“Where are my single Zoomers at???” It would have felt less cringe-worthy to read if the sentiment, put so eloquently by a fellow quarantined college student in a Facebook group, “Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens,” wasn’t so painstakingly relatable. In the time of quarantine, I’ve found myself craving intimacy more than I ever have on campus. And based on the Internet, where a simple Google search produces a slew of articles on dating in the time of COVID 19, it seems I’m not alone. From the “there’s no quarantine without a qt” pickup lines dropped in Tinder chats to the more overt social media posts soliciting Zoom dates, people — especially, young people — seem to be looking frantically for “love in the time of coronavirus.”
Perhaps, it’s not surprising that a pandemic would drive us to pine for a soulmate. Isolated in our houses or even quarantined in our bedrooms, many of us want someone who can fill the physical, and consequently, emotional void that seems to dawn anew with every day of Zoom University. The experience of craving this intimacy most when it is least accessible, however, is not a unique phenomenon. Although for not as prolonged periods, we may feel it when travel separates us from our familiar environments or when we decide to remove ourselves from the dating pool after rejection or a bad breakup. We even experience it during winter break when we start counting down the days to return to campus and be greeted by the open arms of our friends and classmates. But during COVID-19, every time we experience this feeling only further reveals the hollow nature of our online interconnectedness. We can Zoom date to the moon and back or spend all of our new spare time on Tinder, but the truth many of us who matured as social media did have come to realize is that there is no substitute for the in-person experience.
Every day, I think of something else I wish I had told someone in person. Because it doesn’t feel the same to share feelings from “I can’t describe how much I miss you” to “you mean the world to me” through a screen. Not for friends, more-than-friends, or wished-they-were-more-than-friends. The weight of the words we lock inside ourselves crashes down on us hardest when we feel like we no longer have the means to express them.
According to Mother Jones, dating apps Bumble and Tinder have only become more popular as people have been driven into quarantine or confined by “shelter in place” orders. Certainly, I’ve entertained these messaging apps more while in social isolation. There’s safety in knowing you’ll never feel pressured to meet anyone (we’re all living largely indoor or solo lifestyles for the foreseeable future, it seems) and that the crux of your conversation will dissipate once the pandemic does. It means there’s no obligation for anything longer-lived: a staple of hook-up culture. And yet, while there is safety in this transience, it is also deeply lacking in satisfaction. Swipe, type, retreat, and repeat. It gets old, quickly, and in a time where we can hardly leave the house, it feels less worthwhile than it ever has before. It makes me wonder why it’s so easy to strike up a conversation in this way, so easy to reach out to people I’ve never known and almost definitely will never meet when it has always felt impossible to do the same in real life with the people I care about most. Why will I FaceTime with a stranger who looks cute on Instagram in quarantine now but wouldn’t tell my on-campus crush how I felt about him for months despite having so many chances to do so?
To some extent, I suppose there’s no use in having regrets. Looking back to a pre-COVID-19 world seems not only futile but virtually impossible at a moment when every online news feed bombards you with the stark reality of lives already lost, lives that will be lost, and the possibility that you, your friends, your neighbors, and your loved ones might be next. What this messaging should show us is that when it comes to sharing how we feel, we no longer have the luxury of time. So I hope that instead of looking back with regret or relying on the fleeting gratification of dating apps, we can begin looking forward and reaching out — to text every friend, coworker and colleague we’ve meant to send that age-old “hello”, every person we said we’d “get a meal with sometime” and never did, and everyone we admire who’s currently putting themselves on the front line to make a difference. For many of us, it is not entirely true that “all [we] need is love” right now, but it is the one thing of which we can ensure there is an indefinite supply. I wonder when we return to “normal,” whatever that looks like and whenever it happens, if we will still crave intimacy in the way many of us are now. Maybe, our shared experience in isolation will change how we relate to one another when we emerge. Perhaps, it will make us more open to expressing ourselves. Because we never know when the next crisis will hit. But when it does, I believe we will want to know we have learned to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us, before we only get to while standing at least six feet apart.
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