With social distancing recommendations and laws in effect across the country, meeting people online and developing relationships virtually has never been more popular. WSJ explores what this shift means for the future of online dating. Photo Illustration: Match Group/Dom Amatore for The Wall Street Journal
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a two-fold impact on Australians romantic relationships, prompting a rise in deeper, more emotional connections as well creating more opportunity for “ghosting”, with potentially harmful impacts.
Dating and relationships expert Samantha Jayne, who has worked in the field for over 15 years, said the global pandemic had resulted in a host of interesting patterns, revealing the way single Aussies have found, or struggled to find, love in lockdown.
With a science and psychology background, Ms Jayne works with men and women to ensure they have the tools to form meaningful relationships.
Among Australian millennials, she said the COVID-19 pandemic has actually changed the way dating apps are used. Lockdowns and social distancing measures has all but put hook up culture to bed, paving the way for more meaningful emotional connections to form.
“Before the pandemic it was very much a swipe, meet, let’s get physical type thing, but that’s been prevented with lockdowns,” she said.
“I’m noticing more people using dating apps are meeting genuine people and forming more meaningful connections because they’re forced to communicate.
“My clients are finding people online who are more serious about relationships, more so than in the past where people are looking for physical things… they’re not online anymore, they’re more likely to text someone they already know than to meet someone new online.
“The success of ‘players’ is reduced because people are in lockdown.”
Ms Jayne said the pandemic had also been the catalyst for a lot of people to realise what they want, prompting many to start looking more seriously for a lasting relationship.
“People were by themselves and they realised that relationships are really important… it created a spike in people going ‘I want to meet the right person, this pandemic has made me realise what’s important’,” she said.
“There’s also been a lot of break ups of toxic relationships because people have raised their standards and said I actually want someone who has my back.”
Among her clients and on a wider scale, it appears the pandemic is having a positive impact on romantic relationships, with people more inclined to “keep it real”.
“There’s been a massive reset where all that superficial stuff doesn’t really matter as much,” she said.
“People are becoming much more concerned with how their partners make them feel, they want a sense of security.”
THE PHANTOM IN THE ROOM
The other impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Aussie singles is potentially more damaging, with lockdowns and social distancing creating the perfect environment for ‘ghosting’.
Ghosting, the term used to describe the sudden cut-off of communication without notice, can have detrimental impacts on the person ghosted, and Ms Jayne warns the uncertainty of the world could heighten the fallout.
She noted the problem was particularly apparent in places that had experienced tougher lockdowns, where rather than continue to form an emotional connection that could become physical once restrictions ease, people cut off contact without explaining to the person that they would not like to meet.
“Ghosting is a form of self-protection but it’s at the expense of the other person… being ghosted can be really serious as a trauma. It can have dire consequences making the person scared of it happening again because there’s no answers and no closure.
“It can be really harmful to a person’s self-esteem, it causes anxiety, and makes the person thing ‘what did I do wrong?’
“With the pandemic right now… humans love certainty, and there’s a lot of uncertainty around the world and that’s enough anxiety. More and more people are seeking certainty and dating can be very uncertain, so if they are suddenly ghosted, that is going to heighten anxieties.”
Sarah* from Queensland has been ghosted twice since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March, resulting in heightened insecurities and anxiety.
“The pandemic made me realise I wanted something strong and stable, as I would like to start a family one day,” she said.
“So back in March and April when everything was really heating up, I was using Tinder and Hinge to try and meet someone genuine, and I started chatting to this guy.
“We spoke for a bit over a month, every day we would text, and then when it looked like restrictions were starting to ease we started planning a meeting, we were just going to go for a walk and a coffee to maintain social distancing.
“The day we were supposed to meet I sent him a text asking where I should meet him and he just didn’t respond.
“I sent him a message the next day asking for an explanation and never got a response… he kept following me on Instagram until I blocked him.”
While she said it bruised her pride, the easing of restrictions saw her return to dating applications to find someone else.
“I met this other guy and we hit it off, we were messaging on Hinge for a couple of weeks and then went out on a date,” she said.
“We saw each other a handful of times, we slept together and were texting constantly.
“Then after about a month, we were pretty much in the middle of a conversation and he just stopped replying.
“That really hurt, I felt so self-conscious and started thinking about all the things I might have done wrong to make him act that way. I was anxious enough about the world but that just brought it so much closer to home.
“It’s made me really scared to put myself back out there. I know not all men are ghosters, but I’m having a bad run.”
Ms Jayne said her advice to those who’d fallen victims to a “ghoster” amid the pandemic was the same she’d given to clients for years.
“Never rush into anything, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, take your time and work on emotional connections,” she said.
“If you have been ghosted, if your self-esteem has been impacted and you have anxiety around dating, love and nurture yourself and cut off bad behaviour early.”
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