‘Tis the season for love, happiness and togetherness

Cody Pascual and Brittany Sanders with Valentines picnic at Hart Park. 011621. Dan Watson/The Signal

Even under normal conditions, finding love can be a daunting task. 

You have to find someone whom you have an attraction to, whom you trust, who trusts you, who gets your sense of humor, someone you share values with, etc., etc.

And as anyone who’s ever watched “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “90-Day Fiance” and “Married at First Sight” can attest, even if you find someone, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to build that special connection.

And even moreso than usual, any chance encounter with a stranger — no matter how seemingly welcome — poses a bit more risk these days than it might have in the past, due to COVID-19. 

Despite the proliferation of dating apps, everything from the well-known and widely used Bumble and Tinder, to the lesser known and more niche apps like CoffeeMeetsBagel and Tastebuds — which allows you to match with people based on musical tastes and shared music — many find dating and finding a match has actually become more difficult in the last 10 years.

So if this is you, ironically, you’re not alone. 

In fact, almost half of American adults — and most women surveyed — say dating has become harder in the last 10 years, according to Pew Research Center data from August. 

Fortunately right now, it’s prime “dating season,” according to cyber-dating expert Julie Spira, and there are virtually, as they say, countless ways to connect, as well as lessons to be learned from experts and others who’ve found love.

Dating season 

Even as we appear to round the corner with COVID-19 thanks to help from vaccines and precautions, who knows what the “new normal” will be — especially on the dating scene.

But the time is right to find that special someone, according to the experts, who noted that we’re in the middle of prime time for Cupid to work his magic.

“Starting the beginning of January through Valentine’s Day is still considered peak season in the dating business,” according to Spira, who also cyber
datingexpert.com. “The countdown to Valentine’s Day is a very real thing — we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.”

Real connections

While virtual connections are on the rise, the “real” reality is, there’s no substitute for intimacy and human connections, and that’s what many people are looking for, Spira said — whether they’re searching online, at a bar or at the library.  

On Spira’s site, DatingintheageofCovid19.com, she cites the results of a poll she has up: More than 83% of site people want a long-term relationship, while about 13% have put love on hold and only a small fraction: “can’t wait to get back to hooking up like I did before,” per the survey.

“Everybody wants to be safe on a date, women especially, but now it’s taken it to a higher level,” said Spira, referencing how people are not only worried about being vulnerable emotionally, but also, the pandemic.

“It’s an enormous change to the way that, not just the way that people are dating, but they’re taking their own personal inventory as far as what they’re looking for,” Spira said. “People are more than ever looking for a meaningful relationship.”

Which means that if you’re honest about what you’re looking for, a good person and ready to woo and be wooed, you might be in luck.

“The courting process has really come back in a great way,” Spira said, noting that among her clients and what she sees, people are OK with taking things a little slower and more cautiously for a number of reasons, and that can really help a relationship build. 

‘Dating with intent’

Spira thinks a video date chat is a great way to get to know someone and become comfortable in a lower-pressure setting, which can really help with the anxiety many feel around dating or putting themselves out there. 

“I think it’s really an important element that makes people feel safe and helps people stay connected,” Spira said of video dating, “and I truly

believe that once our pandemic issues are behind us, people are going to continue to video date.”

But really, whether you’re video dating, ready to take the risk in person or working with a dating expert like Spira, the most important thing you can do is be honest with yourself first about what you’re looking for in a relationship, she added.

“I call it ‘dating with intention,’” Spira said, adding that people should not only document what they’re looking for, but also their “deal-breakers.”

“You need to be realistic,” she cautioned. “If you have 50 things on your deal-breaker list — you’re probably going to be a difficult date and you might need to be single.”

The experts also encourage people to have fun with the process, and not to be afraid to date outside of your existing social circle or brave the dating world beyond the Newhall Pass.

