Dating in a pandemic

Image Credit: Sinéad Mohan

Dating in a pandemic?! Brianna Walsh gives us the lowdown on the experience of dating during the lockdown.

Masc-ne, Zoom, not having to sit beside people on public transport? These are things that we’re learning to live with. Finishing drinks in taxis on the way to town, going home for the weekend, summer holidays in Spain, we all definitely miss. But love? Are we really expected to live without love, cruel world? Or at the very least, casual sex? 

While couples were ripped apart by the ravages of COVID-19, many of us counted ourselves lucky, for the first time, to be entirely, utterly single. But with a vaccine feeling further away, each swipe is fuelled less by matches and more by burning questions. To kiss on the first date post-Quar, or not to kiss? To delete Tinder again, or to re-download? And how the hell does one begin to contemplate sex in a pandemic-city? As the virus turns dating viral, is it finally time for a Tinder takeover, or is online dating the real scourge we’ve been battling all along? 

Tinder recorded its most swipes in a single day right during the initial wave, 3 billion worldwide on Sunday 29 March 2020. The app has also introduced a Face to Face video calling feature to fend off those lonely, lockdown nights. Shouldn’t it be easier than ever to find somebody, anybody, that likes you back? Self-confessed single gal Miranda* contends, however, that chatting to people online isn’t her thing; “Even if it's going really well, 3 days later, one person doesn’t reply – you’re not going to go back to that message. If it doesn’t happen, that’s just it. With dating apps, I always find [that] you match with someone and then you might see them in Coppers or the George or somewhere – that’s how they work best. You both know you like each other, so then it’s easier when you meet them out. It’s like the starting point.”

“I found it particularly difficult after building the courage to come out right before the first lockdown. It’s an exciting time to meet new people, but now it's extra scary. Going on dates is weird anyway, but I’ve never actually been on a date with a girl before. It’s a whole different ball game, let alone in a pandemic.”

Samantha* just got asked on a date by a hot doctor in her French class, except it was through Zoom private messaging. She has to agree, arguing that while the virus certainly “accelerated the need for an app”, she can’t warm to the platform; “I’m convinced I’m getting catfished the whole time. I hate that I can’t pick up the vibe of a person!” “Yeah!”, serial dater Charlotte* chimes in, “It’s based purely on the appearance that can be completely curated by the other person. Plus, the worst part is there’s no original story, no cute way that you both met – it’s just like, oh yeah, we met each other online.”

It is tough to swallow the fact that one day, bedtime stories could consist of Mammy meeting Daddy on Bumble instead of the beach, Hinge rather than high school sweethearts. Most of all, the girls just miss harmless flirting in a grimy pub on Harcourt Street, eyes that lock across the crowded bar, digs thrown between the stools – some even lament the guessing game of getting with that one person on a night out for months on end, without it ever actually going anywhere; “It’s [not great] – but at least it's natural!”

On the other hand, life in the depths of global disaster can get boring and a more optimistic Charlotte acknowledges this; “I had nothing else to do during lockdown, I couldn’t face another Zoom quiz. It filled up time and it was nice to chat to new people and pass the time.” 

Banana bread and boys are a combination many can get on board with, but what really complicates things is the inevitable post-lockdown rendezvous. Social distancing is difficult enough as is, let alone socially distanced dating! “It’s all or nothing. You either bump elbows and have a chat or you make the decision that they’re a contact.” 

“Yeah. I kissed both my first dates this Summer… afterwards, I was like I shouldn’t have done that, I don’t know if I like them, it’s just custom to do it. But I’d feel so bad if I gave it to him – and I don’t want some stranger giving it to me for the sake of a mediocre kiss!”

“It’s also more risky. The only reason I brought my date back to mine is because the bars were closed at 11, we couldn’t continue the night like normal. I wanted to have a few more drinks and keep the date going but I didn’t know whether to have him in my house with Covid, and because he’s still technically a stranger. It unfolds and happens a lot faster than usual because of all these new factors at play.” It can be easier to avoid such eventualities, though, Charlotte deftly notes with a giggle; “I put my mask on straight away while waiting for the bus, just so I wouldn’t have to kiss him goodbye!”

As Winter ensues, Cuffing Season kicks in. With Level 5 as the newest “normal”, girls gave their opinion on all it appears we have left; the humble sext; “I found it very… liberating. I had to feel really comfortable with expressing what I wanted because I had to write it out and tell him.” Is Samantha right? Is sexting the new suffrage movement? Empowering, or plain awkward? 

Meanwhile, in a long-term relationship, it was the emotional support rather than the physical that Carrie* longed for; “I just wanted a freaking hug!” She disclosed that it was hard, “but I wouldn’t say it was harder than anyone else. It was like having a best friend that you really missed – I’m sure everyone had people that they really missed.”

“It didn’t affect us, because we’ve sort of dealt with distance before, but I can see how it would make or break another couple. It gave couples a lot of space and time to be like, I don’t miss them that much, or I don’t think I can live without them!”

With all the complexities Covid-19 brings to dating, it’s fascinating that we even bother. Why, when all hell is breaking loose around us, are we still willing to risk it all for love? “It’s innate. If you don’t date now, are we expected not to until a vaccine is widely distributed? That seems a bit unfair if you weren’t lucky enough to nab [someone] before lockdown!”

As for those who did manage to secure that special someone during this whole debacle, how you managed that is more impressive than any coronavirus cure. 

*Names have been changed for the purposes of protecting the privacy of our daters.