For the first few months that Afie Ebrahimi and her boyfriend were dating, they didn't touch at all.
The pair went on a couple of dates in February, in the days when restaurants, movie theatres and offices were packed.
Ebrahimi, 26, boarded a plane to Toronto for a trip in early March. By the time she flew home, cities in Canada were shutting down.
"We legitimately didn't touch until three months after our first date," she said, saying the pair went on phone dates, and eventually, walks and hikes.
"It was kind of scary, honestly. It didn't feel real almost — it's so non-traditional."
Ebrahimi's fears that her physically distanced relationship wouldn't translate to a closer one didn't come true. The pair began to spend more time together as B.C. loosened its pandemic restrictions and has now been together for nearly a year.
COVID couples — as Kelowna-based matchmaker Tara Holmes calls them — have overcome a strange set of circumstances to find love. She said the pandemic has forced unprecedented levels of communication onto relationships, often long before the physical side can safely come into play.
"Couples who actually met and started these relationships during the pandemic have such a strong bond because it was sort of old fashioned, they were forced to get to know each other from a distance," she said.
"This is also where you find out really fast whether they're on the same page."
Growing close to someone at a time when you're apart from everyone else is strange, said Ebrahimi.
"I think it has forced the relationship to progress a bit faster in some ways and slower in other ways. All of my social energy went toward him, which I think forces you to be closer to someone," she said.
There are some relationship milestones that COVID-19 has delayed indefinitely. Ebrahimi and her partner have not been to a party together, hosted a dinner or traveled during their time together.
"Technically I don't know what [he's] like in a large group setting — what if it turns out he's super mean at parties?" she said jokingly.
"But I don't know what [the pandemic] would have looked like without him."
New approaches to dating
Holmes said while she initially feared for the future of her matchmaking business in March, she soon saw a flurry of demand, including from people well into their 80s and 90s.
She said with serial dating and social events on pause, people found themselves re-evaluating their approach to their love lives. While she would normally advise her clients to try talking to people in places like a grocery store, the pandemic made even those interactions impossible.
Instead, she organized outdoor activities or arranged for would-be couples to cook a meal together over Zoom.
"I think things suddenly came to a halt and people saw their lives in a different perspective. [...] With dating it just became this idea that — I think I do want to meet someone special," she said.
In the earliest days of the pandemic, public health advice urged people to socialize only with people within their own households. But as the pandemic stretched on, health guidelines were expanded to recognize that not all aspects of life can be indefinitely placed on hold.
In May, B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised single people to "pick somebody, see if it works, and then take your time."
In July the B.C. Centre for Disease Control updated its list of tips for sex and intimacy during the pandemic with detailed guidelines and frank advice, while acknowledging not everyone has sex exclusively with a single, live-in partner.
Mel Woods, 25, found herself navigating the politics of pandemic dating over the summer. She first became friends with her now-partner after going on a date in the summer of 2019. The pair reconnected over video calls at the start of the pandemic and began spending time together outdoors over the summer.
They eventually discussed hanging out indoors to watch a movie together, sitting closer and closer to each other on the couch with each date. Before their first kiss, they discussed whether it would be safe.
"It was a relief when we started dating — I could finally say, this is my partner, I'm allowed to touch them!," said Woods.
"Then, the pandemic kind of sped some things up because instead of going on a date once a week it was like — why don't you come spend four days here because traveling on public transit seems like a bad idea."
Holmes said she hopes some of the dating habits people have picked up during the pandemic will stick around in a less anxious time — but reminds clients that romantic relationships aren't the be-all and end-all.
"It can be great to be single... You're better off on your own than with the wrong person."