Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” was humming in the background and I was swaying my hips next to my roommate, each of us vying for a piece of the small regulation-sized dorm mirror, our vodka tonics precariously balanced on the sink below.
“I hate putting on my makeup next to you,” she moaned. “You always look so good.”
“No I don’t,” I demurred, as I carefully applied Revlon’s iconic Cherries in the Snow to my lips, knowing full well I looked great. I was fresh-looking and cute in my pink mohair sweater and tight jeans and didn’t have a reason to look anything but happy.
After a few spritzes of Anais Anais, off we went into the night, slightly buzzed, looking for fun. I attended a small liberal arts college before AIDS and birth control was plentiful. Even STDs were rare. Most of the time we came home alone, and occasionally we came home with a random frat boy who was gone before dawn.
A great outfit, the perfect lipstick and a slight buzz was my love language and I enjoyed this pregame mating ritual all through my 20’s, until it stopped when I got married. Thirty years later and separated, the world may be a different place, but not a lot has changed.
I had my Pandora station set to Ingrid Michaelsen, which often delivered the right mix of female vibe to make me feel strong and comfortable being vulnerable. I was in front of the small mirror in my new apartment, the exact same size as the one from my college dorm. I was also wearing a bright pink sweater; this time to stand out on Zoom, and not blend into my pale yellow walls. I carefully applied Nars Roman Holiday lipstick; just a hint of color to go with the sweater, instead of a darker color that doesn’t suit my aging complexion. To avoid gas, I was not drinking a vodka tonic. Instead, I smoked a joint called Banana Kush that promised “a mellow buzz and a relaxed sense of euphoria in social settings.” Just for kicks, I spritzed myself with my favorite jasmine perfume and logged into Zoom a little early.
“I look good.” I thought. “Cute even. And the Zoom filter hides all my wrinkles.”’
I had purposely made myself the Zoom host so I would have time to examine and re-examine my on-screen appearance and create the right lighting, if need be. I was also a little stoned so I didn’t realize that my date had been in the virtual waiting room while I was preening. I anxiously let him in. This was our second time Zooming and he was my first male friend since my separation.
I didn’t immediately see his video screen, so I waited and didn’t say anything, thinking that maybe he too was checking himself out first before going live.
After an uncomfortable silence, he asked half jokingly, “Well, who is going to speak first?” and in true Covid-style, I said, “I can’t see you. Turn on your camera.”
After a few technical adjustments, there we were side by side, filling up the screen in the uncomfortable world of online dating during a Pandemic. We fell into a slightly awkward conversation that somehow grew comfortable and flirtatious and 2.5 hours passed in a minute. I was too nervous to remember our exact conversation, only that it included our jobs, our friends, single malt whiskey and craft beer. I laughed. A lot. I could tell he liked me and I think I liked him too.
“This was lovely,” he said. “Let’s do this again soon.”
Yes! Success at sixty. I gave myself a silent high five that I still “had it”, even over Zoom.
And suddenly I was thankful for the most unlikely of things – Covid. I knew damn well what I would have done on a third date after several drinks pre-Covid. Some things are quite predictable, made even more so by my recent lack of intimacy. But I wasn’t ready for more, after a 32 year marriage and a toe dip in the online dating world. However, Covid was giving me permission to move at a different pace, and I was happy to put on makeup, perfume that only I could smell and flirt over Zoom.
All this time I have been protecting myself from Covid with masks, hand sanitizer and limited exposure in the world. Who would have guessed that Covid, in its mysterious ways, was protecting me from myself and teaching me a new lesson about how to date at age sixty.