Before the country first went into lockdown in March, I was ready to return to dating after a failed fling before Christmas. I took a break from men and after three months, I was ready to hit the scene again.
But instead of the Sex In The City summer I imagined, my daily calendar had more in common with Bridget Jones than Carrie Bradshaw. Suddenly I found myself in the midst of a global pandemic, fearful of Covid-19 and filling my days with televised Government briefings – there wasn’t time to think about anything else.
But when then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced Ireland’s roadmap out of lockdown in May, there was only one question on every single person’s lips, including mine: “When can we shift again?”
So, when is it acceptable to start dating again? We’ve all seen the guidance from the HSE when it comes to intimacy and sex – and it includes avoiding strangers and those who don’t happen to live with you.
There was only one option as far as I could see: return to the murky world of Tinder and Bumble and everything in between. I couldn’t sound more cliché when I say that, at 22, the dating app life is just not for me.
When restrictions began to emerge in March, 83pc of Bumble users said they would try video dating – and two thirds said their choice of ‘virtual date’ was a drink or a coffee. But Zoom dates and 24/7 texting on an app? Not my thing.
I figured my friends felt the same, but suddenly there were people heading on dates all around me and I couldn’t help but think – where on earth where they finding all their suitors?
Unsurprisingly, those who had actually been dating didn’t want to give their real names for this piece – whether for fear of breaking restrictions or for scaring off their new potential partners.
Like me, Abby (23) has been trying to swipe right in the hope of a date down the line, but she feels they’re only after one thing: something she’s not comfortable about jumping into too quickly with the virus still spreading.
“The other day, a lad I had been chatting to for about a day messaged me saying: ‘Come over.’ Come over the f**k where? As if!
“I’m still too nervous to get out there in person, and every time I get close, I back out.”
Turns out, we’re not the only ones wary of returning to the scene. Dating expert Feargal Harrington, Director at Intro Matchmaking, says that people in their 20s and 30s are up against all sorts of challenges when it comes to dating in a pandemic.
“Online, people are getting to know each other better over a longer period of time before meeting up, which is great,” he explains. “However, some are feeling the pressure to partake in virtual sex, something they may not have dreamt of prior to Covid, and it sometimes backfires and turns into revenge porn. I have heard of several cases of this over the last four months.”
But he adds that dating has become “more organised and less organic”.
“Before, people could date for a good few hours and grab a casual, relaxed dinner and a few drinks afterwards. Now they have to make a decision in one hour and 45 minutes, which adds pressure to the dating situation,” he says.
“It can result in people going their separate ways or sleeping together a lot quicker than they would have done before.”
The strange time-bubble is something Sophie noticed, who began dating her now-boyfriend in January.
“We started dating before the pandemic hit, but it’s weird because the relationship still feels really new. We’ve been seeing each other for eight months, but we missed so much in-person time together because of lockdown.
“We haven’t done a lot of ‘normal’ things together – we haven’t gone to the cinema together or met each other’s parents.”
Some are still meeting new people in person – with all the running and swimming we’ve all apparently been doing, I figured there had to be some people out there that met their matches organically, and I was right.
25-year-old Kerry, who was living alone during lockdown, decided to do weekly catch-ups with a lonely male friend – which turned into something more. The pair are now boyfriend and girlfriend, and found themselves facing some opposition from loved ones at the start.
“All my friends and family were a bit shocked that we met during the current situation, but we knew we would only be ‘infecting’ each other if anything was to happen, since we only saw each other – thankfully, it worked out in the end without any infections.
“They all understand now, but we couldn’t see eye to eye in the beginning as to why I would be going to meet someone outside my family.”
Amanda (23) found her new man outside a restaurant on one of her first meals out when restrictions were lifted. “It seems asking someone for a lighter still works as a pick-up line – even if the lighter wasn’t sanitised,” she says.
She agrees with Feargal about having a more structured dating routine, and thinks dates are becoming more creative without the usual ‘let’s grab a drink’ option, which can seem rushed with the current restaurant guidelines.
Dating and relationship coach, Annie Lavin, says in order to make the most of your time, there a few things a person can do to become more emotionally intimate.
“The first thing is that a person is connected with themselves. Do I know who I am? Do I know what I’m about – am I a person of worth?” she said. “If I can answer yes, it’s a matter of sharing those parts of yourself on a date.”
Annie says the type of questions you ask another person on a date are also important: open-ended questions, which give yes or no answers, are less likely to help you emotionally connect with someone in such a short space of time.
“Take, for example, the questions: ‘How many people are in your family’ versus ‘how important is your family to you?’ You’ll get to know someone more through a question like that. Look at the ways in which you communicate yourself as the style of the questions you’re asking is very important.”
I’ll be taking Annie’s advice on board, but in the meantime, I’m quite content with being a bit of a Bridget, spending my nights in front of Netflix with a Chinese and my housemates. It’s a time when nothing feels real – in my head, this is a gap year for everyone, a blip in our minds. Why would I want to start something with someone at a time we all want to forget?
Scattered around the quiet streets of Dublin city in the aftermath of the lockdown were foot-long murals with ‘when will we dance again?’ and ‘when will we kiss again?’. Unfortunately, I have no answers – even the upcoming contestants on TV dating show First Dates have been advised to refrain from touching.
But I’m looking forward to the day we all can.