The pandemic makes everything harder, and that includes dating. Yet, in spite of lockdown and physical distancing, many of us are looking for emotional intimacy in the form of a romantic relationship.
The COVID-19 sceptre looms over our wishes though: many single people are feeling the anxiety of 'lost time' and missed opportunities. The delay of a long-term relationship- if that is what we ultimately want- can be a frustrating thing when the factors holding us back are are beyond our control.
By now, we're pretty settled into our pandemic lives. As difficult and uncomfortable as it might be, there is a sense of collective acceptance that yes, we are 'missing out' on many aspects of life- but what softens the blow is we're all missing out together.
The one exception to this collective acceptance might be dating.
If you are experiencing some serious FOMO (fear of missing out) around finding romantic love, you are in good company. Here is why 👇🏽
The arrival of 2021 brought a harsh reality into focus: for certain aspects of life, we could no longer wait for things to 'go back to normal'. Putting long-term goals and even momentary aspirations on hold indefinitely might not be the best approach anymore. If we could no longer guarantee a return to life as we knew it, we would just have to make the best of the situation.
So, those of us who are single begin to wonder: "How do I navigate meeting new people safely during the pandemic?"
For many Canadians, the obvious answer was online dating apps.
Back in the early days of the pandemic, multiple dating apps reported a surge in membership. Members were also using the video call feature significantly more often and the length of user interactions and number of messages exchanged also increased.
Despite this, millennials are struggling with dating. While some of this can be explained by the practical limitations of online dating during a lockdown, there are deeper, EXISTENTIAL reasons why dating seems especially laborious.
The goal of this piece to help validate some of your anxiety around dating. Being therapists helps us see repeating patterns in what people are going through. If this resonates with you, leave us a comment and share the article with someone else who might be confused about why dating feels especially difficult and anxiety-inducing right now
Let's explore some of the factors weighing on our dating decisions or how we interpret our current state of singledom.
Cue Existential Anxiety: The Domino Effect of NOT Dating
Single millennials are feeling anxious that not finding love during the pandemic will have a domino effect on their lives, reverberating into their future plans to get married and start a family. In other words, millennials are worried the pandemic will cause them to miss their 'marriage window'.
Adding to this, people who wish to have biological kids may feel like the pandemic is adding extra pressure to an already constrained biological 'timeline'.
Needless to say, these thoughts can cause some serious bouts of anxiety. It's not easy to contemplate the potential effects of this pandemic on your future when the circumstances are beyond your control.
Furthermore, we are only now beginning to understand and accept the fact that this pandemic will leave a cultural mark- it may be a passing houseguest, but it's also the guest that breaks everything before it departs, leaving you with the bill.
This existential anxiety partially explains why dating feels so difficult these days for millennials- we feel there is a lot at stake. Every swipe that doesn't lead to a match or conversation that doesn't go anywhere weighs more heavily on our minds because it fuels the feeling that we are running out of time.
The Pool Of People We Can Meet Feels Like It's Shrinking
University and college campuses are where many of us meet romantic partners. Online classes and being confined to dorm rooms can make us feel like our pool of potential partners is shrinking.
People who are starting new jobs are feeling this too. Many of us are working from home, which significantly reduces the people we can meet and make connections with. Spontaneous 'meet cutes' which are so popular in romantic comedies are all but non-existent.
The shrinking pool isn't limited to romantic relationships. New friendships are also more difficult to strike up. Young people are feeling anxious about missing out on friendships that can transition into romances, or provide life-long companionship.
The truth is, our pool isn't shrinking, we are just feeling anxious about the time passing. Regardless, this anxiety can contribute to making people who are single feel a sense of existential hopelessness 😔
It's Hard To Connect Emotionally These Days
In general, many of us are not functioning at our best right now. The constant threat of sickness, anxiety over financial instability, and worry about loved ones who are living beyond our borders can make even a promising relationship difficult to maintain. These factors make it challenging to connect emotionally to strangers. After all, when our basic needs (shelter, security, stability, safety) are feeling threatened, emotional intimacy becomes a secondary concern.
One study examined how the pandemic is impacting existing relationships. The authors found that some couples bond even closer in times of stress, while stress can push other couples apart. Couples who are financially affected by the pandemic may be more likely to split. However, the key to connecting emotionally in a relationship seems to be in how couples approach their problems. Seeing themselves as a team, and blaming the stress on the pandemic rather than a deficiency in each other were important factors for couples emerging stronger.
