For the past two months (and counting), American life has been turned on its head in the face of COVID-19. The economy screeched to a halt, schools closed, graduations have been delayed or cancelled altogether, and a huge proportion of the country has either transitioned to working from home or lost their jobs entirely. Without question, no one is left untouched by the havoc that the pandemic has wrought.
For many people, however, the novel coronavirus struck right as they were in the midst of—or gearing up to embark on—one of the oldest and most important missions known to man: finding love and partnership with a significant other. Seemingly overnight, all of the usual trappings of dating disappeared: gone are the days of dine-in restaurants, theater outings, and meeting up for a casual stroll around the city while holding hands and embracing at crosswalks as you wait for the signal to change. Although it’s true that partnered or married individuals feel the sting of such losses, the wholesale obliteration of these options is particularly profound for those who are not in a relationship, are actively seeking love, and find themselves constrained in their options to meet and pursue potential partnerships.
To anyone reading this who is single and ready to (virtually) mingle in the age of COVID-19: this one is for you.
Okay, so first thing’s first: if you are single right now, chances are high that you’ve already Googled something along the lines of, “are people dating during the pandemic?” or, “how am I supposed to date during the coronavirus outbreak?” I’m not Google, but allow me to answer both of those questions: yes and I’ll tell you how. Check out the guidelines below.
- Yes, online dating really is your best bet. With all of the “organic” ways of meeting someone off of the table (no more chance encounters at grocery stores, bars, coffee shops, etc.), it is time to turn to the dating apps if you would like to romantically connect with someone. Online dating has always offered a lot of pros, including the ability to filter for the specific criteria that matters most to you (e.g., educational attainment, age, etc.) and having a plethora of options literally at your fingertips. A word of caution, however: the sheer number of options can be paralyzing/overwhelming—this is known as the paradox of choice. Rather than getting caught in this cycle, find a few people that seem like good options then pursue them to see how things pan out. Naturally, one person will rise to the top as the most appealing option. It can be difficult to practice this self-restraint when it seems like there are so many people out there, but I promise you, it’s worthwhile.
- Be intentional about your choice of dating app(s). When it comes to online dating, particularly during a pandemic, think about what you are looking for. If it’s something casual you seek, there are apps for that—I think it’s safe to say that we’re all familiar with which ones those are. If you’re looking for love or something that could potentially turn into a long-term relationship, there are a slew of options. The more popular apps for long-term relationships include Bumble, Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, and OkCupid, as well as those that require paid subscriptions, including Match and eharmony.
- Get rid of the filters and just be you. Choose pictures in your profile that reflect who you really are, not how you want the world (or potential dating prospects) to see you. This is a tall ask, I know, but it’s also a critical one. Now, more than ever, we all need and crave real, genuine connection. Start off on the right foot by making your dating profile fully representative of who you are. I am confident that this alone will enhance the quality and viability of your matches and move you one step closer to love.
- Prioritize video calls over phone calls. If the text exchanges on the app seems to be flowing well, express interest in a phone or video call. Being able to engage with someone in real time, even if it’s via a screen, offers invaluable insight by allowing you to take note of their mannerisms and nonverbal cues. Even if you start with a phone call, move it into the virtual video space as soon as you can if your interest remains high.
- Use this as an opportunity to return to good old-fashioned courtship. With in-person meetups being off the table, view this period as a chance to slow down and really get to know someone. Maintain open communication, ask questions that go beyond surface-level in order to learn more about who they are (like the ones found in the NYT “36 Questions” article), chat with each other frequently, and work to build a romantic connection that features a solid friendship as its foundation. With more time on our hands than many of us are used to, this is a ripe opportunity to really dig into the romance and invest in a relationship that seems promising.
- Practice self-compassion. Dating, whether in real life or virtually, can be overwhelming and exhausting. Be sure to take care of yourself along the way by engaging in self-care practices. In the dating world, this might look like limiting the amount of time that you spend swiping/”liking” on the apps each day, or restricting the number of dating apps that you have on your phone.
- It is okay to take a break. If you find yourself lacking motivation or interest in dating, this might be your brain signaling to you that you need to take a step back from the online dating scene for a while. Living through this pandemic is difficult for everyone, and for some, adding the potential stress of dating is not worthwhile at the moment. Monitor how you feel as the days and weeks pass. If you want to table dating during the pandemic, that is totally okay. Love will still be waiting for you when this is over.
- Have fun! If you continue to feel energized and interested in dating, I encourage you to have fun with it. You will meet a lot of very cool people doing very cool things. Some of these people will fit better as friends than partners, and that is completely fine—it’s great, in fact. Now, more than ever, our social circle is in need of tender love and care. So while you’re on the quest for love, allow room for fun, friendship, and fodder for lifelong connection.
BONUS: Dating resources for your reading and listening pleasure
I spend a lot of time thinking about, reading about, and listening to podcast episodes about love. Below are some of my top relationship-focused book and podcast recommendations that may serve as excellent resources during this time.
Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb
Shy’s take: The title is a bit deceiving since this book is more about figuring out what you’re willing/able to compromise on rather than settle for. This book is very clearly geared toward heterosexual women, but if you fit this demographic, I highly recommend. Lori is an incredible writer, which makes this book a fantastic read.
Shy’s take: Written by a clinical psychologist who spends much of her time working with people who are searching for love, this book is chock-full of good tips and strategies. I’ve recommended it to a number of my clients, all of whom tell me that it echoes what we talk about in the therapy room. This book seems to resonate with everyone who is single and looking for love, so if this describes you, I highly recommend!
Podcast: “Mating Matters”
Specific episodes: Quarantine Edition, Dating App-athy, …really, all of them
Shy’s take: This is, hands-down, my favorite relationship-centered podcast of all time. Dr. Wendy Walsh is brilliant, knowledgeable, and very easy to listen to. Take my specific episode recommendations into account as starting points, but literally every single one of them is fantastic. Your ears and brain will thank you.
Podcast: “Life Kit”
Specific episode: Love on Lockdown: Tips for Dating During the Coronavirus
Shy’s take: This one is light and fun and offers some helpful tips about how to date during the pandemic. It’s a quick and easy listen.
Specific episode: Covering Covid: Couples
Shy’s take: This one features interviews from people who are actively dating, happily partnered, and actively seeking separation/divorce during the pandemic. It’s an interesting spotlight on all of the ways that people are navigating love and relationships during this difficult time.
*Each of these can be found wherever you listen to podcasts!
Alright, I’m hopeful that this was a helpful primer on dating during the pandemic. Even if you weren’t anxiously asking Google about your dating options (in which case, good for you!), you might still be wondering if the only realistic option is to table dating entirely until life returns to some semblance of normal. My professional opinion is if you would like to continue dating, it is certainly still possible as long as you navigate the quest for love thoughtfully, strategically, and safely.
Keep calm, carry on, and don’t stop searching for your happily ever after.
Shy Porter, PhD, LCMFT provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our Bethesda, MD office and virtually to those in the state of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Shy.