In the space of five months Matt Tomlinson, 26, and his girlfriend, Annalie, went from meeting via Tinder to spending Christmas day together.
It’s not a unique experience in 2020. A year of Covid-19 has completely changed relationships and dating and after the government’s U-turn on what is allowed this year for the festive period many people around the country will find themselves settling down for Christmas dinner with their Hinge or Tinder dates.
While one would imagine that a global pandemic, confining millions to their homes would have sounded the death knell for the dating app industry, the reverse has happened. As apps adapted their model to allow for virtual dates, the numbers they drew rose and the average number of daily messages sent across all of Match’s platforms increased by nearly 30% in April, compared with the end of February.
Matt met his girlfriend in July over Tinder. “We fairly quickly formed a support bubble as we each live alone,” he says. “Now, after the announcement on Saturday, I’ve moved in with her for the festive period.”
His parents are self-isolating, so he can’t see them on Christmas Day and his girlfriend’s mother has invited the pair over as they live in a tier 2 area. “We started talking on Tinder and went for a drink in late July when we had more freedom than now,” he says. “We spent a lot of time together and became each other’s support bubbles … It’s been going really well.”
He said that when the government initially said people would have four to five days of Christmas they were both going to return home to their parents but that changed. “I am looking forward to it [Christmas] as I had no expectations this year. it would be strange whoever I spent it with given what is happening in the world,” he says.
The couple contacted the Guardian responding to a call-out for readers who would be spending the festive period with someone they just started dating. Dozens of people replied, from couples who could not return home, to those who had family members testing positive.
The government’s flip-flopping over what is allowed this year means people have thrown their original plans out of the window. Those who would normally spend the time with family decided to stay put or not see elderly relatives due to the risks. Some people have found themselves stranded in the UK, unable to return to European family members.
Matt says dating at this time means people are getting to know each other a lot quicker as you end up spending a lot of time with your other half. He says five months feels like about a year.
“Normally I would be going home to see my parents and going out with friends but because I have not been doing that all our time has been spent together and all our focus has been on each other,” he says.
Data suggests that people’s attitude to dating has changed during the course of the pandemic with people now looking for more meaningful connections, and the dating app Bumble, which allows women to chose who they want to talk to, estimates that 52% of its UK users will seek a steady partner post-social distancing.
The pandemic has also sparked a “slow love trend” that gives users more time to allow a romantic attachment to naturally flourish.
Alun McNeil-Watson, 27, and Lottie, 27, from London, are also spending Christmas together after deciding to bubble and not go home over the festive period, due to tier 4 restrictions. When Boris Johnson announced the new rules they both decided to stay where they were in Lottie’s flat, taking coronavirus tests to see if they were asymptomatic.
“We have been dating for five to six months. We first met at the beginning of July and had a socially distanced walk in the park and now we are having Christmas together,” Lottie jokes.
She said she thinks it will be a “laugh” and they will get food and alcohol and have fun. Alun agrees and says: “This year has brought us closer together, there is no time wasting as well. We had a lot of fun and are having a lot of fun still. There is no bullshit – maybe that is just the way it worked out with us but there does not seem to be the normal dating bullshit, which is nice.”