Dating as we once knew it, may never be the same again

By Harriet Piercy

Published Feb 6, 2021 at 10:00 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

In the weeks before the first lockdown was announced, many of us (singletons) were dating pretty hard, myself included. So much so that on Valentine’s Day of 2020, I opted to spend it with my best single friend instead of a boy. Whether that was a choice for either of us or not is totally besides the point. Anyway, we played a points game on who could get the most amount of phone numbers each, free drinks, whatever, and who ever won got a month’s worth of free bagels from the (best ever) bagel shop down the road—in case you were wondering who lost, it was moi.

As much as I love casual dating, my Valentine’s game opponent had extroversion down to a T, and me on the other hand… well, let’s just say my ears tend to ring from the inside when I’m in the spotlight. It’s a week away from being a whole year later, and dating (or dating distractions) couldn’t be more different. Other than the obvious differences, how has dating fundamentally changed, and will the extroverts or introverts ever date in the same way again?

Logic would expect dating to halt altogether for single people over the course of the ‘stop and start again’ global lockdowns, but surprisingly quite the opposite happened. Over the past year, the dating world thrived, thanks to technology. Dating app usage surged despite the turmoil, and Tinder happened to be, by far, the most popular, with over 50 million sessions per week worldwide according to the Financial Times.

To the external eye, all singles that date are mostly walking, walking a lot for that matter, somewhat but not entirely aimlessly. Walking is ideal—you can talk about down right anything without feeling studied by whoever you’re on a date with from across a sticky table. You can also distract yourself from ‘filler talk’, meaning: people tend to talk about the things that they might think about when walking alone, like what’s actually going on in their lives, due to the lack of being studied by their date.

When you’re moving around and being distracted by externalities, the filters fall away. I can’t tell you the amount of utter uninteresting rubbish I’ve spewed over a low lit bar table and a grumbling stomach, just to fill the silence—that’s filler talk. Walking actually allows for silence, what you both see around you drives the conversation for you, and it feels natural that way.

Dating these days also encourages honesty in some ways; COVID-19 has brought out all shades of deepest darkest behaviours, and being ‘too busy’ just isn’t much of an excuse, not to mention ghosting—it’s much more tolerated now than it was before, not saying that this is a good thing, but also sorry not sorry. The difference between now and the first lockdown of 2020, is that expectation has been (almost) abolished, and that’s kind of healthy in my opinion.

There may be a change in terms of what people are fundamentally looking for when it comes to dating—stability, intimacy or companionship to name a few. Those casual daters from before might just want something a little more consistent, because social interaction is at a minimum, therefore lockdowns favour couples. In a broader sense, it favours relationships in general, which is surely a good thing. Were you ever one to say ‘I can count my best friends on my hand’? Well, in the UK, that’s what the rule book says we have to do with bubbles.

Before this shit-storm of a virus plagued society, we could all meet up with, or hook up with, a handful of different people at different times of the day or night. Relationships now have become much more precious, and purposeful, simply by choice being enforced. The greatest question is whether this will influence us after this is all over, which it will be eventually, albeit never forgotten. Lockdowns have seen a lot of long term relationships break up, due to the uncertainty of external life feeding into our internal lives, which again as sad as it truly is to see so many couples break up—they have done for underlying reasons, and in the long term will probably prove to be for the better.

I could argue that before the pandemic there was too much choice, now there is the same amount of choice, but what’s different is that people actually have to choose—again, this is a good thing. “Some things are definitely going to change for the better,” argues chartered psychologist, lecturer and author Doctor Audrey Tang when speaking to Harper’s Bazaar. “Dating is fun, it’s flirty, it’s enjoyable. One of the things people have missed is the idea of being able to dress up and go out and have that excitement. But if we’re not clear with our expectations, then we can end up connecting on so many superficial levels that, when it comes to actually being serious, we find out we don’t want the same things, we don’t have the same views on religion or marriage or children or even where this relationship is going. With Covid, there’s less room for game-playing.”

That all being said, sometimes the game playing is what actually makes dating fun in the first place, both for introverts and extroverts. According to the 2021 SKYN Sex and Intimacy Survey, sex in quarantine is more frequent and adventurous, despite heightened anxiety. In the same way that relationships come to ultimatums far quicker, sex is being treated like we have nothing to loose.

39 per cent of respondents in the survey reported experiencing an increased sex drive, more orgasms are happening (twice or more within a single session baby). More than a quarter of respondents reported starting a new romantic relationship since the start of the pandemic, and 78 per cent of those have ended up in a relationship, and of that 78 per cent, 31 per cent said that they slept with their partner faster than they normally would have. Will these stats in particular continue after lockdown ends? Arguably, I think they’ll increase. 41 per cent of respondents reported starting a ‘friends with benefits’ situation.

It was predicted that, unsurprisingly, there would be a baby boom. However, Brookings Institution has estimated that the US birthrate alone will decline by 7 to 10 per cent in 2021, which amounts to about 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births. 34 per cent of women stated that they wanted to get pregnant later than before the pandemic started, or wanted fewer children. Why?

Well, to put it simply, multitasking effectively is a myth. Forbes contributor and author, Sian Beilock, wrote that “There’s an unspoken expectation that women are responsible for keeping their families’ lives as close to pre-pandemic conditions as possible—all without the support systems on which we used to rely. It’s this invisible labor that makes it impossible for many women to consider growing their families during the pandemic.”

All I can end off with is that we’re in for an interesting and drastic change, which will undoubtedly only be realised in hindsight when we’re out of the COVID-19 chrysalis, and I’m excited for it, but I hope none of us are waiting for it. Singleton valentines this year won’t be for drunkenly gambling with strangers and best friends, but dating is, evidently, still worth the walk. Extroverts, welcome to an introvert’s comfort zone, and introverts, send the damn text already, you can jolly well walk on your own again once this is all over.

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