Has the pandemic changed dating forever?
Dr. Nicola McCaffrey Clinical Psychologist

Has the pandemic changed dating forever?

The pandemic created, and continues to create, massive upheaval in all of our lives. For those of us who are single, lockdown, and the recommended government safety guidelines, completely changed the way we dated and engaged in romantic relationships. Whilst dating was not altogether put on hold, COVID restrictions meant an increased reliance on online dating and alternative methods of getting to know someone new.
11.October 2021 Dr. Nicola McCaffrey Clinical Psychologist

Since the beginning of COVID-19, there has been a rapid increase in activity on dating sites. Prior to the pandemic online dating was beginning to loose favour. More recently popular dating sites have reported a significant increase in their activity levels. Tinder, for example, revealed that last year was the apps busiest year with an 11% increase in user swipes and a 42% increase in matches.

For those of us who were in relationships that started during or just before the pandemic these faced their own unique challenges often intensifying quickly, accelerated by a stressful new reality and the extra free time quarantine created. But one key element was missing in the acceleration, an understanding of how one’s partner interacted with the outside world, and, by extension, of how the relationship would fare when restrictions eased.

The Perks of Online Dating
COVID enforced boundaries on the dating world wherever we found ourselves in it. It required us to slow down and really talk to one another. People began engaging in more authentic ways, dating more cautiously and intentionally. Without the distractions of the outside world and the distraction of sexual tension or chemistry, it is easier to get to know people are people. A longer phase of virtual flirting allows us the time to develop emotional intimacy without one’s perspective getting skewed by attraction.

With the help of video technology dating took on a different tone. People got creative and first dates could take place just as easily over dinner and coffee, whilst getting to know one another looked like virtually comparing the contents of your respective refrigerators! We started to find to make dating novel and to find out more about someone in a way that we might not have if we had met them for dinner at a restaurant.

Dating Again in the Real World
Finding the perfect partner has never been easy, but COVID has undoubtedly made the whole process even more complicated. It was a lot of work, but the regulations did provide a framework for seeking romance during the pandemic. Now that we are in the post-restriction phase of the pandemic, dating has become even more complex, forcing us to reconfigure what dating even means and is to us any more.

Eighteen months of isolating has left many people feeling out of practice when it comes to socialising of any kind. Furthermore, For most people, the stress of widening our small circle of people we have been connecting with is likely to engender anxiety. It is important to remember that you are not alone in feeling hesitant about getting out there. Everyone is in the same boat. It is not as if you have been Sleeping Beauty and the world has been going on as it always has around you and only now are you waking up to it. We are all likely to feel a bit awkward in our own way in the early days of reintroducing ourselves and refamiliarising ourselves with being social.

Couples who met during the pandemic are finding that their relationships have been all seclusion, no societal inclusion. For them the turbulence of having a relationship in the “real world” has come all at once. As the boundary between individual and shared lives is demolished we can find the unearthing of all of this new information about our partner overwhelming, and at times not at all what we had expected either!

What is the hottest pickup line at the moment…. ‘I’m vaccinated!’
In the last months search phrases related to “how to date” have been at a five year high Google. As we emerge from COVID hibernation may of us begin to question whether video dating is still even necessary. Many of us are worried about how to make our lives and ourselves appear interesting again to prospective partners after eighteen months at home and we all find ourselves unsure whether a hug or a handshake are acceptable greetings, and do we dare ask about vaccine status?! Dating apps are reporting in fact that many people are publicising their dating status as part of their online profile. The "double vaccination" status speaks directly to people’s sense of safety and shared values. Many people are perhaps disclosing their vaccination status on their profile as a way to say "I’m safe" or perhaps even "I’m attractive”.Vaccination status alone can influence how people decide to date and with whom.

Thus here we found ourselves on the cusp of dating freedom and something altogether novel and unfamiliar. But despite our reservations and anxieties I doubt that even a public health crisis will squash our human need to connect with others emotionally and physically, which may even be stronger now than ever before.

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