7 Women Share Their Experiences Dating & Finding Love During COVID
On March 10, mere days before the searing reality of the pandemic swept over New York City, I was filling a suitcase with bikinis and yoga pants. I was headed to Costa Rica. Nosara, to be exact, a quaint surf-meets-yoga-village nestled on the northwestern coast of the country. I'd signed up for a yoga retreat with one of my beloved Brooklyn-based teachers.
But it was more than just a week of green juices and asanas for me. The trip served a dual purpose: It was both a celebration for (finally) finishing my book proposal and a means of bringing 2019, a year largely devoted to recovering from a breakup, to a more final close. The goal was to spend five days reflecting, relaxing, and soaking up some much needed vitamin D, then returning to New York with a stronger headstand and fuller heart.
But then the coronavirus officially hit the U.S., and I had zero interest in traveling abroad to hit the reset button on life and a much greater interest in fleeing my apartment, buying a month's worth of groceries, and not leaving the confines of my home in the Hudson Valley for the foreseeable future.
But once I'd purchased enough canned chickpeas to feed a small army and made sure my family was safe, an interesting feeling started to percolate.
I want to date.
Was this real? We were in the midst of a freaking pandemic! How could I possibly have the mental and emotional bandwidth to fiddle around on an app? And what was the point anyway? When would I actually touch anyone again?
I wasn't alone in this feeling. As the spread of the coronavirus gained momentum across the world, so did the use of online dating apps. A significant uptick in downloads and messages was noted. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a behavioral anthropologist and chief science adviser to Match.com, dubbed the pandemic a "gift" to dating, marking it as the age of "slow dating." One study even found the pandemic made singles take dating more seriously.
The general consensus: COVID-19 had changed dating for the better.
But was that really the case? Was this drastic uncertainty in our lives causing singles to take their pursuit of partnership more seriously, or was shitty behavior still lurking amid abandoned chats and unwarranted dick pics? I posed the question to a handful of women. Here's what they told me about their experiences dating during the pandemic.
"'What would it be like if I had to go through lockdown with this person?' is like the ultimate gut-check."
I ended a short relationship a few weeks before everyone was required to stay home with the intention of taking some time to myself before getting "back out there." At first I was pretty hesitant to date during quarantine because without an end in sight, it felt like it might be hard to build a connection with someone without getting to meet in person. Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to give it a try anyway—after all, everyone is in the same boat. In hindsight, quarantine has actually given me a good perspective on dating in general—asking myself "What would it be like if I had to go through lockdown with this person?" is like the ultimate gut-check.
I've connected with a few guys for FaceTime "dates," and it feels just as comfortable as meeting someone new in person. I've found that people I've met during quarantine have been more likely to follow up to speak again (maybe four to five FaceTime dates have been the minimum for each person). I don't know if I've just been luckier to match with people I click with, if it's sharing a common experience, or if it's the lesser effort (and let's be real, lesser expense) required to date right now that makes things easier to pursue without real commitment, but there has definitely been more follow-up than I typically experience. In general I don't mind being the one to follow up after a date, but I've just found that I haven't had to since dating from home.
Even though dating over FaceTime is technically a high-tech thing to do, there's something about it that feels very old-school that I love. It forces the conditions where people need to get to know each other slowly and to try to sense chemistry based on the way that you click with someone's personality and energy without physical chemistry clouding anything. If I'm chatting with someone over FaceTime and an hour or two flies by without me realizing it, it feels the same as meeting up in person and having a good date. Also, it has to be said—dating on the couch in sweatpants is a dream. Period. I can't count the number of times pre-quarantine that I've gotten dressed up and dragged myself across the city only to have a disappointing date. Taking all of that hassle out of my dating life has been the best.
—Woman, 30, from New York
"There was one week we had made plans to meet up in person. I chickened out that morning."
When quarantine started in March, I totally lost interest in dating. I just didn't have the emotional energy or space for it. Sometime in April, it occurred to me to start swiping again—mostly out of curiosity. I was not expecting to connect with anyone but wanted to know what the "scene" was like during the pandemic. I matched with a few people and had little chats that were pleasant but quickly faded away—which seemed expected and also was a relief. But then I matched with C, and we had a fun flurry of messaging, which quickly moved to texting once he told me about the baby chicks he was raising. Normally, I think it's not a good idea to text too much before you meet someone in person because it's too easy to build a false sense of intimacy—I create this idea in my head of what this person is like, and then often it's much different from who he actually is—so when we meet, it can be awkward and disappointing. But during pandemic time, I figured all the rules are out the window, so why not just go along with it? We agreed that "pandemic rules = no rules" and decided to FaceTime. And things took off from there.
