Love in the Time of Corona: Can you really start a relationship in a pandemic?

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It’s the classic story: boy meets girl, boy asks girl out on date, both are stuck in quarantine and can’t meet for two months. 

Wait, what? This isn’t quite how this is supposed to work.

But for many of us college students, this is the sad reality right now. 

Speaking from personal experience, I have been talking to someone via text that I met over an online dating platform for over two months now (which is, by the way, way longer than average for people who are not used to young adult dating culture). We have been trying to meet in person for some time now, but somehow our plans keep getting ruined by the pandemic. 

They go to Lehigh University, which went on a campus-wide quarantine just days after we started making plans for our first date. 

Then we waited three weeks for them to be cleared, replanned our first date for the following week, and not even 12 hours before we are supposed to meet, they had to cancel because three of the students in their in-person class tested positive for COVID. Now they are stuck in two more weeks of quarantine, and we are no closer to getting our first date. 

And now a few weeks later, we have officially given up trying, and our short-lived virtual relationship is over with no chance of ever getting started. 

This may seem like just a series of unlucky circumstances, but this is a reality for many young people who are looking to meet new people — and still want to follow safe quarantining practices in a world with rising COVID cases once again. 

So is it impossible to change your single status during a global pandemic?

In short, not necessarily. However, there are definitely some major challenges that students can face when trying to maintain their casual dating status or to meet new people who could turn into long-term partners. 

According to Insider, the average age of first marriage in the United States is somewhere around 25 and 30 years old.

This terrifies me. It means that there are a lot of couples who meet during their college years between the ages of 18 and 22, date for a few years, then get married.

I will be turning 22 in just a few months, and I am nowhere near finding a long-term partner to marry in 3 years to hit the average age. For other young people in my age group who are currently single, there are few chances that we will meet someone new that we can hit this milestone with to meet the average — which is worrisome to a lot of people. 

What’s worse is that even if you do strike gold and manage to find yourself a date, those dates carry a lot more fear than just first-date jitters and butterflies. 

The questions of social distancing crop up rather quickly — have they been quarantining safely? Have they been wearing their mask and practicing correct social distancing practices? Have they been in contact with other people who have been less safe socially? 

Sure, you can ask them these questions, but if you are just meeting them, how do you know they are telling you the truth? So suddenly, you are trying to integrate your date to see if it’s safe to give them a first date peck without possibly exposing yourself to Covid-19. 

If this almost-as-awkward-as-STI-history talk doesn’t put a damper on a date, the social distancing practices might.

Most first dates include things like hand holding, sharing food and drinks, sitting less than 6 feet apart, and maybe sharing a kiss; any other year that would be fine, but this year these actions make me bristle involuntarily with fear. These things are in complete conflict with social distancing measures, and again it brings up the concern about how safe you both have been being. 

This barrier of physical touch can be a big barrier for a number of people. 

Considering that physical touch is one of the five “love languages,” some people are very reliant on these small gestures to see if they really like a new potential partner. With these actions put on the back burner, some people may feel like they’re not sure if they’re really making a romantic connection with someone.

And now this second-wave of coronavirus within the Lehigh Valley and across the world is putting another stopper to dating. Winter is closing up most of the fun outdoor dates you can plan, and there are likely to be more restrictions coming as we move into the winter and cases continue to rise. So for someone like me who missed the opportunity all semester to meet up with someone I was interested in, these chances of us getting together seem to be falling by the day.

Despite all of these hardships, is there a silver lining to this all? According to Bumble, one of the most popular dating apps of my generation, there may be. 

In a recent survey they sent out to users, the dating app asked questions about how the pandemic has changed their user’s dating styles. Many of the questions focused on if the pandemic forced you to talk to possible matches longer, if it made people focus more on personality over physical looks or physical connection, and if the pandemic has made people previously afraid to date feel more confident.

Many people have gone on to say something similar. In a recent article on PBS, one Bumble user explains how “Coronavirus has changed dating for the better” because sex and other types of physical intimacy were off the table and people have begun putting up more effort to get to know each other. 

“She said it was easier to sort out matches who were just ‘cycling through people’ from those who were actually looking for a relationship,” wrote one Bumble user.  This I can personally attest to. Anyone looking for a simple hook up would never take almost three months to talk to someone via text if they had no intention on pursuing a real relationship after. 

I have also seen that this may be a helpful time for people who may be scared of online dating to get a hang of it. 

Before Covid-19, I was terrified of online dating because within a few texts, people would be asking to meet up already in person, but I was never ready. I felt more comfortable getting to know them a bit over text first before meeting them alone. However, quarantine forced the issue, and now it takes quite some time usually before couples can meet up (or too long on occasion, but that’s to be expected). So the quarantine actually bolstered my confidence online, and I found some really interesting people. 

All in all, quarantine and the pandemic have been hovering over casual dating life for most college students like a storm cloud, just waiting to make trouble. But with the virus continuing to plague us and more lockdowns becoming ever more a possibility, we have to remember that even though we are separated, we can still find ways to make connections, even if we do have to do it through texts, gifs, and Faceimes. Maybe, after all of this is said and done and with a little bit of luck and perseverance, we’ll emerge with a partner.