“I shut down my dating apps,” Lucy tells me. “I really enjoyed chatting to him. I told my friends I’d found a pandemic boyfriend.”
After five weeks, when restrictions eased, they arranged a weekend walk in a park. But after just a few minutes, Lucy realised that the chemistry wasn’t there in person.
“It’s hard to explain but he just had a different energy,” she says. “I was super disappointed. And I realised that when we weren’t talking about the pandemic or making jokes about lockdown we didn’t actually have a lot in common.”
Texting and virtual dating can create a sense of intimacy that doesn’t necessarily translate into real world chemistry.
As hard as it may be, try not to get emotionally invested in any one person until you have a chance to meet face to face. If this isn’t possible for weeks or even months on end, keep chatting to other people, remind yourself that it may not work out, and try to enjoy the interaction regardless of outcome.
Alita Brydon runs the Facebook page Bad Dates of Melbourne, in which tens of thousands of women share stories of their online dating disasters. According to Brydon, the pandemic has divided the dating pool into two camps: rule breakers, who put pressure on others to meet up, and rule abiders, who are doing the right thing.
“The rule breakers feel entitled to physical interaction,” she says. “The people doing the right thing are committed to the community effort. People’s values are being displayed pretty quickly.”
Many people who continued to date during lockdown have stretched the rules. Some met at supermarkets or parks (“We sat down at a table marked ‘Do not sit’,” one man told me proudly), broke social distancing guidelines, and even visited each other’s homes.
For many on the dating scene, the pressure to physically connect during isolation has created enormous anxiety and guilt. “People on dates find themselves feeling like the romantic connection with their match is ‘too good to miss’,” says Brydon. “They kiss – or more – and go home wondering if their health is safe… and never hear from their match again. It’s a classic ghost with a corona twist.”
A romantic prospect should never pressure you into breaking your personal boundaries. In a pandemic, these boundaries should extend to the rules of social isolation. If a relationship has legs, it will survive the restrictions, and if it doesn’t, it is not worth the risk.
Dating takes a great deal of emotional energy, and our reserves of emotional energy are severely depleted in a pandemic. Many people are working from home if they’re lucky, or dealing with a dramatic drop in income if they’re not. Single parents are juggling work with home schooling and the emotional needs of anxious kids.
It’s hardly surprising that, at this time, people are using dating apps for recreation, and have little intention of actually meeting with matches.“The dating scene is usually a bit of a disaster, but right now, it’s even more painful,” says Brydon. “I would recommend anyone dating at the moment to go in with a lot of patience and low expectations.”
Now, more than ever, it is important not to take rejection or disinterest personally; many people are simply too preoccupied for serious dating. Try to enjoy the moments of connection, move on quickly if a chat seems to be stalling, and take a break altogether if dating stops being fun.
When people date for distraction, it shouldn’t matter if the match lives in the same city or on the other side of the world. But what happens if the casual chat becomes a genuine connection?
Sally*, 41, has spent much of lockdown messaging Steve*, a divorcee who lives in another country.
“It has become more regular because both of our lives have slowed down,” she tells me. “We’re not going out and doing other things. It probably wouldn’t have progressed the way it has were it not for lockdown.”
Sally says it has been a pleasure to chat to someone who seems smart and funny, without any of the usual dating pressures.
Still, she says, “I do have some concerns about where it’s all going. What if I develop real feelings and want to pursue them? Isn’t it just going to lead to frustration in the end?”
International relationships are tricky at the best of times; in a global pandemic, the challenges are enormous. When the pleasure turns to stress, and the fun turns to frustration, it is probably best to put the connection on hold and focus on prospects closer to home.
*names have been changed for privacy
Kerri Sackville is the author of Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating Midlife
Kerri is an author, columnist and mother of three. Her latest book is ‘Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife’.