Cody Pascual and Brittany Sanders with Valentines picnic at Hart Park. 011621. Dan Watson/The Signal

What it takes

“There are tons of dating and relationship apps that can put you in the marketplace, but they can’t tell you what the healthy ingredients are, they can’t tell you which things are going to be best for you in the long run,” said Collette Gee, who works with those dating, as well as those in relationships with her site findinghappily.com. 

“People have become so dependent on social media, on online publications, apps and (the online and virtual space) that we sort of have to associate ourselves from the real reality and connections that it actually takes for us to cultivate a happy, healthy, meaningful relationship,” Gee said, noting that she works with many of her clients, men and women, on their interpersonal communication skills, and making in-person encounters feel less awkward.  

“So, how do you create a connection, find love in the time of Corona(virus)?” she asked rhetorically. “You’ve got to think outside the box.”

Gee noted that if someone is very comfortable using social media, then are there ways you can engage on social media that can lead to an offline, in-person encounter? 

Likening a virtual social event to a new type of hangout, where you can invite someone, and then develop a familiarity and comfort level with them through conversation. If you like cooking, try meeting someone in an online cooking class; if you like volunteering, maybe there’s a virtual nonprofit event you can volunteer to support.

Another very important principal, Gee notes, is to be ready for opportunity when it strikes, because you never know when or how you might meet that special someone.

Cody Pascual brings flowers and candy to Brittany Sanders for Valentines picnic at Hart Park. 011621. Dan Watson/The Signal

Opportunity knocks 

Brittany Sanders laughs now about how love was the last thing on her mind when she met her future husband at The Shot Exchange on Valentine’s Day last year.

Actually, they both mentioned the glare she gave him when he walked by her the first couple times.

“I had just gotten off work and I wanted to have a drink and not be in a restaurant watching people celebrate love when I was by myself,” Sanders said, adding she was thinking, “‘Please, for the love of God: Don’t talk to me. It’s Valentine’s Day and I don’t need to be hit on,’” she recalled.

Cody Pascual was at the bar that Feb. 14 to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his mom, who, as it turns out, knew Sanders through their volunteer work.

And Sanders remembers very clearly what April said to her:

“‘Are you looking for a husband? You should meet my son,’” Sanders recalls, and then the two shared a laugh and a hug. 

Pascual and Sanders, who both grew up in Santa Clarita and were at Saugus High around the same time, quickly struck up a conversation, and Cody ultimately promised to show Sanders a waterfall she’d never even known existed in the SCV — which is exactly what he did on their first date, at Whitney Canyon.

Sanders acknowledged the timing was especially fortunate because less than a month later, everything changed due to quarantine. 

However, as time has shown again and again, love often finds a way, no matter the circumstance.

Quarantine wedding

It hasn’t quite been a year since Richard Herron and Loreen Bakoo Herron tied the knot in front of hundreds of their friends and family from around the country — virtually, via Zoom, during the quarantine.

Both grew up out here, and were preparing for a traditional wedding in front of their family and friends when the stay-at-home orders changed everyone’s plans, and cancelled all large in-person gatherings.    

The two decided to get married anyway, and neither have a single bit of regret about the decision — although both are still planning to have the big get-together in person as soon as it’s allowable. 

“It definitely has been an interesting year — that’s for sure,” Loreen said.

While dealing with tragedy from COVID-19, the two, who also have a son, have worked hard to prioritize time for themselves amid the quarantine conditions. 

“It’s been difficult with getting us time, with everything shut down, there’s no ‘date night,’ so we’ve had to get really creative,” Loreen said. “We’ll put our son to sleep and we’ll play a game of Dominoes or we have movie night.”

The virtual event they held for their Zoom wedding had a nice side effect, Richard said: Family and friends who’d never met were able to create virtual connections that have evolved into friendships that continue today.

They also believe the health crisis has brought them closer as a couple. 

“It forces you to really look at your relationship and look at each other,” Richard said, referring to the way the stay-home orders kept people largely away from their friends and many family members, so they really had to lean on each other. “And realizing we can do that,” he added, “and we’re stronger together.” 

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