Dating can be hard enough at the best of times. Add in a highly contagious global pandemic to the mix and it becomes an entirely different game, one in which nobody is quite sure of the rules.
In fact, the needs of single people have been largely left out of the conversation here in Ireland—unlike the Netherlands, where the government advised citizens to sort out a seksbuddy (sex buddy) to cosy up to during their lockdown.
There are so many questions that need to be addressed: Should you meet up to go on a date? What if you want to kiss them—do you need to quarantine afterwards? Should you both go for Covid tests before you get intimate? Is the advisory to “wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sexual activity” for real? Does this assume both people are wearing face visors or somehow maintaining a distance? What page in the Kama Sutra was that position on? The mind boggles.
On top of all that, attitudes and levels of adherence to the advice and regulations vary from person to person. There are people who blithely broke travel restrictions during lockdown, just for a night of passion, while others have stuck to chaste (or maybe not so chaste) video calls.
The human search for connection, love, romance or even just sex, is a constant, so if we can’t put it on hold, how do we deal with it now?
If the lockdown loneliness has got to you, and you are worried about how to have an active love life in a reasonably sensible and healthy manner, you are not alone.
Meeting through dating apps and getting to know someone online through video calls, before meeting in real life, has become the new dating norm.
Dr Caroline West, Lecturer in Sexuality Studies at Dublin City University (DCU) maintains that digital intimacy is “a reflection of our modern lives”.
She says, “Digital natives are of course more comfortable with this as they have grown up with their lives being mediated through technology.”
They found that video calls were essential to keeping their spark alive.
“It’s so important to see the person and hear their voice and remember that the distance isn’t going to be forever,” advises psychology graduate Ellie.
The pair have been ploughing through Harry Potter books together and take turns reading chapters on their nightly video chat.
Ryan, a musician from Rush, Co Dublin, adds that the internet has made it easier for them to cope with the long-distance element of their relationship, while Ellie has been at home in Fermanagh.
“It’s more manageable than you would think with all the technology you have nowadays; 15 years ago, before the likes of Skype and things like that were available it would have been a lot more difficult.”
Shop local Even with the magic of video dating, lockdown has put some people off the idea of long-distance relationships.
Even though nearly half (46%) of those surveyed by Bumble stated they are comfortable getting intimate online, more than half (52%) are more inclined to date locally — ‘locdating’ — compared to before lockdown.
“The vast majority of people in Ireland have been adhering to social distancing and travel restrictions as we want to protect our loved ones, and we are likely to look down on those breaking the rules for a date,” comments Dr West.
Travelling to meet someone new adds to the anxiety of the whole experience, especially if you have been trying to keep your social circle and radius of movement limited.
Then, the practicalities of the situation kick in. If you are travelling to a midpoint to meet up, you’re relying on good weather for an outdoor date, such as a walk or picnic.
If you go to a bar or restaurant your time is limited; if it’s a rainy night and you’re only going to get 105 minutes together, it really makes you question if it’s worth the trip.
The pandemic opens up questions about someone’s values and how aligned you are much quicker than it otherwise would — differing attitudes to mask-wearing, foreign travel or quarantine can be an instant turn-off in this time of heightened fear.
The added risk factor of dating during a pandemic — not just to yourself, but to your housemates or family should you contract the virus — means that serious conversations around these issues need to be had much earlier than normal.
You might not usually delve into the personal details so quickly, but now, it is acceptable to ask if your date has been in any risky situations lately, be that visiting a foreign country or getting intimate with another person.
Most of us cringe at the idea of having the ‘are we exclusive’ conversation, but now if you think you want to see this person again, wanting to lock that down before your first kiss doesn’t necessarily come advisable from a public health perspective.
So what happens if you go on a date and you’re getting on well?
Psychologically, once we begin to like someone and bond with them, our ‘stranger danger’ alarm bells stop ringing.
At the start of the date you’re suggesting elbow bumping rather than shaking hands, and by the end of it, you’re hugging goodbye and contemplating a cheeky snog.
We start to believe that, because we like someone and trust them, they are less likely to have the virus. This line of thinking makes no rational sense, of course (but then, when did love ever make rational sense?).
If alcohol is involved our inhibitions are likely to lower even more, and the social distance between us to diminish.
If you’ve already sussed out you’re interested via video dating, and think you may want to take it further, then it is important to dive into all the difficult conversations, unpacking both of your attitudes and values around society, community and protecting other people, as well as frank and honest discussions about boundaries around intimacy and sex.
Having these conversations early on will lay the foundations for a great relationship.
Bumble, the women-first social networking app, with over 100 million users, connects people across dating, friendship and professional networking.
Bumble is free and available in the App Store and Google Play.