The new world of dating

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the dating scene on its head. Within the space of a few weeks, drinks and dinner dates were out (not to mention sex afterwards) and phone calls in your pyjamas and socially distanced meet-ups were in – with varying degrees of success. After all, it’s not easy to build intimacy when you’re two metres apart and wearing a mask.

When I raised the issue on social media and asked single friends how they’d found dating during lockdown, the responses were mixed. Some were positive: ‘For once, I had time for dating apps,’ said one. ‘Cutting out the ability to meet up took away any pressure and made it more fun,’ said another. ‘I’ve had more luck than normal,’ a third told me, ‘and for the first time in years, I’ve found someone I have a real connection with.’

Others found it difficult, citing everything from sexual frustratio­n to the awkward nature of video calls as their biggest issues. ‘Apart from anything else, I think even Scarlett Johansson would struggle to look good on a video call,’

Red’s contributi­ng editor Rosie Green quipped. ‘Pre-lockdown, dating was based mainly on sexual chemistry and immediate intimacy,’ says relationsh­ip counsellor Anshu Rastogi (rayoflight­relationsh­ipcounsell­ ‘But that quickly shifted to virtual connection­s and sexual creativity.’ Whether it was sexting or mutual Zoom masturbati­on, cybersexua­l relationsh­ips became far more commonplac­e. For the more sexually confident, it worked; for others, less so.

Sex aside, there was a whole new set of emotional dynamics to negotiate. ‘We are so out of practice at the art of building chemistry through simply getting to know someone [by communicat­ing verbally],’ says Dr Zoe Strimpel, author of Seeking Love In Modern Britain. Our need for instant gratificat­ion and the fast-paced nature of life pre-covid meant that more often than not, we were taking shortcuts in dating. The pandemic has taught us that slowing things right down can be a turn-on, too.

Yet despite such fundamenta­l changes, one thing this year has reminded us of is that the human race is amazingly adaptable. Just as restaurant­s pivoted to takeaways, apps such as Bumble and Hinge added new video features and ‘Covid-safe’ toggles so users could quickly adjust to the brave new dating world.

With it came a variety of new trends. There was ‘mindful dating’ and ‘slow romance’ as people got to know one another more gradually and perhaps better than they would have done pre-covid. On the other end of the spectrum, a report by Relate and eharmony found ‘turbo relationsh­ips’ boomed, as busy lives no longer got in the way of dating milestones (some new couples had even moved in together by the time lockdown eased). ‘Video vetting’ – arranging a Zoom date before a real one to see whether the person is worth meeting – became so popular it looks like it’s here to stay.

But, as the world reopens, new hurdles and anxieties are emerging. Some are calling this FOMU: fear of meeting up. Do we hug, stay two metres apart or wear a mask on a first date? Are pubs safe, or should we meet in a park or open space? And what if we’re better at virtual relationsh­ips than in-person ones? ‘Depending on personalit­y and experience­s, this could leave some singletons more wary of dating right now,’ says Rastogi. ‘So be patient with yourself and others.’

Personally, I think we’ll be just fine. One thought that ran through all the responses I got was this: being forced to find love in lockdown taught us something. Whether it was the need to communicat­e more clearly, find intimacy in creative ways or just be open to new experience­s and people, many single women feel they’re now better equipped to approach love and sex in the future. As Rastogi puts it: ‘In-person dating could become everything you’ve ever hoped for, if you build on the strong communicat­ion values forged by our new socially distanced world.’


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