The new definition of dating

The spread of COVID-19 has undoubtedly altered our social landscapes and, consequently, the way we approach dating… but is it all that different?

Filmmaker and musician Anna Akana highlighted in her YouTube video ‘Dating during the pandemic’ that the conscious risk of harm has always been integral to how we approach romance, particularly for women and LGBTQ+ members. Post-lockdown, date preparation looks arguably similar, but with a mask and hand-sanitiser added to the arsenal of safety measures. However, this is only true for face-to-face interactions, which are few and far between. For those already in an established relationship when the pandemic hit, and those actively looking to find someone, coronavirus has changed courtship into an altogether different beast.

Every couple has had to adjust to the new circumstances. Some couples quarantined together, others suddenly found themselves in a long-distance relationship, each with their respective problems. My relationship ended shortly after the lockdown began. It was an untenable, toxic situation, but the distance enforced by the COVID-19 restrictions contributed a horrible sense of loneliness to the cocktail of pain and rage I felt at the time. I knew the relationship had to end, but at that moment, I was overwhelmingly conscious that I was losing a pillar of my support network, a link to the world outside my house. This feeling probably contributed to how long I let the break-up drag out; I was privileged enough to quarantine with my family in a safe place, but the isolation period definitely exacerbated the inevitable feelings of loneliness that make every break-up hard.

However, there is only so much red wine and Alanis Morissette you can take before you feel ready to be hurt again. Almost every single friend I spoke to turned to Tinder during the lockdown. As mingling was off the table it seemed like the only sure-fire way to meet people, other than haunting the ibuprofen aisle at Boots, and they clearly were not the only people to think so. According to The Scotsman, Tinder had a 30% rise worldwide in conversations in mid-March compared to the figures in February, with a 12% rise in the United Kingdom (the latter figure sourced from BBC News). These figures are hardly surprising, as lockdown illustrated to most of us just how much we relied on human connection in our daily lives, from sources that we took for granted, like in-class teaching or something as simple as a mere hug. 

As a grizzled veteran of online dating, I jumped back on the bandwagon with mixed feelings of hope, cynicism, and a curiosity to see whether the pandemic had changed the usual dynamics. I had a few misadventures, the highlights of which included matching exclusively with tree surgeons for a week, finding a man who looked exactly like the cartoon crocodile in Peter Pan, and a whirlwind romance with a fridge engineer from Portsmouth. All were added to the pantheon of dating disasters and came to little more than comic relief. A significant change I noticed in myself and in my single friends was an increased tendency to idealise our online suitors, something that is already a prevalent habit in online and long-distance relationships. I am hesitant to attribute this purely to the emotional malnourishment caused by lockdown, but it could only have exacerbated it. 

Romance in what remains of 2020 is bound to be a different creature than what we knew to be. With the standard fare of drunken flings or hitting it off with an attractive stranger being almost impossible, it’s easy to be disheartened about dating prospects. Much to our joy, social media came into its own during lockdown, allowing everyone with access to FaceTime and Zoom to be in touch with loved ones and form new connections. If you are on a dating app, looking out for your mental health and letting any intimacy grow at a pace you are comfortable with, be aware to not let isolation push you into premature vulnerability. If you are planning to meet with a person, be responsible and do so within COVID guidelines. Be as mindful of respect and boundaries as you ever were – and have fun! If we are responsible and mindful of ourselves, no pandemic can keep the lovers of the world down.

Image: Roy Scott on illustration source

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