that you could even try winter surfing, which she said some surf shops in Kennebunk are offering.
“I have clients that are going to do that,” Rochester said. “If you have the right gear on you’re ok. That’s just one more thing that people are willing to do.”
Attend a socially distant outdoor event
As with the summer, many of this year’s winter events are canceled, making it harder to plan dates around them. However, this isn’t true for all events. Some have adjusted to meet the new public health demands.
“For example, the Maine Botanical Gardens is having their annual holiday light show, but this year you have to enjoy it from your vehicle,” Blake said. “It may not be safe to be in the same vehicle with someone you are meeting for the first time, but you could each go through the light show and have your phone set to speaker and talk to one another and share your enjoyment of the light show in real time.”
Blake said that as far as events, it is a good idea to call ahead, or check the organization’s or event’s Facebook page, to make sure the events you are interested in are still happening and if there are any COVID related restrictions.
“It’s a really good time to be in touch with these places that would have events [and] keep track of any events you’d be interested in,” Hinckley said.
Blake said that no matter what you need, the same rules for date conversation apply.
“As in all weather, don’t talk about your ex, especially not on a first date,” Blake said. “Ask good questions to get to know your date and then actually listen to the answer and if it is going well you can ask more playful questions like: What exactly are you wearing under those Carhartts?”