By the time it was March, all of us were faced with the reality of a pandemic and even lockdown. During a video session the aforementioned client said: “In the past three months of work in therapy, I understood my patterns, learnt to take things slow, be mindful of my non-negotiables when it comes to my partners. Now with the pandemic, we are back to square one, where I can’t even put this to test. It sucks. It’s almost like we need new rules.”
Many young people are struggling with this new reality. While so many of them are adapting to the fact that this year will be a wipeout of sorts, they are also worried that the rules of dating have changed. Their anxiety, fears are valid because in reality none of us have any existing templates about how to navigate dating and intimacy during a pandemic. With every passing day, I’m beginning to think of new frameworks that would possibly allow young people to date and fall in love.
In the beginning of this year, Netflix released a show called Love Is Blind, in which young men and women who were looking for love interacted via pods where they could not see each other, only talk. Once they had made a choice about who they were possibly falling in love with and proposed, could they really meet their partner. The current pandemic situation feels exactly like this, where young people are talking to prospective partners from their own homes (pods), with massive uncertainty about when they would really meet in person. Like a client puts it, “This lack of clarity can be very anxiety provoking and make you wonder if it’s worth the effort to put so much time and energy into the dating process.”
Over the past few years, dating as a process has changed massively where with technology, we could easily meet prospective partners, get to know so much about their jobs, political preferences, hobbies and sometimes after a couple of conversations online, even meet them in person. In my book, Anxiety: Overcome It and Live without Fear, I called this accelerated intimacy. Accelerated intimacy in relationships can be described as “our ability to feel really close to a potential partner/mate who we either met once in real time or virtually”. Now with the pandemic, this narrative has been impacted in ways we didn’t foresee.
It has made it clear that our old dating patterns allowed for a certain immediacy and swiftness. However, the current times possibly require a different pacing. Also, as some of my clients and friends have been sharing, possibly now they would get to know the other person, their views, values and even intellectual perspectives before they can meet them in person. I feel that right now both men and women are having deeper conversations about their fears, vulnerabilities and have even begun to reexamine what commitment means to them. As Dr Helen Fisher, the chief science adviser to Match.com, says in a New York Times article: “This quarantine is continuing the worldwide trend towards slow love. From the evolutionary perspective, slow love is adaptive – because the human brain is soft-wired to attach to a partner slowly.” May be this change in pacing is going to impact how we love in the years to come.
Tricky terrains like what to wear for a date, the restaurant that one must pick and even the difficult conversation about intimacy is now parked for a long time, till two people feel comfortable to even go on a socially distanced date. Yet, the anxieties persist about when one can actually meet a partner and a helplessness about the year passing by. The pandemic has been a big test of our resilience and adaptive capacity; may be our lens of intimacy will require that too.
This is the third article in the series.