Practising isolation amidst the threat of COVID-19 is, well, isolating. It can be lonely. It has caused many to take a closer look at what they want out of life, including love.
Quarantine and physical distancing measures have not stopped people from dating, but the process is different than when 2020 began.
Winnipeg resident Heather Pries, 53, is dating a man who lives in Saskatoon. She’s doing it through the FaceTime app. Pries met the man through the matchmaking service Camelot Introductions. The new couple have gone on two virtual dates so far.
Pries had never been on a virtual date before. She said the experience has been positive.
“I might prefer virtual dating [when] getting to know someone after this,” she said, “When you’re in-person it’s easy to be a little bit nervous … But when you’re virtual you’re in your own home and you’re in your comfort and they’re in theirs.”
Pries said dating virtually at first has taken away the pressure to be physical too quickly, which she said can destroy a relationship.
“By the second date there’s times where you almost feel like you have to give them a kiss on the cheek or something. I really think that this is taking that relationship to a deeper level,” she said. “There’s no expectation.”
Pries said the pandemic has put a lot into perspective for her.
“I would not want to be alone in the second wave,” Pries said.
Lianne Tregobov, owner and matchmaker with Camelot Introductions in Winnipeg, matches clients in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. When she takes on a new client, she interviews them, creates a profile and makes a match.
Since COVID-19 ramped up, Tregobov has switched to doing virtual interviews and is encouraging her clients to date through video chat and phone options.
“Humans are meant to be couples and it’s painful for people especially during this pandemic. It is painful for people to be isolated,” Tregobov said.
“Fortunately we have figured out that the search for love doesn’t have to stop.”
Tregobov said many of the clients she’s matched throughout the pandemic have spent dates playing board games over video. One couple called into a psychic together. Another ordered the same dinner ingredients and prepared the same meal independently while connected through FaceTime.
“A lot of people are being very, very creative and it’s wonderful,” she said. “People are taking the time. People are craving that human contact … It’s not only entertainment, but it also gives them hope.”
Sarah Knudson, associate professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, said the way people have been dating during isolation has placed increased value on communication. She said virtual dating has largely moved away from superficial dating that apps like Tinder and Hinge have encouraged.
“We’ve seen really image-focused dating where you’re swiping, swiping, swiping and choosing. And then there’s a lot of instant gratification because you can meet the person and say yes or no on the spot based on just a few narrow characteristics,” Knudson said.
“I think the pandemic is forcing the opposite of that, which is delayed gratification. It can be really healthy.”
Knudson said the most successful relationships come when couples have taken more time to talk.
“Research shows that that’s how we fall in love. The real love and connection and the long term connection compatibility with somebody is only going to come if there’s more real groundwork through talking.”
Many people are in survival mode right now, stressed out and taking care of children. But many have a lot more spare time on their hands, especially those who are single or home alone.
“In a time where there’s a crisis or a huge change in someone’s lifestyle, there’s often a moment when people ask, ‘what do I have? What’s missing?'” Knudson said. “It can really force people into those deep thoughts or discussions with themselves.”
Once physical distancing measures are lifted, some people might go back into the world of dating with a new set of criteria or begin prioritizing things in their lives differently, she said. Some who were focused on hookups prior to the pandemic may now be looking for a solid and dependable partner.
Downsides to virtual dating
On the other hand, when someone goes a long time just talking and not meeting or spending time with their significant other, there can be a tendency to romanticize them and the relationship, Knudson said.
“Women in particular tend to form strong emotional bonds and fall in love through a lot of talking and conversation. That can cause them to not be as grounded in the reality of the relationship.”
A partner needs to see the other in front of them going through daily motions, she said.
“It’s all about balance. I think on the one hand it’s fabulous that people are maybe having the opportunity to slow down and really get to know people,” said Knudson.
“But ultimately that has to be balanced with meeting the person and really figuring out if there’s a compatibility in-person and not just sparks from how you talk.”
Dating can sometimes be thought of as something for younger people, but Knudson said we need to think of people at all stages of life.
“I think it’s particularly hard for older Canadians who might be getting a divorce and dating at 60, 70 or 80,” Knudson said.
COVID-19 is known to be most harmful to seniors and there’s always the risk of a second wave of the virus.
“There might be even more fear to get back out and and start meeting people and dating even when physical distancing restrictions are lifted.”
New quarantine couples
Quarantine measures may also have caused some couples to have to speed up their relationships by moving in together sooner than expected. Knudson said this situation has the potential to work out well for the couple, but is a gamble.
If the relationship is very new, the couple will find out quickly if they’re right for each other.
“One potential benefit is it’s really a crash course in the other person and it’s better than the other extreme maybe, which could be just texting or calling the person for months,” she said.
“In that case you may have wasted your time, if once you finally meet in person you’re like, ‘we just don’t have the chemistry.'”
A couple that has had to move in together early in their relationship will learn about each other’s potentially annoying habits quickly — if they snore, are messy or are bad cooks, for example.
“So on one hand the romantic pink glasses are off right way,” Knudson said.
“Maybe that helps you move through a relationship that isn’t ideal for you faster.”
Knudson warned that moving in with a partner too early can also put pressure on the relationship. She cautioned against too much intimacy too soon, as it gets in the way of building a healthy relationship based on communication and emotional compatibility.