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I’ve been awkward about dating since as long as I could remember. Growing up in a very Christian (and immigrant) household meant that much of the advice my parents gave me didn’t apply to many situations I’d encounter. Thanks to the United States and its hodgepodge of cultures, I’d always struggled in navigating what I learned to like because of my own instincts, what I learned from pop culture in this new country, what I learned from church and what I was expected to do, especially because dating looks very different in El Salvador than it does here.

It turns out that dating in a pandemic has presented its own challenges.

Being a woman in the South adds so many burdens — political divisions have become more entrenched and internalized within me. Sure, no one is going to agree with everything I say or do. But, in recent years, deciding not to tolerate bigotry has made me aware that it actually cuts a lot of people out of the dating pool.

I live in Tupelo, Miss., located in the swath of the country that is the least vaccinated. Mississippi’s hospitals are about to reach capacity, and the state’s largest hospital built extra intensive care units in its parking lot. It’s not exactly covid-19 I’m afraid of; it’s the violent reaction I may get from people who refuse to wear a mask, or the fact that I’ve been as cautious as possible when it comes to social activities and how I go about them. For some potential partners, this could be an automatic dealbreaker.

I’ve faced a lot of negative reactions from people in my community who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing. Even among relatives and pre-pandemic acquaintances, I hear many comments about how the pandemic is “overblown,” and conspiracy theories in my community abound.

I live in a county where only 33 percent of eligible people have been fully vaccinated, and some of the counties next to mine have even lower percentages. It’s been disheartening to know that on top of being concerned with certain core values, tastes and beliefs when it comes to dating, I must now take into account a person’s potential vaccination status or mask-wearing practices. It’s too dangerous in a place like this not to.

Before the pandemic, I met people mostly in group settings, such as attending events, hiking, traveling and going to bars. I didn’t have much time to find a community of people in my age range in Mississippi or the chance to go to social events where I felt comfortable. Like many others, I had assumed that 2020 would allow me to expand my local circle or maybe even move out of Mississippi, but neither of those things happened.

I’m sure that if there were no pandemic I’d find ways to put myself out there. In addition to being a writer, I’m also a comedian and pride myself in at least putting in my best efforts to make sure people are laughing and feel comfortable. Open mics and other potential comedy venues in my area have either moved to a virtual space or are held in places that don’t enforce mask use.

I’ve always had a hard time with dating. As a child, I attended a Latinx-majority Christian church, and it was common for youth leaders and pastors to preach to us about the importance of praying for “the one.”

Teen pregnancy was common in Huntington Park, Calif., where I grew up. On top of biblical lectures at church, I’d often listen to lectures from teachers and community members about the importance of avoiding teen pregnancy so we would have a chance at creating a life for ourselves.

It didn’t help that many women in my community often married sexist, sometimes abusive men. I’d listen to the sounds of screaming from neighbors in my childhood apartment complex, or in the homes of extended family members.

The message that I grew up listening to was that dating — even within the confines of my own religion — was bad. Then, I grew up and noticed how friends and relatives would often end up in relationships with people who were abusive or who ate away at their confidence.

There were too many dealbreakers I’d have to look for: the proper religion, good budgeting skills, similar values, purity, an even temperament. I’d look around as others around me seemingly found people who actually fit these norms, but when I began to question the conservative values I was raised with, I realized I had no healthy way to deal with people outside of my culture, race, religion and even immigration status.

I was raised to date to marry and to never play games. The second part stuck with me, and I can honestly say that most of my blunders came from not knowing what was expected of me or what I was doing. This was a pattern I had to learn to grow out of.

The pandemic has only added to this. I was doing okay with restricting most of my social activities up until I got vaccinated. And just as I was getting ready to let go of my hermit life, the delta variant arrived and added to another list of things to check up on before going out on a date.

It’s been reported that people who felt anxiety because of covid-19 changed their standards for relationships and potential partners. So how does this bode for people who dealt with dating anxiety prior to covid? For me, it means automatically discounting many in my area who I know aren’t taking the pandemic seriously.

No one person can be expected to shoulder the burden of ending this pandemic, but I know I don’t want to date or end up with someone who doesn’t try their best. For now, I plan to meet people mindfully and in safe environments, whatever that may mean, unless the opportunity to move to a safer area presents itself.

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