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Coronavirus couples risk meeting to see if sparks fly in person


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On MandaLeigh Blunt and Jeff Laszczych’s third date, they donned masks, joined gloved hands — and drove to an antibody testing site.

Blunt, a 32-year-old realtor, says she was “chronically single” before the pandemic. But in February, she plucked up the courage to ask a mutual friend to set her up with Laszczych. She’d seen her 36-year-old crush around Roosevelt Island, where she lives and where Laszczych works as a sergeant in the public safety department.

The two went on as many dates — a dinner in Brooklyn and lunch at her apartment — before the coronavirus crisis rocked the fledgling relationship. “Two days later, he spiked a fever of 104,” she says. Laszczych, who had trouble breathing, was admitted to the hospital for six days. Blunt was worried, but didn’t want to come on too strong.

“It was a lot of freaking out if I didn’t hear from him, wondering if he was OK, and thinking, ‘Wait, I don’t even know this guy, he could be ghosting me,’ ” says Blunt. Eventually, Laszczych, who recovered from COVID-19 in his Greenpoint apartment, began to feel better, and the duo continued to bond from a distance. Three weeks after Laszczych’s release from the hospital, the couple went to CityMD to get tested for novel coronavirus antibodies together.

Now, there’s just one problem. “He has the antibodies, and I don’t,” Blunt says. “I was so sad when I found out.” To protect her from the coronavirus, dates with Laszczych are limited to gloved walks, car rides with the windows down and the occasional “mask kiss.”

Singles have been forced to get creative with dating during the pandemic. Even before stay-at-home orders were announced, locals were scrambling to lock down a “quarantine boo,” while others turned to videoconference dating for safety.

But as restrictions begin to loosen, couples whose relationships blossomed from afar are forced to confront the potential risks and rewards of in-person meetups — and the challenges that come along with the leap from FaceTime to face-to-face time. Can virtual chemistry translate to real life? Recently, desperate dudes have started touting their COVID-19 antibody statuses on their profiles in the hopes of scoring an in-person rendezvous with their crushes, giving new meaning to traditional dating tropes like “getting tested” and “using protection.” (Your Saturday night paramour might be referring to PPE.)

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Plus, in a city where bars packed cheek by jowl used to be hot spots for romance and casual hookups were the flavor of the weekend, how will dating norms shift when even a bare-handed touch is taboo? The connections may be stronger than ever, starry-eyed experts and singles proclaim, but what about the sparks?

Before the crisis, singles were largely commitment-phobic, according to Chicago-based matchmaker Sarah Heimerl. “The pandemic has heightened the feeling for singles that they would like a romantic partner,” Heimerl tells The Post. The love expert adds that the coronavirus “has allowed dating to slow down. People are taking more time to get to know each other.”

Prospect Heights resident Samantha Lobo, for one, has witnessed a shift from pre-corona flings to more earnest searching for the real thing. “Dating before the coronavirus was pretty awful,” says Lobo, a 29-year-old television producer who “had pretty much every app.” “I’d go on a first date, and then not hear back. … I wasn’t even that serious about it.”

Samantha Lobo
Samantha LoboSamantha Lobo

Lobo remembers “liking” a man’s profile on Hinge before boarding a plane to Cuba for a vacation in early March. She hadn’t put much thought into what was essentially a virtual wink. “When I got back, everything was shut down,” she recalls, “but I had a message from this guy when I landed. We’ve been talking nonstop since.”

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Thus far Lobo has only called, texted and FaceTimed her Brooklyn-based beau, but she reports the lo-fi channels have actually allowed their conversations to plumb depths she wouldn’t have dared before. “Our conversations have gone deeper than the typical ‘what do you like to do for fun?’-type conversations,” says Lobo, who has divulged “upsetting” stories about friends and concerns over the coronavirus. “I wouldn’t normally delve into personal problems with someone I’ve never met. I sent him a no-makeup selfie, which never happens.”

Dating from the couch can help reserved guys and gals open up to a potential partner, Heimerl says. ”When you meet in person, there are expectations around ‘What do they look like? What’s their body language?’ ” she says. “Over the phone, where you’re at home, you’re completely comfortable and more at ease talking.”

Pre-pandemic, Lobo might have suggested grabbing drinks for a first date. Now, she’s hoping for something a little more romantic. “Because we’ve talked so much, and because of COVID, I’d want it to be more well planned,” she says, “like doing dinner in his backyard because restaurants aren’t open.”

Still, it can be tough to differentiate between a coronavirus cling — and the real thing.

“What if the kiss sucks? I’m afraid it might fizzle out,” worries Lobo, who has no set plans to meet her match in real life just yet. “It’s a weird territory, because I don’t want to get anyone sick, and it’s hard to know what’s acceptable.”

Aisha Hatter, 27, also had jitters when it came time to meet her quarantine sweetheart. The marketing account director and her dude had been buddies, but started exiting the friend zone after marathon phone calls and simultaneous movie binges while they each self-isolated for weeks.

“We were going back and forth about meeting. I don’t want to be publicly shamed about seeing him in person… I was so nervous, I had never had a stomachache like that,” she says. “Could you imagine getting your hopes up, and then there’d be no chemistry?”

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The two ultimately masked up and picked up frozen coffee cocktails to go. “We sat on my roof and were like, ‘Should we be boyfriend, girlfriend?’ ” says Hatter, who lives in Bed-Stuy, while her guy is a Jersey resident. “The whole thing felt like middle school.

“Before, it could feel like you had to use sex to keep people interested, but now it’s pretty much off the table,” adds Hatter. “It’s a dream situation.”

MandaLeigh Blunt and Jeff Laszczych
MandaLeigh Blunt and Jeff LaszczychNYPost/Tamara Beckwith

Likewise, Blunt says, “We keep telling each other we feel like teenagers — it’s so giddy.” The precautions make every milestone matter. “Even our first hug was a big deal,” Blunt adds. “I made him turn around because I couldn’t not hug him, but I didn’t want either of us to breathe on each other.”

Coronavirus has imbued every move with meaning, Blunt adds, which is a welcome reprieve from sexy hookup culture. “I really didn’t like dating in the city because of the pressure to have a speedy physical relationship,” she says. “In our relationship, that was a non-issue, because [Gov.] Cuomo says we’re not allowed.”

Adds Laszczych, “We joked when we were apart and I was in the hospital that we were having a very old-fashioned relationship, like we were courting via letters. Except it was through FaceTime instead of the mail.”

And while the pair looks forward to “fishing, sailing and going to restaurants…when the world turns on again,” for now, they’ll settle for the roundabout road to the meet market.

“We went to this grocery store — Stew Leonard’s, in Yonkers — because it’s a longer drive,” says Blunt. “It was one of the most romantic dates we’ve had.”

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