It took a global pandemic for Dani* to finally get a lasting match on online dating.
Apart from a handful of unsuccessful dates, she had been single for several years.
Dani was about to quit altogether when her dating app widened the area for who she could talk to during the coronavirus lockdown.
The app no longer displayed only those in her immediate vicinity, now Dani could talk to anyone in the whole world.
“I thought: I’m gonna see what the world has to offer me,” she says.
“I started looking around London, Milan and ended up in New York. This guy came up on my screen. Super cute, really cheeky smile, grey hair, a bit of a silver fox.
“But I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought we’d have a few chats.”
Their first date was via video call, and by Dani’s admission, she was “kinda floored by this guy.”
“It was totally unexpected,” she says.
“There was something about the video format that made him come alive. When I saw his smile I just melted a little bit. I felt something from across the screen.
“Since then, we’ve spoken every single day, at least once, if not two or three times, for quite a few hours.
“We just get to know each other in a way that’s really different and far more in depth to a normal date.”
Even though things were going well, like for so many other people dating during coronavirus, Dani was struck by a question: at a time of such upheaval, can you be trusted to make a rational decision about your love life?
The ‘misattribution of romance’
Madeleine Mason Roantree is a psychologist in the UK who specialises in dating and relationships.
She believes that the upheaval around coronavirus, and the lockdown, has led to more single people feeling lonely, driving them to partner up.
Even though Australians have been living under strict social-distancing laws, data from dating apps shows there was a bump in users in the early weeks of the pandemic.
“I think a lot of single people are accelerating romance,” she says.
“Simply because they’ve got more time in isolation to think about romance and falling in love and online dating is at their fingertips so it’s quite an easy thing to do.”
“There’s that little caveat I guess is that lockdown, COVID-19 is a bit of a hyperreality.”
“What can happen, especially in online dating and dating someone we haven’t met, our brains are very good at filling in the gaps.
“For those of us who are romantically inclined, you’ll fall in love with the idea of this person without fully knowing anything about them… only to be hugely disappointed when we meet them in real life.”
Ms Mason Roantree says there is even the possibility that some relationships are started from the “misattribution of arousal” — where people mistake emotional or physical stimulation, like the stress from a global pandemic, for romantic feelings.
“I’m not saying that happens to everyone, but it’s certainly a possibility,” she says.
“How can I tell whether I’m falling in love or whether I’m stressed? That’s a difficult question to answer in the moment.
“It’s only in hindsight and once the lockdown comes that you realise actually it was just stress and I’m just putting it all onto this other person.
“That’s the danger with dating in a particularly different context, we get together because of the context, and when that context is gone, the scaffolding for that relationship falls away.
“You may find that coming out of this there will be a portion of people experiencing that ‘this isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.'”
Trusting your feelings
Dani’s budding relationship bears some of this out.
In the early days, she and her romantic interest were talking daily. They were having cyber-sex, something Dani never thought she’d do.
There was even talk of one of them flying to New York or Melbourne once restrictions are lifted so they could meet in person for the first time.
Lately, however, something feels different.
“My feelings for him haven’t changed. But I think that excitement of the potential for visiting each other has dropped off a bit,” Dani says.
Despite the drop in intensity, Dani is also being realistic about it.
“It’s totally a reality that we do meet, and we’re actually not attracted to each other or not compatible or it just doesn’t work.
“But right now, this is bringing me a sense of hope, a connectedness, and an intimacy… that I may not have had otherwise.
“If that’s what we can both give to each other as a gift through all of this, then I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
And Dani says that, even though doubts cross her mind, she is still going to trust her feelings.
“I just don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to move through this time in a romantic relationship.
“I just come back to how I feel in my body when we’re about to talk: I get butterflies, I’m super excited.
“I think it’s gonna work. So, keep your fingers crossed for me.”
*Name has been changed.