In a time before Covid-19, which was only a handful of months ago, I was a single woman who hated dating. I downloaded dating apps only to delete them a few days later. I turned up at sporadic first dates full of dread and low expectations. I hated the idea of potentially wasting money, time and effort on someone who might turn out to be a secret Boris fan. And, if I’m 100% honest, the dating landscape was just a total mind fuck that I was too scared to deal with. Life before lockdown was already going at full speed, so why would I add more stress to that?
It’s amazing, then, just how much going into lockdown while living on my own completely changed my attitude to dating. I no longer had the distractions of my social life to use as an excuse. And of course I needed to find new ways to kick the boredom of lockdown. I also realised I finally wanted to prioritise my love life, after years of pushing it aside. What’s the point in being scared of a bit of rejection or game playing when there’s a pandemic going on?
My mind was more open and I put time and effort into talking to guys. Zoom dates – again, something I would never do in a non-coronavirus world – felt way less pressured than IRL dates (and didn’t cost a penny). It was nice to actually get to know someone before just jumping in with some overpriced drinks at an overcrowded bar and a sloppy snog at the end of the night.
When it came to actually meeting a guy I virtually clicked with in real life, our dates in the park felt exciting and romantic yet chilled out and casual. I felt like a teenager with a summer crush. When lockdown restrictions started to ease, turbo dating kicked in and we had fun creating a support bubble and floating around in it. We had the naive energy of Sandy and Danny running along the beach at the start of Grease. Well, kinda. Then, after a couple of months, our fling came to an end. With a post-lockdown world finally in sight, it became clear that we wanted different things.
The ending was sad and left a bit of a bruise – these are the very feelings that had always scared me about “putting myself out there”. But bruises heal and the experience made me realise that I can do this and I want to continue doing it. If I can find a bit of romance in the darkest of times, maybe dating is worth it in the end. But there is also no need to rush it or settle for less than what I ultimately want. That’s why I’m OK with going into lockdown single again if there is a second wave (which, inevitably, there will be): I feel bolder and more confident – navigating virtual dating is a cinch. That said, I’m also using our current freedom to carry on talking to and meeting new guys, because, dare I say, I’m actually excited about awkward drink dates again.
As we start to relax back into a more “normal” dating scene in this lockdown limbo, research by various dating apps show that I’m not the only one whose dating attitude and behaviour has changed.
Badoo recently coined the term “Covid-cuffing” after reporting that the majority of its users are on the search for a potential partner over a casual hook-up. It reports 47% of its daters are more eager to find a partner than they were before lockdown, while 70% are concerned a second wave of coronavirus will hit the UK and 38% want a partner in case that happens.
Over on Inner Circle, a third (33%) of singles believe the crisis has changed the way people think about dating, with many users expecting a kinder and more serious dating landscape. Nearly 60% believe the pandemic has made more people care about connection and 48% want a partner more than they did before. Over one in 10 (11%) hope to meet a long-term partner during the crisis.
And two out of three Hinge users want to change the way they date once it is safe to meet in person again, with 45% reporting they have developed healthy dating habits during the pandemic. Since March, more than two-thirds of users are thinking more about who they’re really looking for, and 50% said they’ve stopped chasing after people who aren’t interested in them.
Kat in Ireland tells me she shares my new positive outlook after bad past experiences: “Before lockdown, I let bad experiences completely put me off and had given up on relationships and dating. I’d download Tinder or Hinge and would swiftly delete it hours later, but I think lockdown showed me how wonderful relationships can be.
“I was around my parents so much and they helped me see just how great being in a couple can be. It’s given me a new perspective about dating and why I shouldn’t just give up over a couple of bad guys.
“I am so ready for it now: it feels nice to be excited about love and dating again. I definitely think I’ll push myself more and go on a date before a second lockdown is enforced in Ireland. If lockdown taught me anything it’s that life is not all about work and I’d been neglecting so many parts of my life for far too long.”
Carol had been occasionally dating before lockdown after her divorce two years earlier, and she has noticed a change in attitude from matches on Inner Circle: “I could clearly see that lockdown put a lot of pressure on men. All of a sudden, I found matches were superbly keen. They were talking for hours and doing online dates, something that was unimaginable prior to this.
“I did have a few online dates, and a couple of walks in the park, but nothing moved forward as I wasn’t keen on breaking social distancing measures. And, again, noticing a sort of ‘desperation’ from others, I was pretty sure that there was a key component of ‘lack of sex’ involved in these people wanting to move forward so quickly.
“Lockdown has permanently changed my attitude towards dating in the future. I’m much keener to know someone first by video chatting before meeting them IRL. This way, there’s less chances of going on a date that won’t turn into anything else. It gives me a great way of assessing if there will be a good flow of conversation, and if there’s a potential spark and attraction.
“I’m not too fussed about still being single on the second wave. However, I can see how a lot of people might be having a ‘doomsday preppers’ behaviour towards dating and trying to speed things up to have company before the second wave hits.”
So, what does a dating expert make of all this? Lily Walford, a dating coach from Love With Intelligence, tells me that a drive for human connection at a time when many of us are physically apart is inevitably causing many single people to change their approach to finding a relationship.
“People are starting to understand the importance of love and connection, with many realising that they no longer want to be alone, some after years of ‘sitting on the fence’ and being happy with the status quo,” Lily explains, after somehow reading my own mind and heart.
But this new approach, according to Lily, should be practiced with caution: “As a result of loneliness, isolation, and the increased awareness of the fragility of life, people are even more eager to find connection and love, which could result in some taking the ‘someone is better than no one’ approach and wearing rose-tinted glasses when dating – which can create disastrous issues down the line.
“Humans are driven by connection, so after staying alone for three or four months, and now with a possible second wave on the way, single people are feeling the pressure to find the ‘right’ person, right now. In this – probably brief – window between lockdowns, relationships are like the new toilet paper flying off the shelves.
“When stakes are high and time is of the essence, now is the time to date with intelligence and not with panic, to keep a level head and ensure that the person you are thinking about sharing your time, energy, and space with is a good match for you and has your best interests at heart.”
Those last words are something I will hold onto, because being single in lockdown has been a time of major personal development. Just because I want to continue exploring dating, which I know will include both the highs and the lows, I won’t let something as crappy as this pandemic pressure me into sharing the life I love with someone who doesn’t fully deserve it.
Sure I’m prepared to be more open minded in these tough times, but if a date actually did admit to voting for Boris, I’d draw the line and thank god I can just leave the Zoom call with one click.