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OPINION

Love in the time of coronavirus

A new worry in the dating world: how to meet people when social distancing seems wise?

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I’m a single guy, divorced, with grown kids. I’ve gotten past the initial fear of online dating — my pictures all have my ex-wife in them! I’ve also figured out my answers to big questions like “What do I say about myself?” “Do I want to try to be appealing to everybody — is Connecticut too far away for the right person? — or be more restrictive and respond only to people who seem like a good match?” I just haven’t solved the problem of finding “the one.” Sadly, online dating is not as efficient as online shopping. What looks good in the store, or online, doesn’t always fit.

Now we are on the verge of a new worry in the dating world: how do we go about meeting new people, with the hope of making a connection, when social distancing is the new norm? I’m referring to the newest villain in the world of contagion: Covid-19, caused by a coronavirus.

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We know that it is inevitable that the virus will spread, though we don’t know how common or how serious it will be. And I am a primary care physician who sees patients with respiratory illness pretty much every day I work. In my office we are already asking screening questions about travel and exposure, and patients in our waiting room are wearing masks.

So it this a time for celebrating the solo life, for quarantine instead of cuddling? Or more screening of our potential dates — “You seem really nice, but before we meet I’d like to know whether you’ve had a cough lately, or been around anyone who’s sick.” Or “Thanks for putting in how tall you are, and that your build is ‘a little extra’; could you just tell me what your temperature is?”

A little perspective, though. We’ve been through the menace of a new and scary infection before, and it was a lot worse — HIV/AIDS. When it first was recognized, it was a death sentence, and it preyed mainly on the healthy young who were sexually active. Knowing your status was necessary when dating.

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We still have a lot to learn, but Covid-19, unlike HIV, is not a chronic infection that can keep spreading to others while it slowly destroys your immune system. It appears that most healthy people probably do not get that sick from it, though it’s scarily still uncertain just what “most” means. It does not seem to have a long asymptomatic phase when people could not know they have it and spread it to others. Its incubation period is estimated at two weeks.

So maybe that will create a new form of online dating. The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian quaranta giorni — 40 nights, the period Venetian authorities demanded a ship with suspected plague wait before being allowed to dock. I envision a new online dating site: “Fortnight,” not to be confused with “Fortnite,” the popular zombie-fighting video game. Two weeks of chatting, of inquiring how one’s day went, sharing reviews of TV shows, books, movies — oh, and by the way, how are you feeling? How about a FaceTime chat? And if things seem OK, then maybe it’s time to have that coffee date. I’ll meet you there at 2 — in case you don’t recognize me, I’ll have my name written across my mask.

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Dan Simpson is a primary care doctor practicing in Brookline.