“[You] have to refamiliarise with the rituals of dating, whether it’s what you’re going to wear and pre-date banter … If you haven’t done any of that since March or February, you’re going to be a bit rusty.”
Dodge also feels uncertain about what people want out of dating now and says she is steeling herself for dates to be flops or to be called off at the last minute, perhaps because of health anxieties.
“It’s going to take everyone a while to feel ready to fully commit. I’m trying to be better at not being offended if it’s a no [to meeting up] … everyone is on a different spectrum of this pandemic,” Dodge says. “I’ve often built expectations up and that was pre-pandemic so can’t imagine what it would be like [after a long break]. Nobody needs anything else to be disappointed about in 2020.”
Dating app Bumble surveyed almost 600 of its Australian users about their dating lives and found two in five felt decreased confidence while one-third were less physically confident since the start of coronavirus. Meanwhile, one in three Australians on app Hinge say they have talked themselves out of a date due to nerves and one-fifth are more anxious about finding a long-term partner.
Bumble’s country lead for Australia, Lucille McCart, puts the findings down to pandemic-induced stress and lack of general social interaction.
“We’re seeing dramatically far less people than we were six months ago and … we have to retrain ourselves with how we approach social situations,” McCart says. “Whether it’s your general confidence or your body confidence, it has to come from internal sources right now and some people struggle with that.”
Lisa Portolan, a University of Western Sydney dating researcher and host of podcast Slow Love, says singles are feeling a sense of “what’s the point?”, with people lacking confidence they’ll be able to start a new serious relationship.
And pandemic restrictions don’t exactly scream romance: “You can imagine if you have to stand 1.5 metres away from someone and wear a mask, you’ll need big chemistry to get a spark happening.”
Ben Cheong, 29, agrees. The Sydneysider hasn’t dated since the pandemic began and is now hardly using the apps because he isn’t interested in virtual dating. “With this whole situation, I’ve put all dating on hold,” he says.
Cheong feels lucky to have retained his job and have strong relationships, but says he felt his dating confidence drop recently.
“I feel like I forget how to date,” he says. “I don’t have as much confidence in dating again and putting myself out there because I’ve been so insular throughout the pandemic.”
Cheong sometimes feels lonely but says he doesn’t plan on meeting someone new face-to-face for a long time, potentially until there is a vaccine.
He jokingly ponders whether it will become the norm to “get a pre-date COVID-test along with an STD screening”.
Psychologist Rachel Voysey, founder of Sydney clinic The Relationship Room, says it’s entirely normal for people’s dating confidence to have dipped this year.
Voysey says it can be for a mix of reasons; it could be feeling like they now won’t ever find their life partner; feeling unable to connect with people online; or feeling incapable of having a normal, non-COVID conversation.
And the longer you don’t do something, the less confident you can become, Voysey says.
She recommends people question what they are worried about, and then try to address it instead of letting it take over.“If you start avoiding new experiences, the anxiety only grows bigger.”
If you’re unable or unwilling to meet someone in person, try not to discard distanced dating, and consider talking on the phone, she says. “It’s a great stepping stone, you can screen a lot of things and get an intuitive read on the person.”
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Sophie is Deputy Lifestyle Editor for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.