Has the pandemic changed dating forever?

  • >>Sara Aridi, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-05-09 12:28:53 BdST

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Boundaries. Meaningful connections. “Covid baggage.” Here’s what dating will look in a post-pandemic world. (Cécile Gariépy/The New York Times)

Eons ago, romance often involved dinner and a movie, a few drinks in a crowded bar or a goodnight kiss — intimate experiences the pandemic abruptly replaced with social distancing, mask-wearing and the threat of catching a deadly disease.

Simply put, dating in 2020 was “really scary,” as Monica Zahl, a graduate student in Brooklyn, said recently. “There’s nothing less sexy than, like, risking your physical well-being.”

About six months into the pandemic, Ms Zahl, 23, resumed dating, starting with outdoor dates at parks and bars. Masks stayed on until both people agreed they could come off, and there had to be clear consent before moving things inside.

These days, though, Ms Zahl is fully vaccinated and less cautious about where she meets women and how carefully she vets them. “I’m certainly more frivolous,” she said.

She’s not alone.

Now that all American adults are eligible for vaccination and many of life’s once-mundane routines are returning, dating has come back in force. But it may never be what it once was. For some people, the coronavirus brought on physical and existential fears too distressing to shake off overnight, even after inoculation. Other single people said the long periods of isolation have inspired awakenings and shifted priorities — for better or worse.

THE HOTTEST PICKUP LINE? ‘I’M VACCINATED!’

Particularly for those singles who are vaccinated, the demand — or desire — to pair up is strong.

In January, Three Day Rule, a matchmaking company operating in 12 cities, started to see a boom in business.

“We’ve never been busier,” said Talia Goldstein, its founder and president.

The company’s clients are quick to mention if they have been vaccinated, Ms. Goldstein said, a trend that has almost overtaken social media and dating apps. In April, the dating website OkCupid saw a 680 percent increase in the mention of the term “vaccinated” in users’ profiles compared to two months prior, according to a spokesman. And more than half of users on the dating app Hinge reported that they planned to go on more in-person dates after getting their shots, the company said.

Duncan Giles, a union chapter president for employees who work at the Internal Revenue Service in Indianapolis, has been separated for more than a year. His first marriage ended after 23 years; he remarried shortly after and is still in the middle of his second divorce. In September, he mustered up the courage to join online dating sites like SilverSingles and eHarmony.

“I haven’t really ‘dated’ for close to 30 years,” Mr. Giles, 59, said. “This is like a whole new world to me.”

He has only been connecting with women virtually — he had his first video date in April — but said he feels more comfortable with in-person dates now that he is fully vaccinated.

YOU’RE IMMUNISED. SHE’S NOT. IS THAT A PROBLEM?

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that it is safe for fully vaccinated people to gather indoors without masks. But the science on the risks among inoculated/uninoculated couples is evolving, said Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.

“The risks are vanishingly low” for the immunised, Dr Beyrer said, and they are much less likely to transmit the virus if infected. As for the nonimmunised, a young healthy person who lives alone and is dating a vaccinated person would be at relatively low risk. But those who have an underlying health condition, are older than 65 or who live with someone older than 65 should follow safety precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing.

PANDEMIC FEARS AND LOSSES MAY COMPLICATE THINGS.

The vaccines will stem the possibility of infection, but not necessarily the social anxieties of the past year.

Ilana Diamant, a filmmaker in Brooklyn, went through a breakup in January and recently received her second shot. “Even being vaccinated now, I don’t have this insatiable lust for going out,” she said. “I still see large groups of people and my skin crawls.”

Ms Diamant, 25, also has reservations about dating someone who did not take the pandemic seriously — something she may think about years down the line. For her, the question is akin to, “Was human life worth anything to you?” But she wonders how to strike up conversations about social responsibility “without being the worst person you could talk to at a party.”

Courtney Steen, 30, said it was hard to stay motivated while dating during the pandemic. For one, conversations often centred on Covid-19.

“You’re not really getting to know each other,” she said. “You’re worrying about each other’s response to this.”

She also found first dates awkward — a daytime rendezvous in the park made her feel like she was being courted in the 1800s.

Still, Ms Steen, who works in laboratory informatics in San Diego, ended up dating someone for about five months. She noticed a shift in their relationship, though, in January, after she got vaccinated and was feeling positive about steps she had taken to work on herself. Things were looking up for her, but her partner was “stuck in that pandemic state of mind,” struggling and in survival mode, she said.

“It became difficult for us to continue to relate the way we were when we were both kind of on the same playing field,” Ms Steen said. They called it quits, and now Ms Steen is taking a break from dating. She isn’t sure when she’ll be ready to kiss on a first date again, but she is excited to get off the apps and meet people organically — i.e., offline.

WHAT’S NOT SEXY? ‘COVID BAGGAGE.’

While some singles are hoping to build deep, long-lasting relationships, others are simply craving some no-strings-attached fun.

Terron Moore, a media executive in Queens, came out of a relationship in March. He isn’t looking for a serious connection just yet. Instead he’s yearning to enjoy a night out on the dance floor with other gay men, and maybe even make out with a stranger.

“That’s probably what Fauci would tell me not to do,” he said, referring to Dr Anthony S Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.

Forging a deep connection, Mr Moore believed, would likely mean sharing “Covid baggage.”

“I personally have had a monumental shift in the way that I see the world and the person that I want to be in it,” Mr. Moore, 32, said. Amid all that soul-searching, he doesn’t feel it’s the right time to meet someone new and hear “their Covid war stories.”

While he always considered himself to be selfless and pleasing of others, there were many moments during the pandemic when Mr Moore thought, “I can’t consider this person’s needs over my own because I need to keep myself healthy, sane and alive.”

“I don’t think I will lose that,” he added.

AFTER A TOUGH YEAR, MORE PEOPLE ARE FOCUSING ON THEMSELVES.

Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and the author of “How to Be Single and Happy,” said that newfound assertiveness and self-compassion is a positive change.

“After spending a year with life on hold, I think people are increasingly clear on what matters to them and what they’re willing to put up with,” she said.

In a recent report on the future of dating, the app Tinder said its users have become more truthful and transparent about personal boundaries. It also predicts that daters will continue to be more honest and authentic when the pandemic ends.

Ms Goldstein, of Three Day Rule, said many of her clients have become less superficial. In the past, their criteria often mentioned height or wealth. Now more people are prioritising inner qualities, like humour or a “growth mind-set.” And, with the flexibility of remote work, dating is not as localised as it once was.

“We’re matching people who are now hopping on planes to visit each other in person,” Ms Goldstein said.

Even as in-person interactions become safer, virtual dating may be here to stay. Tinder reported that 40 percent of its Generation Z users said they will continue using video chats even as businesses reopen. On Hinge, 65 percent of American users who have been on video dates said they will keep going on them before meeting people in the real world.

While Ms Taitz, the psychologist, still senses hesitancy among some clients, many are overjoyed about this new chapter. “It definitely seems like the mood has shifted from health anxiety to curiosity and hope,” she said.

Ms. Goldstein acknowledges there is a widespread desire to let loose and date casually. But she also believes there is more interest in slower, meaningful connections.

“Spring and summer dating is going to be amazing,” she said. “There are so many positive changes that have happened over the last year that will carry on post-vaccination.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company