Lockdown has meant my partner and I have spent almost two months apart. Although we’ve been separated from each other before, the uncertainty of the current situation has made it far more difficult this time. However, despite the distance between us, we’ve still managed to hang-out virtually – and even engaged in a variety of dates. 

By “dates”, I don’t mean the romantic candle-lit dinners you see in the movies; we are often quite happy having nights in just watching films or playing games. At college we frequently entertain ourselves with computer games, be it puzzle games such as Baba is You or story-driven ones like Undertale – so when lockdown was first introduced, we turned to gaming as our new form of dating. And like most of the world’s population, this took the form of Animal Crossing New Horizons.

I’ll admit I’d never played Animal Crossing before quarantine, however, I’ve quickly fallen just as in love with this gorgeous game as my partner. Each player is given a deserted island, where over time they gain increased freedoms to transform into the paradise of their dreams. Although we have separate islands, we often fly over and visit each other – and this is how we came to have some virtual dates. While FaceTiming and chatting away, we live vicariously through our characters as they go on “museum dates” together, decorate their islands, and finally catch the elusive Oarfish! Despite being hundreds of miles apart, Animal Crossing New Horizons has made us feel like we’re still experiencing the world together.

The longevity of lockdown has also given us time to explore other games together, including re-visiting my all-time favourite Hollow Knight. This game is about an adorable little bug who explores a massive, interconnected world filled with other, not so adorable, creepy-crawlies. Though not a multiplayer game, my partner and I often play at the same time, making it feel like we’re on a “gaming date”. Plus, Hollow Knight, like Animal Crossing, is a wonderful – and very beautiful – form of escapism.  Filled with many different bugs, its huge world lets you get lost for hours exploring. While my partner tries to complete every aspect of the game on our shared account, I delight in trying to rescue all the trapped Grubs hidden around the kingdom. 

However, we don’t just go on virtual dates through the world of gaming. We’ve also been watching films, TV shows, and YouTube videos using Netflix Party, streaming apps such as AirTime, and even using the good-old-fashioned “press the button together” technique. We’ve watched some spectacularly bad movies using Netflix Party, but we’ve also found some real gems which have made us feel romantic in the way that we do when on physical dates. Some recent favourites include Netflix’s Public Schooled and the new BBC series Normal People. Although vastly different shows, both helped my partner and I feel like we were watching together. 

As with many couples and singles around the world, the current situation has made my partner and I feel isolated and alone at times. Yet through technology such as gaming and streaming services, it is possible to feel almost as connected as if we were physically together. Virtual dates may not have the same level of intimacy as physical ones, but they are still a unique and effective way of connecting, experiencing the world, and even feeling romantic together – be that via multi- or single-player games, or on streaming services. For me, virtual dating with my partner has been a joy – a form of romantic escapism, which has made every evening in quarantine the highlight of my day.