It’s official: the shrugging emoji sums up our struggle of dating in the age of Covid-19

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Anna Brech
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Tinder has revealed shrugging to be the most-used emoji of 2020, as those of us in the dating world reel from the strangest year yet. 

From stashing to love bombing and even fleabagging, the dating scene was dizzying enough before the pandemic.

But the outbreak of a global virus – coupled with the waves of social isolation that followed – has made modern-day dating even more of a minefield, with a surreal new lexicon to boot. 

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Little wonder, then, that Tinder has identified the shrugging emoji as the most-used icon of 2020.

 The dating platform has just released its top swiping trends of the year – with the universal symbol for “who the hell knows?” topping the list.

Evidently, the shrugging head has become a figurehead for the craziness of this year, as would-be couples exchange frustration and bafflement over when dating as we know it can resume. 

Dating in 2020: not as easy as it used to be

On a surface level, it’s clear that coronavirus has thrown a major curveball into the world of 21st century dating.

However you choose to jazz up your Zoom date – quizzes, films, even pancake cookalongs – nothing beats the ability to read someone and connect with them in real life. 

Even when lockdown has intermittently eased, there’s still been a lot of angst and uncertainty to contend with.

For some of us, that has meant tackling the Fear of Meeting Up (FOMU) after three months of virtual-only dating. For others, it’s been deciding whether a fling is worth setting up a support bubble with or not. 

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Then there’s the deeper emotional tenor to think about. A 2017 study from Montréal’s McGill University found that when we feel vulnerable to a global threat, like disease, we tend to lose interest in dating.

This is possibly an evolutionary response: when our survival is threatened, we automatically engage in behaviour that will reduce our risk of getting infected, such as avoiding eye contact and being less outgoing. 

Naturally, this reaction makes the tenuous realm of virtual dating even harder to navigate. 

Coronavirus has sparked a deeper level of connection for some people

But it’s not all bad news. Anecdotally, the events of this year have caused some people to put renewed focus on dating in a way they’ve never thought to do before. 

“Going into lockdown while living on my own completely changed my attitude to dating,” says Stylist digital writer Hollie Richardson. “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?”

Stylist’s Chloe Gray agrees. “I am feeling more open to the idea of exclusivity with someone [under lockdown],” she says. “At least so they can come over to keep me company and bring some joy with less worry of infecting each other and being criticised by others.” 

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In addition, dating apps have reported an increase in conversation length; one silver lining from the pandemic is perhaps that it’s given us the time and space to connect more deeply. 

And video calls, for all their drawbacks, do at least remove some of the pressure of first dates – even if we sometimes feel drained from keeping track of all those virtual nonverbal cues

The latest research from Tinder also revealed that pandemic pick-up lines were all the rage this year, with zingers such as “let’s be like Covid and catch each other” or “wash your hands so you can hold mine” emerging into everyday lexicon (or as a dating red flag, depending on where you stand). 

Support for Black Lives Matter became a must for many matches, too, with mentions of BLM fast-exceeding the use of the term “hook-up” on Tinder in 2020 – especially in people’s bios. 

TikToks on Tinder picked up steam as well, as users sounded each other out in terms of taste, showed off their moves or bragged that they’re “TikTok famous”. 

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As Maya Angelou once said in a pre-pandemic age: “Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time.” 

In 2020, the dating struggle is real  – but romance can still flourish, now as much as ever. As to when, who knows?

*Shrugs all around*. 

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.