How COVID-19 changed the dating scene

Illustration by Roe | The Signal

For any single person, moving back in with their parents or being trapped in an apartment for an unknown amount of time probably sounds like a curse cast on their love life.

 

Unfortunately, this was the reality for many college students when they were sent home in March due to COVID-19. Five months later, the dating world is completely different. Masks, socially distanced dates and an ever-evolving hookup culture are the latest trends during these uncertain times. 

 

Socially-distanced dates are awkward and remove the intimacy that separates romantic partners from platonic friends. It is not uncommon to be apart from buddies, but it is hard not to physically engage with someone, especially if they’re attractive.

 

Especially at a young age, physical desire is a driving factor in many relationships. After all, most of us are under 22 and not exactly looking for “the one.”

 

Outdoor dates have been rising in popularity since the pandemic started. While that is great for couples who are comfortable being physically active around each other, it puts a lot of pressure on new relationships and first dates. 

 

Being outside in the heat might have the opposite feeling of a cool and collected date night. Neither person really feels like themselves, and it can affect the quality of the date. This situation is a gym rat’s dream and a gamer girl’s nightmare. 

 

Trying to find alternatives to outdoor dates is nearly impossible.

 

“So many stores and restaurants are closed, basically doing away with any date ideas I have,” Ebony Jordan, a biology major, said.

 

She’s right. The list of dates to try has become boring after six months. Grabbing a coffee and sitting outside is losing its appeal, especially with the coming winter months. 

 

Jordan also spoke about the pressure that this new way of dating puts on partners.

 

“They have to be more creative,” she said. 

 

That pressure to have a great date is very relevant in the modern age. Many of today’s first dates are the first time people are seeing each other in person, thanks to apps such as Tinder, Bumble and Hinge.

 

One would think that a pandemic would mean the end of dating apps, but most have sprung into action to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They have had a good sense of self-awareness, and they want to avoid blame for rising case numbers. 

 

For several months, Tinder made its paid passport subscription-free to all its users. This feature allowed students to still connect with people at their university or anywhere in the world.

 

If Tinder executives were hoping that the intrigue of being able to match with people in other states, or even Europe, would deter young people from going out, they were right. 

 

This feature allowed for a unique escape from the chaos and fear at an all-time high during the spring months. People could justify talking to someone halfway around the world because they couldn’t even connect with people in their hometown. 

 

Tinder has also been diligent in discouraging its users from in-person engagements, with messages saying that now is not the time to meet up and that everyone should stay home. 

 

Another app, Bumble, added a “types of dates” filter that allows users to specify if they are willing to meet up, go on socially distanced dates or are only interested in a virtual rendezvous. It filters out potential matches based on the answer. This is a great idea that acknowledges how consent changes with a pandemic and reassures its users. 

 

The rules have changed for people who are willing to meet up in a more intimate setting than outdoor dates. Kennedy Polhamus, a student at Columbus State University, said she met her girlfriend on Tinder in the last few months. 

 

“I knew her from high school,” Polhamus said. “With everything going on, I wouldn’t have met up with her if I didn’t know her beforehand.” 

 

Her statement emphasizes the newfound sense of trust COVID-19 has forced people to establish in their relationships. 

 

For those seeking a casual affair, this is a nightmare. Asking someone if they’ve been tested for COVID-19 is now just as important as asking someone if they’ve been tested for STDs. “Are you bringing a mask?” is the new “Did you bring protection?”

 

All of these changes make a friends-with-benefits dynamic uncomfortably more intimate. Sexual exclusivity is a necessary precaution right now but can cause mixed signals or emotional complications. For the time being, flings seem to be on hold, or those involved are throwing caution to the wind. 

 

Right now, dating is a bit of a mixed bag. Those in long-term relationships are genuinely winning. Having a monogamous partner with shared trust is something to be extra appreciative of these days. For those hoping to find love, life has almost regressed to a 1950s style of romance, comparable to courting. 

 

Perhaps this change will show true compatibility and give couples time to lay a solid foundation. It may even spare some of the heartache that comes with physical intimacy.

 

For those looking to up their one night stand count or keep it casual, life is indeed a gamble. Exercise extreme caution and communicate with partners. If said partners aren’t willing to talk about boundaries with COVID-19, don’t engage with them. It is not worth the health risk, and there are people out there willing to discuss limits. 

 

If the stress of a global pandemic makes dating unappealing, that is also a valid sentiment. This is an excellent time for self-reflection or figuring out one’s true desires. 

 

Everyone has to do what’s best for themselves and their love life. But understand that we no longer live in a world where our private activities solely affect our well-being. So, think and act as if others’ lives depend on it because they do.