Since the pandemic started, single people have found new and inventive ways to continue dating. But, despite her best dating efforts, Stylist’s Hollie Richardson has finally hit a brick wall in the third lockdown.
Remember the hot and steamy summer of “WAP”? When the first lockdown ended, we could finally meet up with the dating app matches we’d been half-heartedly messaging. We had an excuse to dramatically throw our leggings in the wash basket and slip into a date outfit. The relaxed restrictions meant we could sit in the park together, eat a meal prepared by somebody else in a real restaurant, and even invite somebody back home into our bubble. And the fact that the number of coronavirus cases was low meant that things felt a little more… normal.
As a single woman in lockdown, I fondly remember it all very, very well.
Remarkably, I enjoyed more dating action in 2020 than I had in any other previous year. The pandemic taught me that life was too short and fragile to be scared of the world of dating, so I went full steam ahead. Even when autumn crept in, along with a 10pm curfew and tightening of restrictions, I took advantage of the few freedoms we still had.
Sadly, I spent the second lockdown mending a bruised heart. But after a festive season of squirting cream onto segments of Terry’s Chocolate Orange, being one of the lucky ones who got to spend time with my family, and, yes, sending some regrettable WhatsApp messages after a few Malibu and colas on Christmas Eve, I was ready to embrace dating once more and rediscover my inner WAP attitude. So I arranged a date in a park within the first few days of the new year.
But despite the date being a fairly positive one with a nice person, it felt like I’d finally hit a brick wall.
Even if the date had been with a topless Alexander Skarsgard, I would have been left feeling cold – literally. All I could think about was how freezing it was, especially when icy drops of rain started to fall from the sky. Reluctant to take public transport, I’d cycled to the park (which we walked laps and laps and laps around) and I kept worrying about it getting too dark to cycle home safely. I’d been too scared to sip the can of beer that was numbing my hand in fear of needing a pee. When we saw the public toilets were open, I squealed with joy.
I did not want to repeat the experience on a second date, or with anyone else for that matter. I just wanted to go home, sit in a steaming hot bath for three hours and hibernate with food, books and Netflix. So that’s what I’m doing. As much as I’d like to continue dating, I have to hit pause at this point in the pandemic.
And I’m not the only one who feels like this.
My fellow single friend Claire* tells me that, although she feels more lonely than before, dating feels pretty futile right now. She’s still chatting with people to pass the time, but she’s not seriously investing anything in anyone. Claire also raises another point I totally understand: “With the number of Covid cases climbing at such a scary rate, I just don’t want the temptation to break lockdown with a date – it’s really not worth it at this point.”
Chloe, my colleague, agrees that the excitement has gone and dating feels pointless: “The first lockdown felt almost romantic: there was a chase, buildup, the knowledge that you could walk around parks together and the ‘will they/won’t they’ of breaking social distancing for your first kiss. Now it just feels boring – I don’t want to walk around in the cold with a puffer jacket zipped up so high I can barely hear what they’re saying, the stats feel too dangerous to risk a cheeky snog and, let’s be honest, the feelings probably won’t last beyond the lockdown.”
On Twitter, Jen shares an experience similar to my own: “I had a whirlwind romance and subsequent breakup, I texted someone all through November who bailed twice on meeting IRL when lockdown lifted, and I went on a walking date where he kept talking about how he couldn’t wait to get home and watch TV… I’m seriously contemplating putting a pause on looking for love until the pandemic stops rearing its ugly head.”
And after finding fun ways to date somebody without breaking the rules in December, Stacey* says things are too different now: “There are only so many walks we can do and I think it will just fizzle out. It’s not even like there’s a lot to text about as there are only so many times you can ask how somebody’s day has been in lockdown. We do have the option to bubble as he lives alone but it feels like a massive commitment asking someone not to see their family just so they can see you instead.”
Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, dating app Bumble acknowledges that many of its users have been left feeling disappointed with how the lockdown news impacts their dating life. However, it insists that new dating trends – such as hardballing, astrolove and slow dating – are something to feel positive about in 2021. “There are meaningful connections to be made, both virtually and in real life, when the world allows it,” a spokesperson said.
Hinge reports that the top 2021 dating resolution for more than half (53%) of its users is to not overthink their dating life and be in the moment as they find a relationship. This suggests to me that people are content with “going with the flow” and taking their time to find the right relationship in these changing circumstances.
So perhaps taking some time out right now, with the knowledge that people will be ready to date in a few months when it’s hopefully way easier, is actually the right thing to do?
Maria Sullivan, dating expert and vice president of Dating.com, tells Stylist.co.uk that dating burnout is a very real thing: “If you feel like you have hit a brick wall with dating because of lockdown restrictions, maybe it is time to take a little break from searching for connections. Instead, take the time to revamp your dating profile so it really captures a sense of who you are. Also, dating burnout can be a very real thing that we don’t want to happen.
She advises to take time for yourself, relax and get to know who you are while spending time at home, adding: “Once you feel rejuvenated and your dating profile is up to date, dip your toes back into the dating scene. We still have a whole year ahead of us and whenever you are feeling down just remember, your other half is out there, they are just going to take some time to find.”
Michael Kaye, dating expert at OkCupid, also understands why meeting someone might be the “last thing on your mind right now”. But he suggests this could be a good opportunity to set some dating goals for 2021: “We set goals in every other aspect of our life like work and exercise, usually adding daily tasks to our daily to-do lists. Dating shouldn’t be any different.”
So yes, I truly believe this brief pause is much needed. Because dating shouldn’t literally leave me out in the cold. It should be fun, sexy and full of endless possibilities. If last year taught me anything, it’s that there’s always someone out there ready to embrace the world with you, even if just for one night of celebrating freedom.
But although the summer of WAP might have felt great at the time, it was so 2020. I trust that good times – even better times – are ahead.