When lyricist Kendrick Lamar described himself as an “antisocial extrovert” in the rap song “DNA,” I pointed at my laptop. That’s it! That’s what I am! I love going to parties, dinners, and mingling at events where I know absolutely no one. I’ve been everything from the president to the Sergeant at Arms of my Toastmasters club, and a yearlong host of an in-person storytelling series. Hanging with strangers is my area of expertise.
However, I bounce between a loner and a social butterfly within the span of 24 hours, and social isolation was perfectly fine with me in 2020. I’d already had a dog walking gig under my belt and knew I’d still have a way to “get outside” if only for 20-30 minute walks. I had zero interest in dating or any kind of intimacy. Who wants to date when people are dying just from breathing on each other? I was happily single and not looking.
That is, until a noticeably handsome man started coming onto my block from clear out of nowhere. I’d randomly see him walking by on my way to the mailbox on the corner or as I drove by. He definitely didn’t live in my building, but he became a regular passerby.
It didn’t take long to connect the dots and confirm he was a contractor for someone on our street. And although I was a dog walker, I was not a dog owner at the time, which made it a bit difficult to find excuses to go outside when I saw him coming. (I didn’t adopt my current dog until several months later.)
But what was I thinking? We are in a world where people stand 6 feet apart and wear masks. I’d invested in a collection of yoga pants, T-shirts, and gym shoes, and sadly abandoned all of my sunglasses because I got fed up with them fogging up. Looking dateable or sexy was not on my radar.
As a person with a Love Language of Quality Time, I suppose I could still hang out from afar if I wanted to. A Zoom call matters as much to me as in-person hangouts. (The Physical Touch crew must’ve been losing their minds though, unless they were already boo’d up.) But who cares about Love Languages? I was happily single. Right? Right. Yeah … right.
I walked outside one day and saw him jumping into his truck. I looked up. He looked down. And I could see the tiniest movement by his eyes. He was smizing at me. (“America’s Next Top Model” viewers know what that means.)
Fast forward a few more weeks, and he’d seen me often. If he saw me headed to one of my regular clients’ homes for dog walks, he’d ask if I wanted anything for breakfast or lunch while he was on a food run with the rest of his team. I already knew that was an excuse to see me again, and I didn’t mind one bit!
But how was anyone supposed to make dating progress in 2020 if you couldn’t really do the things that daters do? You can’t exactly whisper sweet nothings in someone’s ear when CNN is telling you to stand two Labrador Retrievers apart.
So I kept it cool. I’d talk to him from one side of my car or the other. I’d slurp down the drink he bought me. I’d wave if I was outside watering the grass or pulling up plants. (Gardening became a random hobby for me.) I wasn’t dating the guy. Just smizing and innocent flirting. I didn’t bother getting my hopes up. After I didn’t see him for a few days, I went back to socially isolating, walking dogs, and being an antisocial extrovert.
That is, until he happened to see me outside, coming home from a dog walk about a week later. He knew I was a dog walker, and he even owned a dog. Good lord, could it get any better than that? I reached my arm out to show him a photo of me and the dog I’d just walked. He leaned forward, brushing my hand to hold the smartphone. My heart skipped a beat. Just like that, I realized I’d gone months without touching anyone I wasn’t related to.
He looked at me for a couple of seconds and asked me would I take a walk with him. I nodded from behind the mask and off we went, talking about everything from sports teams to our shared South Side Chicago upbringing. When he stopped to tie his shoe, I looked from his tattoos to his curly ponytail poking out of the back of his cap and thought, “I’d really like to touch his hair.” I did not. I would not. But could I?
I’d fully embraced the life of a handticipator. (According to a Plenty of Fish press release, “handticipation” means “the anxiety that comes with being unsure about the physical boundaries that are acceptable due to social distancing from the pandemic, such as whether to hug, handshake, or wave at your date.”) I’d become one of the 64% of singles who experienced this awkward trend. But a walk never hurt anybody!
We finished that walk and headed back to my neighborhood. I said goodbye and got ready to head toward my front door as he went back to work, but he stopped me. Before I knew what he was about to do, he leaned forward to hug me. And I froze. I’m a hugger by nature, but didn’t this break all the rules of social distancing? Still, a man’s arms are a man’s arms. He misread me freezing up as disinterest, and I didn’t correct him. Why? I don’t know. It’s what antisocial extroverts do, specifically when they’ve been drowning themselves in rules for social distancing.
The next time I saw him, I suggested we take another walk. He told me he was “busy.” He certainly could have been telling the truth. But I did wonder if maybe my handticipation blew it for me. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. If it were meant to be, it would’ve been.