After our first FaceTime call, our first "date" was watching Jeopardy on TV together via FaceTime. It was his idea, and it was brilliant. It's a fast-paced activity with commercial breaks that allow for chitchat. When it was over, we kept talking for maybe an hour. We got along really well.
One rainy weekend day, we planned a "lunch date" at our kitchen tables. We thought we'd watch a movie together via FaceTime but just started talking instead. We decided to start The 36 Questions That Lead to Love from the NY Times. We ended up talking for hours and sharing a lot.
There was one week we had made plans to meet up in person. I chickened out that morning because my parents had asked me to come over and finally see them after so many weeks apart. C and I were both pretty certain we had not been exposed, but my greatest fear is unknowingly infecting my parents. I just couldn't take that chance and break my quarantine bubble with him before even hugging my parents. I was so afraid of disappointing him or that he'd think I was being flaky, but he simply said, "OK, I understand. Let's keep FaceTiming." I think I was expecting him to protest or try to talk me into it anyway, but he didn't. I had shared a boundary, and he heard it and respected it. My heart leapt. It made me like him even more, and I told him so.
Beginning a whole relationship via FaceTime? Sometimes it feels ridiculous and impossible. And what will people think? I am and have always been a rule follower. I am reluctant to admit it, but I do care what people think. But there's a freedom in this great unknown—all of our routines have been altered and re-imagined, so why not this one?
—Woman, 27, from Massachusetts
"Even though we are apart, our relationship is still very real and fully evolving."
We live on opposite coasts and didn't mobilize to do this together, which is probably a good thing. He had a trip to New York booked on March 12 and canceled the day of. We were agonizing over whether he should travel in the days leading up to it, and he ultimately decided not to come, which was a safe move. It would have been too much, too soon to enter into such an indefinite and uncertain situation together.
We talk/text/sext/FaceTime a lot, like multiple hours each day. He's the last person I hear from every night and the first person I reach out to every morning. We've sent each other things like books, wine tools, and cards. We have a shared document where we capture two things: places we want to go together and conversations that we want to have in person.
We talk about big stuff and little stuff. We have spats, and make up. I once asked for a day of "space" when we didn't speak. He sees me in a pretty raw state more often than not (physically, as in no makeup, and emotionally, in terms of sadness and grief). We are intimate and go through days when that is really on and hot and stretches where it subsides. He picks up on my micro facial expressions and asks what I'm thinking about when he notices a shift. He's helpful from afar. Early on in the pandemic, I couldn't find a thermometer online, so he quickly came to the rescue by finding ovulation kits with thermometers available on Amazon.
Even though we are apart, our relationship is still very real and fully evolving. I feel closer to him each day. This isn't easy or convenient, but it sure as hell is worth it. I've never felt more myself, more seen, and more secure in a romantic relationship. When I catch myself tempted to filter something or pull back, I push forward with communication and transparency. I deeply believe we have real potential for a future together, and whether we like it or not, the pandemic is a critical piece of our origin story. We are both dying to see each other. All I want is to sit in silence with him and touch him. We've done enough talking at this point. I'm sick of seeing him just through the screen.
—Woman, 39, from New York
"Suddenly, he decided pandemic dating was too difficult or something."
I was dating online before the pandemic, so I just continued. I figured none of us know if this will be a few weeks or a few months, and if it's meant to be with a guy, it will be.
I would say overall, the experience has been similar to online dating before quarantine, which is unexpected. I have had two guys that I've had FaceTime dates with so far, and fortunately they aren't as awkward as I was expecting. The first was more than sparks, a full-on forest fire. And then suddenly, he decided pandemic dating was too difficult or something. It was a crappy excuse and likely a lie. The second has been a slower burn, but I'm enjoying it! Seems nice, cute, funny, smart—no red flags yet! Sometimes I wish it would move faster but have decided in all this, what's the rush? The reason I say it seems similar is because looking at both of these, and other in-app messages, it really just depends on the guy. There is no sudden pandemic rule that says this guy is a yes, or this guy is a no. You have to go through the same experiences of getting to know somebody.
I like the opportunity to learn more about somebody before being able to go out. I used to figure, let's just go out, and our chemistry will let us know, but going out on first dates can take a lot of time and energy! I worked with a relationship coach a year and a half ago, and she encourages a phone call or FaceTime chat prior to going out for exactly this reason. People used to think it was weird, but I hope it becomes the new norm!
