Zoom dates, socially-distanced picnics and no snogging: The awkward yet rewarding reality of dating during Covid-19

Online dating can be unpredictable at the best of times but throw-in a worldwide pandemic and things really start to get interesting.

As a new girl-about-town I looked to dating-apps for romance when I moved to Manchester in February, having swiped the south-east dry.

Unsurprisingly, it was not part of my plan to be separated from potential new mates by Boris and a global pandemic; but I stuck with it and as a result I’ve had a lockdown experience I won’t forget anytime soon.

‘Lockdown-dating’ may seem trivial compared to the very real and devastating issues people are facing during this time, but for some, having the pause button indefinitely jammed shut on their love life can have a huge emotional impact.

Emily Boguslawski, 32, is single and has been relying on apps such as Tinder and Hinge to meet people during lockdown. However, she’s finding it challenging and feels her life has been put on hold while she waits for normality to return:

“I’d like to meet someone and start a family soon but for me it feels like a relationship is off the table while I’m waiting for things to change. I think the biggest struggle is that we don’t know when it’s going to end,” she said.

Finding a meaningful connection through a computer screen can be difficult and the not-so-great British weather makes organising socially-distanced meetings a logistical nightmare.

Gemma Parker, Clinical Psychologist and director of Raising Relationships, a psychological service based in Manchester, appreciates the difficulties currently faced by people trying to form romantic relationships:

“With social distancing in place it isn’t possible to meet potential partners in relaxed social settings, with mood music, good food and flattering lighting,” she said.

“Add to this that we are facing a pandemic that brings with it the threat of physical harm to us and our loved ones. We have suffered losses in terms of financial security, work roles, contact with colleagues and friends. These experiences have a significant impact on our ability to connect with others,” she continues.

For those of us who are managing to date during these anti-social times, the process of video-dates and socially-distanced walks in the park can feel rather unnatural, anxiety-inducing and just plain awkward.

“I found it alright, but you don’t have the same chemistry, you can’t really flirt and it’s very intense,” said Boguslawski, describing a Zoom date she had with a Tinder match.

“It wasn’t bad, just hard work. When you’re on a normal date you can talk about the things that are happening around you and you get a break to go to the bar or even just go to the loo. Whereas on Zoom it feels more like a job interview and you’re constantly having to fill the silences,” she continued.

There is also the glaring issue of sex, or the lack of it. Touching, kissing and sex are a normal part of early relationships in most western cultures. But under current guidelines contact with anyone outside our support-bubble or household is forbidden.

This lack of physical connection can be significant, as Gemma Parker explains: “Our gaze, vocal tone, facial expressions and physical touch all involve oxytocin (aka “the love hormone”) and contribute to the process of establishing a bond. For most people – and there is diversity in how touch is experienced – touch is an important part of relationship formation and eroticism.”

So, is there any hope for us solitary singletons?  

Yes, I think so.

Without wanting to sound smug, my experience of dating during lockdown has been pretty good.

Of course, there were the initial awkward video calls and the bizarre government-approved socially-distanced rendezvous in the park.

And some things are just a bit rubbish; the classic ‘going to the pub’ first date is obviously off-the-table and end-of-the-night drunken snogs are not an option. 

But all-in-all, it’s been a wholly positive experience. Never have I known so much about a potential partner before meeting them in real-life thanks to hours of Facetime and texts.

Parker, explains how dating at this slower pace during the early stages of a relationship can bring unexpected benefits, including heightened desire: “Imagine a couple meeting in person for the first time, experiencing intense desire that is heightened by the fact that they are not allowed to touch.”

“Who’d have thought that a government policy could be so sexually tantalising?” she said, while discussing research by the popular psychotherapist, author and “relationship expert”, Esther Perel, who highlighted that the forbidden is erotic.

Dating during a pandemic definitely has its quirks and can feel quite frustrating.

But it also has its perks.

There’s no walk of shame to endure after that regrettable Tinder hook-up, and virtual-dates give you something to look forward to during the endless days of lockdown.

So, if you’re thinking about distanced-dating, I say go forth and conquer!

There’s always sexting, after all. 

Main image courtesy of Kzenon via Shutterstock, with thanks.

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