It’s almost been a year since everything changed. I had a slight cough the day we were told to evacuate our on-campus housing here at UC, prompting me to quarantine alone in my room until everyone else who lived in my apartment manically cleaned every surface and ran out the door.
No one touched. Not for weeks, months, even. That changed more than just how we “went” to work and school. It also changed the way we date. As college kids, in-person dating was put on major pause, and a single methodology for dating became the only option.
According to data from 2019, the use of dating apps was on decline before the pandemic hit as more people began to recognize they wanted to meet organically. While the data out there is fuzzy on just how much the use of dating apps increased after March 2020, the jury’s out. Romantic online interactions spiked – anyone who lived through that time would tell you the same thing.
I mean, there wasn’t any other option. Quarantine made for many lonely singles, especially those in their teens and twenties used to flourishing, active social lives. Hookup culture was previously rampant, and although it was often deemed toxic and degrading by cultural critics, it was a symptom of young people’s relaxed norms around dating and sexual freedom.
That hasn’t gone away –– dating is relaxed as ever. Obviously, the no-touch policy surrounding COVID-19 meant real hookups suddenly weren’t safe, and dating practices turned to solely virtual, online means.
Instead of hookup culture, single college kids find themselves in a world of meeting online, like always. Nowadays, online “talking” culture has overwhelmed the dating sphere. Dating casually – often left without labels – through solely online interactions has changed the entire game, so much so that if you’re not good at keeping up with messages constantly, you pretty much can’t date right now.
All of my single friends, caught in a tangle of constant messaging online, are overwhelmed and constantly disappointed. Those who choose to be safe get the short end of the stick when it comes to romantic and sexual fulfillment these days, chained to speed-dating systems based entirely on first impression photos and witty bios.
Although, on the bright side, those who’ve embraced the fully app-reliant dating atmosphere have been much more intentional about their interactions, according to studies. Understandably, people began looking for more meaningful connections than online flings during this isolating and sometimes unbearable moment in history. Meanwhile, these unprecedented amounts of online interaction may also make history a turning point in our use of technology to stay connected.
When everyone ushered in a “new normal” what feels like ages ago, I truly didn’t think about the “new normal”’s effect on dating. Now, dating apps and messaging people you’ve never met until four in the morning are the definition of normal, at least for those not in relationships who’re looking for connection in a dystopian world.