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Dating in a Pandemic, Two Years In

illustration of couple kissing outside of their cars

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, 29-year-old Lynn Wolfe was skeptical of dating apps. “I always hoped I’d meet my significant other the old-fashioned way, in person,” she says. But the loneliness that struck when she was cooped up alone in her home in Southern California encouraged her to finally give online dating a try. 

Like Lynn, many people had to change their dating habits—or at least adjust their expectations—as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Matthew Solomon a.k.a. “The Coach for the Modern Soul”, is a best-selling author and global relationship coach. Throughout the pandemic, he has observed a number of different issues for the dating population. 

“First of all, a lot of people did not date at all for at least a year for fear of catching and spreading COVID-19,” he says. “I think we all breathed a sigh of relief once vaccines became available.” 

That said, in addition to the isolation and fear, many people lost loved ones, and other stressful, potentially triggering events—like the mass civil rights protests across the country—may have been personal obstacles.  

“I know for me, it seemed like one extremely stressful and traumatic event after another with no let-up,” says Solomon. “When it comes to dating, it can be hard enough to show up fully present and as your best self without any of these external factors. Navigating meeting someone new and having immediate emotional needs that require tending to makes all of this more challenging.”

Finding a Pandemic Partner

After Lynn embraced online dating, she had more dates in 2020 than during the previous five years combined. 

“After I graduated from school, most people I found myself attracted to in person were already in relationships, or our encounters were too brief to become something substantial,” she explains. “Online dating provided access to countless available men in my area I wouldn't have met otherwise, and one of them is now my boyfriend. In the end, the lockdown ended up being a blessing in disguise.” 

Alissa J, 35

True human connection is rare, and the pandemic helped underscore that. I remain open and optimistic, slightly over the dating apps, but still on them!

— Alissa J, 35

As a polyamorous person, 48-year-old Ryn Pfeuffer went into the pandemic with a handful of partners. “Due to logistics, I ended up isolating alone for the better part of the first year,” she says. “I was fortunate to get my first dose of the vaccine in late January 2021, and cautiously began dating again.” 

Sadly, some of Ryn’s previous relationships didn’t survive the pandemic. And when she started dating again, she had to have some serious conversations about risk and safety—not unlike the STI conversation she always has with new partners. 

Taking Practical Precautions

One thing that's become crystal clear during our collective pandemic experience is that we all have different comfort levels and boundaries.

“It wasn’t until I had my second dose of the vaccine that I felt more comfortable about meeting new people,” says Ryn, who lives in Seattle, WA. But even then, she had to look at every person on a case-by-case basis and evaluate whether their behavior and safety protocols matched hers. “It was pretty easy to weed out people who weren’t on the same page when it came to safety,” she says. 

Technically, Pfeuffer was never really “single”—she just couldn’t see her partners in her previous capacity, safely, because they were hunkered down with their nesting partners. “We went for a lot of masked, socially distanced walks, which was nice, but definitely no substitute for physical intimacy,” she says. 

In pre-pandemic times, Alissa J, 35, from Florida, liked to meet people in person ASAP, to figure out if she had a vibe with them or not. “With COVID-19, that changed a lot,” she says. “There was a lot more messaging, voice memos, even the occasional video call, before ever meeting up. As the pandemic started to calm down, I would discuss what precautions we were taking, and what our level of exposure was to try and determine if it was safe to meet in person.”

Even after testing became available, Alissa limited her dating circle to just a few people that had gone through a pretty rigorous “vetting” process—very different from the more casual “let’s just meet and see” approach that she had before. 

Ryn Pfeuffer, 48

It wasn’t until I had my second dose of the vaccine that I felt more comfortable about meeting new people. It was pretty easy to weed out people who weren’t on the same page when it came to safety.

— Ryn Pfeuffer, 48

Gradually, as testing became more widely available, Alissa became more comfortable meeting people in person. “Also, living in Florida, there was never an absence of outdoor activities, so that made me more comfortable as well,” she adds. 

Alissa has no doubt that the circumstances slowed down the process of meeting new people significantly. And despite her best efforts, she still caught COVID-19 in the second year of the pandemic, which put additional pressure on her dating experience. 

“One of the people I was talking with at the time got it as well, but nobody else in our circles did, so we couldn’t figure out where it came from,” she says. “There was certainly some shame around it, especially at that point of the pandemic, and a bit of finger pointing between us two about whose fault it was. Thankfully, we both recovered and are still friends today, but that’s a rough thing to go through with somebody you are really just in the early stages of talking to in a dating context.” 

Appreciating the Value of Human Connection 

Alissa is still single—and happily so—but her pandemic dating experiences have helped her appreciate the opportunities she’s had to meet the people she has over the last two years. 

“True human connection is rare, and the pandemic helped underscore that,” she says. “I remain open and optimistic, slightly over the dating apps, but still on them!” 

Matthew Solomon

Take time to tune it to how you are feeling and how you feel being around a new person, and recognize what you are and aren’t comfortable with.

— Matthew Solomon

During spikes in COVID-19 cases, Pfeuffer put dating on pause, which she says wasn’t ideal, but necessary for her mental health and personal safety. “It’s been a lot of stop and go in terms of developing relationships,” she adds.

However, she now feels really good about her love life, as she fell in love in May 2021 and her partner is moving in with her in a few months. “I also met another person I enjoy spending time and exploring kink with,” she says. “There have been a few other serendipitous encounters along the way, as well. All in all, I feel very fortunate with the abundance of love in my life right now.” 

Pandemic Dating Tips 

Above all, make self-care and boundaries high on your list of priorities. Solomon advises taking things as slow as you need to. “Take time to tune it to how you are feeling and how you feel being around a new person, and recognize what you are and aren’t comfortable with,” he says. 

While some people couldn't wait to get out there again and start dating with a vengeance, Solomon points out that many others are still hesitant and cautious. “Pre-pandemic, it was totally common to match with someone on an app, text a bit, and then meet in person,” he says. These days, he is seeing that many people are more comfortable adding in a phone call or a Zoom/Facetime meeting prior to an in-person one. 

“It’s important to know where you are internally, and also to be accepting of where someone else is,” he notes. 

Lynn Wolfe, 29

Online dating provided access to countless available men in my area I wouldn't have met otherwise, and one of them is now my boyfriend. In the end, the lockdown ended up being a blessing in disguise.

— Lynn Wolfe, 29

If you’re taking a step back onto the dating scene after an extended period away from it, Solomon recommends being completely upfront with possible dates about what is most important to you in order to avoid potential conflicts. 

“It used to be that it could be challenging but not a deal breaker to date someone with differing political beliefs,” says Solomon. “Because there is a lot of understandable division regarding COVID-19, masks and vaccines, racial issues, and political views, I think it is important for people to be upfront to avoid wasting time while putting yourself out there.”  

Alissa recommends approaching dating without too many rigid expectations, and looking for good people to connect with rather than shopping for a new spouse. “It’s a lower stress approach and means I get less frustrated when things don’t pan out,” she explains. “I think having that attitude helped me weather the pandemic dating slow-down. I was already pretty comfortable with myself, and then had even more time to lean into that.” 

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