Let's flip back to new relationships starting during the pandemic. It can be difficult for existing couples who are already connected emotionally to navigate pandemic stressors. Establishing enough emotional intimacy to create the glue needed to ride rough waves can be even more challenging for new couples in a pandemic.
2020 Was The Year That Stuff Came UP For Us
We had more time to be alone with our inner world last year. Trauma and conflict we had pushed down and away for years suddenly had room to surface. Many of us are also coping with worsening mental health and unhealthy family dynamics we cannot easily escape from.
Our dating decisions and how we feel about being single are undoubtedly affected by all this!
For example, say you found yourself taking your first real break from dating last year (involuntary though it was). Reflecting on your past long-term and short-term relationships, you noticed a pattern of being attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable and who label you as 'needy' or 'too much'.
This information helps you realize that before entering another relationship or downloading a dating app, you might consider seeing a therapist to work through the fear of abandonment or inadequacy you feel in relationships.
We may be returning to the dating world to test drive new, healthier ways of interacting with others that are in line with our core needs and uphold our self-worth. This can be an exciting-and nerve-wracking- process.
The Flip Side- Can The Slower Pace Of Pandemic Dating Be A Good thing?
While it's not exactly a silver lining to this whole situation, it's also possible that all the lockdown introspection has allowed people to become more clear on the kind of person they are looking for.
This can lead to more intentional encounters, even online.
Also, perhaps we are taking more time to get know each other. Not being able to meet physically means you are spending more time talking and bonding. During a pandemic, our relationships may feel even more valuable to us, increasing the potential for emotional intimacy to develop.
Tips For Online Dating During A Pandemic
If you have managed to scale that existential wall and emerged on the other side wanting to date, here are some tips for navigating online dating during a pandemic.
1. Dig Deep To Reflect On Why You Want To Date Right Now
Why do you really want to date right now? Are you feeling pressure to date because of those existential anxieties we mentioned above?
So many of us are feeling the sting of loneliness these days. We hear you. Loneliness is a part of the human condition, yet tolerating it is so difficult 🥺
Reflect on whether you are looking for a meaningful connection or an emotional crutch. There is no shame is you just need someone to help ease your sense of isolation and loneliness by the way. However, it might help inform your dating decisions while also treating people ethically.
For example, you may consider letting people know in the beginning that you feel online dating is limiting and you are looking for some companionship during isolation. Also consider keeping an open mind though- sometimes if you are willing and ready to be vulnerable, things can progress unexpectedly in a relationship direction. And remember- we won't be in lockdown forever (as much as it might feel that way).
2. Use One App At A Time
This one is for folks who are on Hinge, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, Minder, Muzmatch, DilMil- all at once.
Try to use one app at a time and fully give it a chance. Swiping between apps can get overwhelming, especially if we are seeing the same people on multiple apps (which happens a lot). This can feed into the anxiety that your pool of potential people is shrinking.
Dating apps are already designed to help you cast a wide net. They do that work for you! Using multiple apps at once doesn't necessarily help you cast the net wider.
3. Protect Your Time And Energy On Dating Apps
Limit your daily use of the app. Set a target (i.e. 30 minutes a day) for actual swiping or engagement. Not doing so can lead you to feel burnt out by the process.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or even uninterested in the app, try deleting it and taking a break for a few weeks.
Another important aspect of protecting your energy is not interacting with or dwelling on people who are pushy, or inconsiderate in any way. When you limit your daily use of the app, it can help with this.
4. No Use May Be Better Than Sporadic Use
Don't force yourself to use a dating app if you don't want to. Dating is not an assignment that you have to complete. If it feels like a chore, it might be better to delete the app and focus on yourself.
Sporadically connecting with people and then disappearing for weeks until you feel like connecting again can be confusing for everyone involved.
So, if dating doesn't fit in your life right now, it's totally okay to opt out.
5. If You Like Them, Talk About Maintaining Momentum
If you feel that your budding relationship has promise, try and have a conversation early on about how you will maintain momentum during a pandemic.
Will you start doing video calls? Set up regular dates? Strive to intentionally create depth in conversations?
It's easy to stay on the surface with online dating. Creating depth takes intentional effort. If you feel that someone is worth that extra step, lay the groundwork early.
Phew. Dating during a pandemic is hard. Every building of our mental real estate is being rented these days! Adding another layer to this can be extremely challenging.
Remember to do what feels right for you. Listen to your anxieties and comfort them. Reflect on the value that dating will add to your life right now. And most of all, be SO very compassionate with yourself 💜
I want to hear from you: Is finding love on your mind more so than usual? How are you coping with this?
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist