So, here’s the good news: There are vaccine lights at the end of this very long Covid tunnel and a new administration in Washington might possibly be more efficient at overall-all damage control and recovery. The bad news? It’s going to be a while before it’s genuinely safe to get back to dating like we used to in the “good old days.” And in this meantime, many have questions. What are the rules for dating in this almost post-pandemic era?

Not long ago, National Public Radio (NPR) readers sent in some great inquiries related to relationships, sex and dating in this still-viral world. One wannabe chef – for whom cooking was evidentially his main seduction technique – was sick of outdoor dining and wanted to know when he could show-off his skills in an inside kitchen again. Plenty of folks wanted to know if some sort of proof of a Covid test would be a good idea. And at least one lonely or horny individual asked if sex while wearing a mask was “a thing”? Um…not that we know of – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

All joking aside, there are real debates running through people’s heads as they prepare for dating re-entry. And, considering that we live in the 21st century, a whole lot of us are going to be returning to the world of dating via dating apps or sites. It would be nice if there was some magic app assessed potential partners based on how serious they took their own and others’ health and safety; but until such a tool is developed, experts on health and relationships say we will need to work out new ways to ford the fjords of intimacy while staying Covid-free.

The most common advice from such sages isn’t actually all that different from what they were espousing before the plague arrived: communication is vital and being open and honest is the only way to play. Does this mean we’re going to need to have what some are calling, “The Covid Talk”? Yes. Sorry. But it’s not that bad. For example, start with the basics: Do you believe Covid is real, or a hoax perpetuated by reptilian aliens in league with bigfoot and the Communist Party of China? Again, we jest, but if your potential dating partner thinks this virus – which has infected millions and killed far too many – is a joke, pull the ejection seat cord immediately. Moving forward there are plenty of other things that might be helpful to know: “Does your job require you to be around people in close proximity, and if so, what safety measures have you adopted?” “Have you cut way back on restaurants or house parties and the like?”

It boils down to this: we’ve always had to consider a potential partner’s hobbies, politics and common interests before deciding if they’re a good match. Now, there’s just one more factor to factor in – your potential partner's approach to pandemic safety. Whether you choose from free dating sites or those you have to pay for, be clear during any online chats about what you consider to be reasonable Covid safety protocols. It might be a tad embarrassing to talk about viruses when you’d rather be e-wooing someone, but minor embarrassment beats getting sick.

Relationships, human contact, love, romance and yes, sex, are bona fide human needs and you have no reason to feel ashamed for wanting them. The thing is, pre-plague, we could all afford to be a bit less selective and – if we’re honest – we’d sometimes choose someone because they were human and available – again, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. But these days we’ve all got to be significantly more selective as, sadly, it could literally be a matter of life and death.

Ask the questions you want to ask. Listen to that warning voice in your head – even if the person is a “10.” Be okay with saying no. Dating apps and or dating websites have sped up the “introduction” phase of courtship, and that was fine and fun while it lasted. Now, however, it’s time to utilize the same tech to get to know the person a bit better before going on a real date or hooking up. In essence, this entire article could be summed up in three verbs: talk, listen, and feel.

The good times are coming back soon – but improving your talking, listening and feeling skills is only a going to make you a better catch and catcher when that dating light finally turns fully green.