- Twenty percent of young adults started a new romantic relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Extraverted people were 26 percent more likely—and conscientious people were 17 percent less likely—to start a new relationship.
- Anxiously attached people were 10 percent more likely—and avoidantly attached people were 15 percent less likely—to start a new relationship.
New research published in Personality and Individual Differences shows how difficult dating was during the pandemic. Face coverings and masks made it difficult to see what people truly looked like. Lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing made it hard to connect. Even at times when it seemed safe to venture out, fears of COVID-19 weighed heavily against meeting someone new.
Psychologist William Chopik and his colleagues at Michigan State University, Chapman University, and Syracuse University were curious about who dated and who didn’t during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they wondered whether certain personality traits and attachment styles may be more or less likely to form new romantic relationships during COVID.
How People Responded Differently to COVID
People have an inherent need to belong and connect with others. This fundamental human need persisted and was even amplified during the pandemic when the CDC advised lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing. But not everyone heeded the CDC’s advice.
In fact, William Chopik and his colleagues note in their newly published article that different personality types may be more or less likely to adhere to government restrictions during COVID. For instance, people who were open and neurotic tended to stay at home during the pandemic because they perceived COVID as a grave threat. Conscientious people acted similarly. They tended to stay at home because conscientious people are often rule-followers and pay attention to details, such as the COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates in their area.
People who were low in agreeableness, however, tended to go out despite COVID restrictions. Disagreeable people tend to care less about the well-being of others and disobeyed the guidelines offered by Anthony Fauci and the CDC. Extraverts were also likely to go out. Because extraverts tend to enjoy being around people, especially in fun or exciting places, they were less likely to stay at home during COVID. Therefore, psychologist William Chopik and his colleagues predicted that personality traits may be related to whether people formed new romantic relationships during COVID.
The researchers also thought certain attachment styles may be more or less likely to date during COVID. People who were anxiously attached, for instance, tended to take COVID very seriously. They were especially likely to wash their hands and wear a face mask. When it comes to new relationships, anxiously attached people think a lot about dating. They tend to feel like they aren’t enough and need someone else to be around to meet their needs. In fact, anxiously attached people reported many mental health challenges during the pandemic because relationships were scarce or strained.
People with avoidant attachment styles, however, were less likely to heed health advice during COVID. Avoidant attachment is characterized by self-sufficiency and autonomy. Avoidantly attached people tend to feel like they are good enough and do not need to depend on close others. They are more likely to use a romantic partner for a one-night stand, for example.
Are Personality Traits and Attachment Styles Related to Dating During COVID?
To test whether certain personality types or attachment styles were related to whether people formed new relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic, William Chopik and his colleagues surveyed 2,285 young adults between October 2020 and April 2021.
Participants completed an online survey that assessed their Big 5 personality traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (i.e., negative emotionality) and their attachment styles. To measure personality, participants reported how much they agreed with various “I am…” statements, such as “I am someone who is outgoing and sociable.”
To measure anxious versus avoidant attachment styles, participants again rated how much they agreed with various statements about themselves. People who were anxiously attached, for instance, tended to agree with statements like, “I am afraid that other people may abandon me.” Whereas people who were avoidantly attached tended to agree with statements like, “I don’t need to turn to others in times of need.”
Then, at the end of the survey, participants said whether they had started a new romantic relationship since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results showed that 20 percent of young adults had started a new romantic relationship since the pandemic. Importantly, both personality traits and attachment styles were related to new relationships.
Extraverts were 26 percent more likely to start a new relationship during the pandemic, whereas people high in conscientiousness were 17 percent less likely to start a new relationship. Surprisingly, neither openness, agreeableness, nor neuroticism was related to new relationships during COVID.
Findings also revealed that anxiously attached people were 10 percent more likely to start a relationship, whereas avoidantly attached people were 15 percent less likely to start a new relationship.
Chopik, W., Moors, A., Litman, D., Shuck, M., Stapleton, A., Abrom, M., Stevenson, K., Oh, J., & Purol, M. (2022). Individual difference predictors of starting a new romantic relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personality and Individual Differences. Available online September 2022.