Lately, I’ve been overcome by a nostalgia that has me falling back into childhood habits, listening to a lot of early-aughts emo, and spending weekends rereading a decade of old journals. It feels weird to revisit these intricately detailed entries that record every waking moment of my teenage life, from almost failing geometry to developing a regrettable love of Kevin Smith films. I dedicate pages and pages to analyzing every interaction with every crush I had, even if they didn’t know I was a living human being (unfortunately, this is still something I do). But what’s most surprising about these entries is the optimism, sweetness, and yearning they contain. I hadn’t felt that way about dating in years. Well, until quarantine started.
I’m certainly not the first to say that dating as an adult sucks. It’s hard not to feel whittled down by the repetition of awful small talk over too expensive drinks that might, at best, lead to mediocre sex. Once even that outcome became impossible, the idea of trying to meet new people right now seemed truly terrible. But I’ve been totally surprised to find that not only has recent dating exceeded my expectations, it might actually be better than it ever was before. I feel like I’m back in high school, when a new crush felt exciting precisely because of the sense of possibility it gave me. It felt like anything could happen.
Then there’s the fact that dating back then came down to three major things: constantly talking on the phone, making mixtape after mixtape, and longing for any sort of physical contact. This is more or less all I do these days. (But now it’s not my parents keeping me cooped up inside — it’s a pandemic.) For the first time since I was a teen, I’ve had marathon phone calls, chatting away for hours on end. After long days filled with Zooms, looking at another screen feels exhausting. But there’s a rush to talking to someone you like late at night, when the conversation ebbs and flows between mindless banter and meaningful admissions. While it might not always be sexually charged, there’s certainly something illicit about talking to someone at midnight while curled up in your bed. Plus, it’s a fun thing to daydream about when you’re in your millionth Zoom meeting the next day.
And when you’re not on the phone for five-hour stretches, there’s always a playlist to make. I don’t want to say I used to make mixtapes for just anyone, but I did make mixtapes for pretty much anyone. So when I created one early on in quarantine, I let muscle memory guide me through carefully selecting songs, trying to balance meaning with perfect melodic flow. Exchanging mixes has always been an earnest, straightforward way of letting someone into your life. It’s something I’ve abandoned as I’ve gotten older because it’s easier to take someone to your favorite restaurant or bar and let that reveal what it may. But since going out isn’t an option at the moment, making a mix for someone I actually like feels like another way to reveal something about myself that I might be too afraid to put into words.
When I was in high school, I longed for touch and daydreamed about a hand brushing mine or grasping my shoulder. I was always too afraid to make the first move and instead resigned myself to imagining what it might feel like to grab the person I liked by the lapels and kiss them with abandon. Now, that same feeling permeates every text I send or song I put on a playlist. Back in my old dating life, touch felt guaranteed but watered down by so many bad dates, to the point that a hand on my thigh could almost feel meaningless. I can remember now what it was like to look forward to firsts: the first time holding hands, the first kiss, the first time doing anything more. I’m looking forward to everything feeling like a first again: brushing my hand against another, gazing at my crush from across a room, and giving into that swirly teenage feeling.