Dating Pandemic-Style

Here are three ways online dating has changed during COVID-19.

Posted Aug 11, 2020

 Solen Feyissa/Pixabay
Source: Solen Feyissa/Pixabay

By Dena Domenicali-Rochelle, LCSW

Online dating is tough. This fast-paced, objectifying culture can be a real impediment to finding a long-term partner. In my practice, I hear a lot about the fear people feel that they’ll be alone forever. But I’ve observed that since the coronavirus hit, the landscape of online dating has changed profoundly.

Dating pandemic-style is different in several important ways.

No pressure to have sex right away

Sex at the early stages of a relationship is easier to take off the table. For those cautious about the virus, the only short-term option you have after matching with someone is to talk. You have to like a person enough to decide they are worth risking possible coronavirus exposure to make actual physical contact—and that physical contact could be something as simple as taking a walk without masks, a hug, or a kiss, nevermind going back to their place and having sex.

A patient recently said to me:

“When the lockdown happened, I was really worried that my dating life would have to be put on hold until there was a vaccine. But actually, I kind of like the way dating is right now. I don’t feel that pressure I used to feel to have sex early on in a relationship. That’s been really freeing. I can actually get to know them well before we take our clothes off.”

For years, I’ve noted an unspoken understanding in the dating scene that one should be ready and/or enthusiastic about having sex by the third date. In my professional opinion, that expectation may be an obstacle to finding a long-term partner. Not that I have a problem with people having casual sex. If that’s what you’re after, go for it! (And please use a condom.)

However, if you’re on the lookout for the person that will be your person, having the physical intimacy of the relationship outpace the emotional intimacy is problematic. When people don’t feel that physical connection right away, it becomes too easy to assume that this is just not the right person and then walk away without really getting to know them or giving them a chance.

In short, dating pandemic-style means it’s harder to let sex get in the way of getting to know one another. And if you allow yourself the space to get to know one another, you may establish an emotional connection.

Feelings are more intense—especially loneliness

During the pandemic, people are feeling more intensely vulnerable and lonely than ever before. While these feelings may be incredibly painful, they can have some benefits. Sitting with those feelings day after day could help make your priorities clearer.

One patient, a previously serial dater, explained how different he felt about dating after spending so many weeks on his couch alone:

“It sounds weird to say, but I think I’m having different kinds of conversations online because, for the first time in a while, I think it would be really nice to have a more significant relationship.”

In the pandemic, there’s less opportunity for casual one-night stands or those last-minute, low-investment, quick-drink first dates that previously distracted you. Suddenly, after weeks of sitting in your apartment alone, it’s easy to see the value in a long-term partnership, the opportunity to be “in it” with someone you love. It is possible to channel that loneliness and vulnerability you’re feeling and use them to have a different kind of conversation online, or over Zoom, or on a socially distanced walk with your date—a conversation that is less superficial and more authentic. And hopefully, one that leads to something of substance.

Greater investment

Online dating previously meant having a seemingly limitless number of choices in your dating pool. There was no need to invest much time or attention on any one person. The moment you felt waning enthusiasm, you could just hop online and find someone else to sample. But now, because of coronavirus, the opportunity for serial dating is much more limited. There is more of a need to slow down and invest in one another! 

Despite the pandemic’s downsides, it has the capacity to create a positive impact on dating. It can help people see the value of stable, long-term partnerships and reduce the role of sex as an obstacle to getting there.

About the Author: Dena Domenicali-Rochelle is a clinical social worker and psychoanalyst. She is a graduate of New York University School of Social Work and the William Alanson White Institute for Psychoanalysis. She has a private practice in Stamford CT & midtown Manhattan. Due to coronavirus, she is currently practicing tela-therapy exclusively.