or me, dating was a dish of doom long before Covid showed up with a side order of sinister and sad. But when the last lockdown was imposed, I took a long look at myself (since there was no one else to see) and gave myself a pep talk. “Woman. Do you want to die alone? Probably much sooner than later?”
Then I downloaded all the apps, again, armed with a screenshot of the social-distancing pickup lines I was sent by the girls (“Is that sanitiser in your pocket or are you just happy to be within 6ft of me?”), and discovered that my match rate was at an all-time high. Apparently every single person in the capital had asked themselves the same question. “Excellent,” I thought, “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’
So I set up lots of FaceTime dates. And only abandoned that approach after an e-date went even worse than the old kind — which I’d not have guessed possible. I’d tried to make him laugh with the story of how Hinge said I was “most compatible” with a twisty-bearded obese man who advertised that the “key to his heart” was “having big jugs”. My date didn’t think it was funny, said he loved the app and Tinder was “full of bimbos”. Which just seemed like confirmation (if any were needed) that Hinge is full of misogynists.
So I deleted the app and got back on Bumble.
There, I swiped so long I thought I had finally unearthed that mythical beast “the nice guy” and got giddy. He suggested a socially distanced date, since it was OK to meet outside. Later, I discovered a get-out clause on the state sex ban. It was allowed provided you did it for work purposes, so I had him in to do some DIY and paid via the world’s oldest barter system. Soon enough, he became my bubble boyfriend. But the second restrictions lifted, he naffed off without a second glance. So that left me mashed up, good and proper, facing another lockdown alone.
But all around me, people are dating. For many, Covid has put into focus the urge to find a partner, particularly for those in their thirties who are keen to have children. “Londoners are definitely dating through lockdown this time,” a confidante emails. “People seem happy to take the Tube anywhere to get a ‘socially distanced walk’ in, which is very different from lockdown one.” One night, when I was wandering about alone, I saw a couple lingering outside a deserted Tube station before kissing. With masks on.
If the statistics suggest anything, it’s boom time for black-market dating. According to OkCupid, 92 per cent of its respondents around the world state that they were still trying to find love under lockdown.
In fact, government interventions seem to have had the opposite effect to what was intended. Eharmony can pin peaks to specific government announcements — its weekly registrations increased by 22 per cent the night Boris Johnson imposed the 10pm bar curfew. Tinder credits “the combination of being stuck at home and the fact that we were all going through the same thing” with an outbreak of chattiness between matches: peak time was April 5 — the day the Prime Minister was admitted to hospital with Covid. “My clients are looking to find love and they don’t want to waste a year of their lives,” says Jacqueline Burns, founder of gay matchmaking service The Echelon Scene. She suggests that London’s successful professionals, used to spending all their time at work, have had space to think about what they want — and that’s not to exist entirely alone.
But trying to find love in lockdown turns you into a teenager again. The only place to drink is the park and if you fancy someone you have to go for it behind the bike sheds and hope no one’s looking because the powers that be are set against it. You’re even forced back into uniform, except this time you’re tugging your skirt lower to warm your legs and saluting the strong sartorial stance your mum took on duffel coats. Anecdotally, I know the virus has been good for love. My friend met a man in Sri Lanka just before they closed the borders. They enjoyed a single night of passion. At that point, they had a choice: return separately to homes hundreds of miles apart and probably never see each other again or quarantine together and possibly end up killing each other. Their baby is due next year.
The difference between last lockdown and this one is “everyone is sick of virtual dating”, says dating guru James Preece. “Before it was a novelty but now it’s seen as an inconvenience. That’s probably due to online work meetings.” It is also because virtual dating sucks. As Philippa Crabb reveals on her podcast How Not to Date at 28, she’ll go to great lengths to find creative ways to keep calm and carry on. While the pandemic raged, she ran four miles to stand on the street outside a man’s home, while he shouted down at her from a window, before running four miles back home.
In fact, however temporarily, the virus has killed off hook-up culture completely because the majority of Londoners take their civic duty not to contract or pass on Covid very seriously indeed. As Tina Wilson, the relationships expert behind the Wingman app, reveals: “81 per cent of our users confirm they would unmatch someone if they suggested ‘coming over to their home’.” Men should appreciate that they need to travel if they want to date. If drinks are involved, women do need to be in easy reach of their homes to make use of all the bathroom facilities now denied them. You can go behind any old bush, chaps.
But I’m not participating in any of this in lockdown 2.0. I have declared a dating strike, until conditions improve.
My last romantic encounter turned out to be a one-night stand which goes very much against my principles (I don’t mind sleeping with them straight away but I have to be confident they’ll stick around after). I felt, in the moment, that I’d met a rare and beautiful soul, superior to the rest of his sex. Which was straight up idiocy. Within the very same week he couldn’t muster the basic respect for me to text back when I texted him. The reason I fell for him in the first place was partly due to lockdown itself. The first thing he did was hug me and I was so shocked — even my best friend wouldn’t touch me, she was too afraid at the time — I was disarmed. But Covid or no Covid, I’m not going to be treated like this anymore.
The f**kboys aren’t giving up without a fight. “I’ve been aggressively approached by more men than usual,” says Jodie Weston of TV show Rich Kids go Skint. “Even when the virus was at its peak, I was chatted up by the security man in Sainsbury’s — probably because the supermarket was one of the only places open. My mum was with me.”
A survey from Pretty Little Things shows half of us “would like to be in a relationship for Christmas”. But for every Londoner still battling to find love in the time of Covid, there’s another quietly surrendering. “I am on a dating fast,” my mate Anna writes. Like me, she’s absolutely had it with dating. “It’s like I’ve accepted my bankrupt state and am refusing to turn up to interviews that demean me because they’re never going to offer me the job…” Ultimately, women our age are sick of participating in a sexual economy in which our prospects of finding love have never been worse. Far better to sit back and bide your time.