Women having fun outside

Post-lockdown dating: are we really about to step into a summer of love?

Are you nervous about dating in a world with fewer restrictions? Or can you not wait to get out there again? Writer Hollie Richardson examines how she really feels about stepping into the so-called summer of love. 

“This is the summer of love, tonight the fiesta will come, it’s the summer of love…” Little did Steps know that, back in 2000, they were singing for the single people looking for touch, sex and intimacy in a post-pandemic 2021 world. But, according to recent news headlines, this is exactly where we’re headed. Lisa Scott-Lee and co were really onto something. 

The common theory is that, following well over a year of social-distancing, three lockdowns and general “what the hell is the point anymore?” fatigue, a lot of single people are going to be horny, excited and ready to mingle when we’re set free on 21 June. We’re going to have the same ‘joie de vivre’ energy of the Roaring 20s, like Zelda Fitzgerald flapper-dancing her way through the clubs of Paris with a permanent French 75 in hand. 

As someone who has spent the last 12 months trying to work on my love life by relentlessly swiping and dating under a 10pm curfew, I’m a big believer in this theory. I’ve been picturing myself getting sexy on London’s rooftops, ready to have a lot of fun. Sure, I’ve realised I want a relationship at some point – but, in the meantime, I just want to live the lyrics of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff after months of screaming, “We’re too hot and fun to be hidden from the world for so long!” to my poor flatmate. 

However, now that push is about to come to shove and the daydreams are an imminent reality, does the idea of getting steamy and intimate with new people still seem as exciting? Or is it actually terrifying?

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Keen to know what my fellow single colleagues and friends think, I asked them how they feel about the idea of a heady summer of sex and dating (or just, y’know, talking to people in the pub and a bit of harmless flirting). 

Alice, who ended a long-term relationship earlier in the pandemic, seems to be on the same “the idea is probably more appealing than the reality” page as me: “It makes me very excited but I’m also just a bit… cynical. I think there’s this expectation that everyone’s going to come out of lockdown super confident (and horny!) and wanting to meet new people. But from my experience with the pubs being open again over the past few weeks, everyone is a little bit shy and has forgotten how to flirt. 

“If the ‘summer of love’ does happen, I’ll be all here for it but I also think perhaps people are overestimating how well we’ll all adapt to getting back to dating.”

Chloe, who has been dating on-and-off throughout the pandemic, is mostly feeling overwhelmed: “After over three years of being completely blanket single I feel like I’m finally ready to get out there and start taking dating seriously but I don’t even know where to start. 

“The natural place is an app, which I do use, but then I think about the men at bars having their hot boy summer while I’m hot girl summering – which is what I’ve been picturing. But can I actually talk to them IRL without standing two metres away? And, wow, there is so much opportunity… but is it too much opportunity? Where do I find the time for this? Who do I even fancy? Will anyone actually approach me?”

And then there’s newly single Sarah* who, quite understandably, says: “The idea of a summer of love stresses me TF out.”

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OK, I get it – we’re all a bit nervous about it all. But surely our need for human touch and connection will overcome these anxieties? Last year, Dr Natalie Bowling from the University of Greenwich was one of the researchers who worked on a Radio 4 study called The Touch Test, which revealed just how much humans rely on physical touch for wellbeing.

When I ask her for her thoughts on intimacy in a supposed summer of love, she says: “Our research tells us that most people have been missing touch during lockdown, which suggests we’ll be keen to relax the social distancing and hug each other again. So we might see something like the Roaring 20s that followed the Spanish Flu. 

“But people’s attitudes differ, and for others it could be difficult to shake the anxiety around touch and social closeness.”

Dr Bowling makes a very good point here about the fact that not everybody is feeling the same. Even if I decided I wanted to go at full pelt with my sexy and sociable summer, it’s important to understand that a lot of people I meet or date might not share the same confidence and could be way more cautious about touching strangers. 

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John Drury, a professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex, says there is definitely a common appetite for fun: “On the one hand, there are reasons to think that the upcoming summer might be a boom time for live events, nightclubbing etc. Some people have money that they haven’t spent over the lockdown period. And, anecdotally, it seems that a lot of people are very excited at the prospect of going out again and intend to enjoy themselves.”

On the other hand, however, he lists some important countervailing factors – the biggest being the fact that our 21 June freedom is still dependent on the government’s roadmap and possible new variants. He also raises another understandable point: “There are reasons to think that the public demand for attending live events will not be evenly spread. Based on what we know about what happened after other disasters (such as the London 7/7 bombings), some people will be very hesitant at first, and will take a while to feel safe.”

There’s also the argument that, actually, a lot of single people are done with casual dating, flings and heavy petting in the park. Logan Ury, director of relationship science at Hinge, said this is the mindset of a lot of the dating app’s users when thinking about their dating futures (although it’s worth noting that Hinge’s tagline is ‘designed to be deleted’). 

“It’s true that there’ll really be a population of people who have missed physical touch and just having those lighter moments after a year of having a heavily confined experience, so I think we’ll see a few different trends,” she tells me over Zoom. “But what we’re hearing is that, before the pandemic, people prioritised work, family and hobbies – with dating coming last. But after spending time alone they’re now saying, ‘This is big, it’s affected my relationship goals and now I’m going to put my effort into finding a serious relationship.’ I think that in 2021 we’re going to see a huge relationship boom.”

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But could the pursuit of longer-term love still involve a lot more ‘fun’ and ‘IRL’ dating this summer? “We’re doing some research on this now, but when I talk to our users and I ask if they’re going to run out there and date as many people as possible when restrictions lift, they say, ‘No, I’m looking to go on fewer but better dates.’” Logan also explains that video dates, which were a necessity in dating during lockdown, is actually something that users have said they want to continue doing instead of meeting up.

Personally, I never want to endure awkward chat over a patchy Wi-fi connection with a digital avatar of someone I’ve just swiped right on ever again: I’d rather take the chance of going to the effort of meeting them in an overpriced London pub. But maybe that’s what I’m actually so fixated on here, the freedom to just bloody get out there that I have dreamed of regaining. 

Perhaps I’m deluding myself that I’m going to be prowling London like a young Samantha Jones. Yes, dating is still going to be as arduous and disappointing as ever. And, if I’m really honest with myself, meeting new people is going to be scary, nerve-wracking and a little bit exhausting – nevermind trying to snog someone new every night.

But I do know that there will at least be some dancing, karaoke singing, hugging and smiling in the sun again. Even if all it really means is falling back in love with life in a free world, I do believe this will be a summer of love. Because that’s hot.

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Images: Getty

*Name changed at contributor’s request