In the back of my head, I am wondering if when we meet, we will have chemistry. I try not to dwell on that, though.
—Woman, 29, from the Boston area
"It's made me very aware how important physical chemistry is to a romantic connection for me."
I had been a lukewarm [online dater] pre-pandemic, but the Sunday when we were all officially in lockdown I swiped and matched with a guy. He's the only one I've been talking to since we've been in lockdown, and while we haven't officially had the "Are we seeing other people?" conversation, I'm fairly confident, it's just the two of us.
Practically, we started FaceTiming once a weekend pretty much every weekend. Even the first time was two-plus hours and some have stretched over three-plus. We've mostly just chatted, but we did meet for the first time in person (all masked and almost always 6 feet apart) one weekend. I cannot tell you how odd it is to be with someone but not be able to get close to them.
It's been a very odd experience compared with the normal dating progression. It feels like, in some ways, we've gone backward. We established that both of our parents are divorced, some deal breakers in past relationships, and we both really like sushi and don't eat much pizza, all before we knew some basic first date things like is he nice to waitstaff, is he as tall as he says he is online, is he awkward?
While it's been really nice to get to know someone more before having to start facing the "Do I want to go home with him yet?" dilemma, it's made me very aware how important physical chemistry (and physical affection at all) is to a romantic connection for me. I always thought it had to do with being attracted to their physical appearance (which could kind of be perceived without necessarily a point of interaction), but I'm finding that it's all in how you interact with each other. It's made us both aware that we need to take a risk and probably be maskless in order to figure out if this thing really has legs. And that's a scary leap to have to jump through (trusting someone is taking precautions when you're not with them) in order to just be able to touch them!
—Woman, 27, from New York
"No one ever becomes a 'real' person."
I have never been a fan of dating apps as I find they instantly make people very superficial, and personally, I overanalyze every profile. Additionally, I am a serial date canceler, as I am either tired from work or would rather drink wine with my girlfriends than suffer through awkward small talk at a random bar.
Thanks to COVID, the option to try to meet people by going out and having an arsenal of excuses to cancel dates were both gone. Since I did not want to write off dating, I thought now would be the perfect time to try out dating apps and go on some virtual dates.
Similar to traditional dating, it has been up and down. I have "met" a couple of guys through Hinge that I have been talking to for about a month. Doing FaceTime dates as a first date versus in person eliminates the awkward moment of picking a place to meet and deciding who is paying and what to do at the end of the date.
The two challenges for me have been not being able to schedule a physical date and keep the conversation fresh when life has become very mundane for most people. I have found that this has caused conversations on the apps to go stale quickly, as there are only so many times you can go back and forth about the struggle of working from home and finishing your third Netflix show in a week.
Compared to dating in person, virtual dating feels inconsequential as no one ever becomes a "real" person but instead remains a picture within your phone. Unlike dating in real life, the dating remains in stage one, when you are getting to know each other and one is not forced to face the "What are we doing?" conversation after you have had three or four in-person dates. My best analogy is it feels like you are permanently in the batter's box, where the pitcher will keep throwing to you, but you don't have to make a hit or ever leave the batter's box.
—Woman, 27, from New Hampshire
"If someone wants to meet up five minutes after matching, then you know they're an idiot."
Amazingly [dating during COVID] has been mostly a good experience. There were suddenly a lot more people online, who were usually the type that go out to meet people. I'm a bit of an introvert, and not the at best meeting new people in crowds. The use of Zoom dates or FaceTime has been a little odd, and I can't say I felt as excited to dress up, as I'd just be sitting in a chair looking into a camera. But it's allowed me to weed through people without having to combat Friday evening traffic into D.C. Silver lining. And then I met Cavan.
It has been much different from what I expected. I kind of expected not to be able to meet anyone in person at all. I only ended up meeting two people in person, and it was always first for an outdoor activity where we didn't have to be too close (still safety first).
I don't know that it will ever replace the in-person dating for that initial stage of meeting someone, but I could still totally feel if I did or did not have chemistry with someone over the video call. And I really liked that I got to see them at home, and I think it was a bit more relaxed and less "showy" than people tend to get on a regular first date.
From meeting Cavan, I'm going to say that although it's using a lot more technology than before, the rules are not different. You will still know a dude's interest in you by how they invest their time and effort. And yeah, if someone wanted to meet up fivee minutes after matching, then you know they're an idiot, and just unmatch with them without any guilt.
—Woman from New York
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.