After a year of living through a pandemic, it’s not exactly a surprise that single people are dating as if their current partner will be their last. Charley Ross has looked into the implications of this, speaking to two women who have experienced “apocalypsing” in 2020.
Many of the storied events of this year have led us to believe we are living through the end of times – from the stockpiling of toilet roll to the wearing of medical masks in public places and the commonplace use of the term “lockdown”.
Unfortunately, the world-ending narrative doesn’t stop there. According to Plenty of Fish, “apocalypsing” has emerged as a new key term in the dating game, describing the desperate – and sometimes problematic – behavioural patterns of those seeking love in 2020. It has been defined as “treating every relationship like it’s your last and getting super serious with someone you just started dating”.
One third of 2,000 single people polled by the dating service said that they knew someone who had done this, and almost a third had admitted to doing it themselves.
When the massive impact of the pandemic really began to hit us back in March, it was perhaps easier in the beginning to imagine that dating through Zoom, phone calls, endless park walks and less-than-inspiring WhatsApp chats would just be a minor blip on the surface of 2020’s dating landscape. Soon enough, we’d be back to the normal business of looking for love in real life – under less life-threatening circumstances.
Alas, we were all mistaken. The initial announcement of a UK lockdown in mid-March then unspooled into nine long months of panic, grief and loss – not just of loved ones, but plans, dreams, and, to be honest, our pre-Covid selves.
“There is an increasing amount of unknown out there and people are longing for stability and control,” couples therapist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari tells Stylist. “They might consider a serious relationship to be something that would provide a constant in their life. When there is a collective fear or trauma, people tend to be more conservative.”
So it really isn’t unusual for single people to feel that the quest for love is now more urgent than ever. This is all very well when a relationship, or even an early-days courtship, can withstand a ramping up of pandemic pressure.
But what happens when it doesn’t, or can’t? What if it leads to us taking things too far, and feeling too much too fast? In many cases, this makes the romance unsustainable.
“A serious relationship doesn’t necessarily serve as a healthy constant,” Ben-Ari adds. “But someone who is single and seeking a connection might perceive it to be this way.”
Vicky Carter, 28, is not surprised at all about the coining of the term “apocalypsing”. Dating a man over Zoom throughout the first round of lockdown caused her to recognise that the relationship had “accelerated” way before it normally would have.
“We were kind of clinging on to each other for positivity, especially in the height of lockdown,” she says.“We relied on each other for encouragement – that little pick-me-up switch, which I know is normal in dating to a certain extent.
“But it felt like there was more pressure. I literally knew everything about his life after a few weeks. I really felt that we had a future together.”
Alas, it was not to be. When Vicky eventually met her paramour in real life, it quickly became clear that there was no spark, which she found “really disappointing”.
“I’d admittedly thought, ‘here’s this guy, he’s going to be my knight in shining armour rescuing me from this pandemic on Zoom’. I think you have this romantic vision of what you hope will happen, which is why a lot of people are also clinging on to relationships that are unhealthy. They just want to have someone there.
“People might be feeling lonely, some people might not be feeling confident in themselves, so they’re relying on someone else to give them a bit of stability during these chaotic times.”
The trick is to try and keep some form of perspective if you can, and understand that the extreme nature of a year-long pandemic doesn’t need to translate into your dating habits, according to Emma Davey, a BACP counsellor and an expert on narcissistic abuse. “This isn’t now or never,” she says.
“We will come through this pandemic eventually, and there is no need to ignore boundaries and lower expectations of what you want from somebody in a relationship.”
Of course, this is easier said than done. Anna, 27, told Stylist that after experiencing something of an “apocalypsing” relationship this year, she went on to refer to it as “some form of romantic whiplash”. Things moved way quicker than she’d have liked with a guy she was dating earlier this year, but she said the emotional connection ended up being almost “addictive”.
“I’d been dating a guy for five weeks when lockdown happened earlier this year. He immediately invited me down to meet his family and for a weekend away. I was really confused as to how cavalier he was about the rules and escalated things so quickly,” she says.
“The relationship in general was quite intense – which I didn’t love – and it wasn’t the pace that I’d have taken if I’d felt it was in my control, but I got caught up in it. That little inkling of closeness and intimacy is so addictive and comforting, a real positive in a time of constant negativity.
“When you’re starved of something for so long, it’s so hard to not binge on it when you get it – and that’s what this is. I don’t even blame the people for ‘apocalpsying’, it’s human nature really. But I guess its existence proves that we do need to tread carefully.”
After all, it’s not about whether or not you are in a relationship – it’s about whether the partner, or relationship, brings strength and stability to your life, particularly during a time of such chaos. “The quality of a relationship determines the extent to which it serves a mental protector or anchor during the pandemic,” Ben-Ari says.
If you think you might be in a relationship that has an underlying foundation of “apocalypsing”, Ben-Ari recommends that the best thing to do is to put together a list of “non-negotiables” that you need in a relationship, and be really brutal when it comes to whether your partner ticks these off.
Do they make the cut, or are they just a means of filling time, spates of loneliness, an emotional void created by stress? The only way to know is taking things at a slow pace. Even if it feels ridiculous, futile or the pace feels glacial. What with the events of the pandemic hitting us with overwhelming speed and force at times, there’s a lot to be said for letting your emotions catch up with you when it comes to romance.
Ben-Ari advises using this prolonged period to concentrate fully on “developing strong foundations for a potential future together”. Just because a partner provides you with comfort during a stressful and isolating time, doesn’t mean they are everything you need and deserve in life.
“It might benefit you to develop emotional intimacy before physical,” she adds. “Talk about your dreams, visions, values, share intimate thoughts and get close to each other in a meaningful way.
“Once you have done this, you will have a much better understanding of whether or not this person is right for you in the long term.”