It's weirdly reassuring, TBH.
It’s no secret that the new coronavirus pandemic has made nearly everything more difficult, including dating. Regular check-ins with my married friends inevitably give way to questions like, “What does pandemic dating even look like?” It’s a fair question. The pandemic has complicated causal sex and IRL dating in major ways. But my honest answer to the whole “what’s it like to date now” question? Dating kind of sucked before the pandemic—and recognizing that it has always been potentially awesome and regularly trash can help us stay grounded during this incredibly chaotic time.
I’m not alone in this whole “dating is terrible” assessment. The Pew Center for Research conducted a survey of 4,860 Americans in October (a few months before the new coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed our lives here in the U.S.) and found that, well, people thought dating was hard back then too. More specifically, the survey revealed that 47% of Americans say dating is harder than it was 10 years ago. And while technology has made aspects of dating easier for many, 67% of the respondents described their dating lives as going “not too well” or “not well at all.”
The research highlights all sorts of other interesting pre-pandemic tidbits, such as varying attitudes on topics like sending nudes, breaking up over text message, and whether or not you can date someone with differing political beliefs. The stats are interesting—people have strong (and conflicting) views on dating and relationships—but they highlight what most single folks already know: It’s hard to find people with whom you connect and even harder to maintain the connection long enough to start a relationship. Dating difficulties are evergreen.
Okay, so that was dating way back in October (which seems like another lifetime), but isn’t it worse now? After all, it’s still a struggle to assess the risk of doing simple things like getting groceries. Figuring out when it’s safe to touch your date (if at all) might feel terrifying. Drafting an answer to a text asking “What’d you do today” is challenging when you haven’t left the house in a week. Having first dates via FaceTime or grappling with disappointment when you find out that the person you like is at an indoor party (their profile said they were “into” social distancing) just adds to the overwhelming shittiness involved in dating during the pandemic. There’s also the increased pressure that letting someone into your personal space has health implications for you and the people you live with, and staying away from other humans during your prime reproductive years might make you think about your fertility window in less than delightful ways.
“Even if we’re socializing, we’re not socializing in the same way that we were, and we’re dealing with less exposure to others,” Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a counselling psychologist and mindset coach, tells SELF. “I also think this is a time of heightened emotions, and included in that is anxiety. So it can be hard to connect with other people when you’re having all of the feelings,” she says.
So yes, dating is kind of trash right now, but reading about dating before the pandemic helps me remember that dating has always been difficult and sometimes fraught because, well, connecting with people takes time and energy (as well as vulnerability, optimism, and a little courage). In a weird way, that’s, well, reassuring. Right now, when jobs are disappearing overnight, and we’re coping with sickness and death (not to mention anti-Black violence), it’s strangely comforting to find something that still has the same ratio of pleasure and annoyance. Almost everything else—hugging loved ones, seeing a movie with friends—has gotten objectively harder to do in a way that will make you feel the same way you used to. But dating still has the allure of untapped potential; and the annoyances, well, they’re consistent too. So the very small good news? If dating wasn’t great before the pandemic and you were doing it anyway, you’re probably still equipped to do it now (if you want).
“This is a great time to turn inward and get really clear about who you are, what matters to you, and what type of partner you are looking for,” Horsham-Brathwaite suggests (though she’s careful to add that this is just “one perspective” of many you might adopt about how to handle dating right now). Doing this can help a person “make choices that might be better than some of the choices that one was making before,” she explains.
How can the unique “challenges” of this moment help us with that? Well, earlier in the pandemic, SELF senior health editor Anna Borges wrote about what she felt were a few major upsides to dating during the pandemic. For instance, if you can’t rush into an IRL date because of social distancing, you can get to know each other via phone and video chat. It also means that you don’t necessarily have to dress up or adhere to some of the more rigid dating conventions, which only serves to help you be more authentically yourself. Additionally, Horsham-Brathwaite says that the pandemic has interrupted our tendency to live on autopilot. Since we have to slow down and think intentionally about just about everything we do and everywhere we go, we have an opportunity to rethink our routines and double down on the things we enjoy.
It’s tempting to close our eyes and remember what it was like to hold hands and touch on first dates. Nostalgia is a very reliable form of self-care, but you’d be well-served to also remember all of the times you might’ve dragged yourself to an after-work date even though you were too tired (“because you never know”). It’s useful to recall the hours spent sitting across from someone who monologued for 13 minutes, while you watched the ice melt in your cocktail and contemplated whether or not you’d wasted a “perfectly good outfit” on this date. Remembering the good and the bad reminds us that we’re still here surviving, and we’re capable of dealing with the challenges, triumphs, and disappointments that come our way—in dating and beyond.
This originally appeared on SELF US | Author: Patia Braithwaite