Five years after the death of my husband Scott, I’d slowly begun sticking a tentative toe into the dating pool. That pool seemed to be teeming with smooth-talking sharks, sketchy stingrays and weird jellyfish with credit problems, but finally, I felt ready to find my person, to get out there to meet someone. In public! In large crowds of people, even! Yes, I was sure of it. 2020 was going to be my year!!

You can probably guess how that turned out.

So, I didn’t find Mr. Right. The closest I got was about five pre-vaccination, socially-distant dates – brunches and walks with a nice man I met on Bumble that I couldn’t even hug for fear of, you know, a deadly virus.

This was shortly after another massive life change: after 18 years as a lifestyle and entertainment columnist at the Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., I returned to my native Baltimore, the land of my birth and my Old Bay addiction.

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Leslie Gray Streeter portrait
Leslie Gray Streeter (Leslie Gray Streeter)

My roots here run deep as a Northwood neighborhood kid who learned to ride my bike on Morgan State University’s campus and around Lake Montebello. In high school, I sang songs about sweets at the Inner Harbor’s The Fudgery to earn money for prom. I have a kid named Brooks Robinson after the Orioles legend. And now, at the Baltimore Banner, I’m ferociously proud to be the next in the line of Baltimore newspaper columnists that hail from Baltimore City College High, the third-oldest public high school in the country. I’m among the vociferously loyal alumni who will happily and loudly sing our fight song for you whether you ask us to or not. (You’re welcome!)

It’s fair to say that my little Features Editor desk in the corner of the Collegian newspaper office at City, with the “Top Gun” movie poster behind it, was the first stop on the road that led me back to Baltimore and to the Banner. That road has taken me up and down the east coast, and along the way I’ve written about everything from my love of “Law and Order” to vegan Thanksgiving sandwiches to really wanting my kid to go back to school during the pandemic. I wrote a book about the first year of my widowhood. I ran a 5K way behind Joe Jonas. It’s a whole thing.

And that whole thing is really what I’ll be writing about for the Banner. My column will be about parenting, and parking, and room service, and weird Baltimore pop culture that you think no one remembers but you. I want to tell stories about my hometown, mostly positive and hopeful ones, with an open mind, a sense of humor and a can of Old Bay at the ready. And I want to hear your stories, too, especially if you think you’re the kind of person whose story never gets told.

Right now, part of my story is making good on that pre-pandemic promise to meet somebody, and I’m not alone. Now that the weather is getting warmer and the masks are coming off, many of us who’ve spent two years flirting across screens are now intentionally dating, in search of a real relationship, not just a hook-up. “People have definitely been isolated and missed out on affection, and they’re hungry for it,” says Nev Schulman, host of MTV’s online dating reality drama “Catfish: The TV Show.”

But slow down, you big softy. Dating scammers are also hungry - to take advantage of our eagerness for connection, for emotionally or financially nefarious purposes. With the Tinder Swindler of it all, it’s tempting to just give up on love and get a dog. But Schulman, current spokesman against financial fraud with Zelle and himself a now-famous victim of online dating deception, has some thoughts:

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Nev Schulman portrait
Nev Schulman (Pamela Littky)

Our pandemic isolation has sped up our dating timelines: Rejoice! The maddening and endless threads of dating app messages before ever meeting in person may be over. Schulman says he thinks people “have less patience for trifling (because) they’ve been frustrated and they’re tired of that same sort of garbage texting back and forth from people that ultimately didn’t follow through and disappeared. They’re taking their time a little more seriously.”

Listen to your gut – and your good friends: If you find yourself reluctant to share your whirlwind internet romance with your circle because “they might not approve or think you’re being silly or naive, you probably are being naive,” Schulman says. “If your gut is telling you not to tell anyone about it, you have to go against that instinct and get an outside perspective, even if it’s not what you want to hear.”

Beware of suitors with silver tongues and outstretched hands: Our dating drought and sheer need for human interaction might make us less wary than we might normally be of something called “love bombing,” or what Schulman says is “Do not pass go, go straight to love.” And clouded with all that love, it might be hard to resist what seems like an innocent request to borrow money for that big trip you’re supposed to take to finally meet each other, or, in the case of the titular “Tinder Swindler,” funds to evade sinister forces trying to kill them. (That whole show is wild.)

Our Zoom culture might actually protect us from deception: Almost everyone now is familiar with video conferencing, making it less likely for a potential date to delay a virtual face-to-face to make sure someone hasn’t done a bait-and-switch with their profile pic. “As technology improves, it will prevent a lot of easy, low-hanging fruit for scammers,” Schulman says.

Don’t lose hope: If you feel “weird and wobbly” as you reenter the dating scene, be assured that “everyone else is in the same place,” says Schulman, now happily married with three kids. “We’re all looking at this big, exciting world that’s reopening to us. It’s OK to be vulnerable.”

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OK, I’m convinced and ready to get out there and see what Baltimore has to offer. I’m re-downloading all the apps I’ve deleted and asking friends for introductions to nice employed men who enjoy movie marathons and don’t expect me to go camping. And if Mr. Right isn’t imminent, maybe Mr. Wrong will provide a really funny story. I’m sure you’ll hear about it.

Read more: You can take that mask off, but i’m keeping mine