It has been a year since Eric Buttelman went on a date.
The 26-year-old TV director from Prospect Heights can’t (entirely) blame the long lapse on bad pickup lines.
“I was stuck in so many talking phases [online] with women during lockdown. None of it transpired into a real date and that brought on not the greatest feelings,” Buttelman said.
He’s experiencing FODA — a fear of dating again during pandemic times.
According to a recent study from the dating site Hinge, more than half of the app’s users have been stricken by the newfound phobia.
“This is the biggest (new) trend we’ve seen among daters,” the report from May reads, noting that 44 percent of relationship seekers are stricken by FODA.
A recent Match survey also reported 38 percent of singles are “nervous about their social skills when it comes to dating again in real life.”
“The wheels are rusty,” said Rachel DeAlto, chief dating expert for Match.
“Before COVID-19, people were in a groove of dating. It was just natural,” she added. “And then people came out of practice.”
Overthinking the littlest of details, like a date’s postponement, is something one in three Hinge users have admitted doing, according to the report.
“Anytime that you don’t feel like you are in practice of something, there is anxiousness around it,” DeAlto said. “I think there’s a lot of people expressing that concern of ‘I forget how to do this.’”
Daniella Orellana, a teacher from Astoria, confessed that she’s left handsome men who swiped on her Hinge profile in limbo because of apprehension about getting back in the game.
“Will I like [them] off my phone?” the 30-year-old said, who hasn’t dated since the pandemic began. “That’s what I keep asking myself. I’ve 1,000 percent stalled dates because of that uncertainty.”
Orellana even worries she doesn’t know when she’s being hit on anymore.
“Friends have told me, ‘You know he’s flirting with you, right?’ and I didn’t have the slightest clue,” the 30-year-old said. “That was never a pre-pandemic problem for me.”
For Victoria Pla, the new problem is approaching people — when she used to be bold enough to talk to strangers at her Trader Joe’s on the Upper West Side.
The 24-year-old copywriter did go on a sole date last summer but said that the need to stay socially distanced was a buzzkill.
“It’s tough to do those one-on-one interactions,” said Pla, who took a nine-month dating break before getting the vaccine in April. “You lose a little bit of spirit just being on a bland date.”
Pla also admitted the risk of COVID itself has played into her FODA. Since getting the jab, she will only date vaccinated guys.
“That [is] nerve-racking,” she said. “I don’t want to go out with someone who I could get really sick, or they could be a spreader.”
No wonder some single New Yorkers have decided it’s easier to just stay home.
“There’s definitely a safety of not having to put yourself out there,” DeAlto said.
But there is hope.
She suggests “baby steps” of short-length activities for first dates — arranging a walk in the park instead of diving headfirst into an hours-long dinner.
“It’s going to feel very natural again,” DeAlto said. “Once you’re back out there, very quickly, any feeling of ‘This is how we connect, this is how we build relationships’ will come back.”
Buttelman finally broke his yearlong dry spell last week by meeting a woman for drinks at a bar near Prospect Park. He was nervous beforehand because she had previously canceled.
“’She’s not going to show up.’ I just kept telling myself that heading to the bar,” he said.
“It was all in my head. We had a wonderful time together and plan to see each other again…at least I think,” Buttelman said. “I won’t be so anxious on date No. 2.”