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DATING IRL
IS DEAD

Exploring the effects of COVID-19 on relationships & possible futures.

Don’t ask me how, but I managed to find and stay with a partner through the entirety of the first lockdown when COVID-19 hit the UK. We met at the start of February and, in essence, it was all cylinders firing from that fateful Sunday morning. A whole 26 hours later, we finally parted after bumping into each other at an afterparty (a concept that seems so foreign, right now), and within the next 24 I had packed a bag and found myself on a train to “stay for a few days and see if we really vibed”.

It was Valentine’s Day that following Friday: we both awoke in the morning covered in each others’ vomit. What can I say? It was love. I travelled back to my apartment, a couple of cities away, only a handful of times before we both realised the impending tide of disruption that COVID-19 was bringing. Tactfully, we decided to self-isolate early, as at the time there was very little evidence of the deadly potential of the virus; “it’s only early days”, they said, “but why don’t you stay here for the foreseeable until this blows over?” I was there for a further four months.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved most seconds of it. An opportunity to meet someone and instantly become sleeping partners, shower buddies, exercise companions may seem too heavy for most. I understand that, and the only explanation I’ve been able to find for such a magnetic connection is, well, love. That chemistry, that unmatched energy, that guided force inside that led both of us to that exact moment, all those weeks ago…I struggle to explain it, but something deep down tells me that’s exactly where we were both supposed to be.

Naturally, this connection has since come to a close. It was a shock to me, but I found out rather harshly when lockdown restrictions were first lifted in the summer that for the other person, the duration of our relationship was simply entertainment. A product of its environment: a passing fling that was extended due to the fact that there was no other option. I’d been led to believe otherwise, and fooled into planning out futures, discussing what a unique and rare chance we’ve had and how we’ll be telling this story together for years… and even participating in apartment viewings on Zoom, for a real next step for us both.

“A product of its environment: a passing fling that was extended due to the fact that there was no other option."

Since the end of the summer, I’ve taken a few months to re-centre myself, and understand how I fit into a post-pandemic world solo; so far, my entire experience had been shaped with somebody. And to go from spending 24 hours a day with a person, especially someone who lied so casually to my face all the way through late-nights where we couldn’t sleep, vulnerable discussions about our past by the riverside, and trips to Tesco wherein we couldn’t stop laughing at how silly we found each other… I was lost.

Re-entering the dating world of late, I’m astounded. I knew that times were hard to begin with, and horror stories from close friends about endless repeating patterns of talking to various people before being ghosted wasn’t new to me… but I guess I never assumed it would happen to ME. I thought that knowing what I bring to the table, I’d be able to choose people who would match my energy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I feel stuck in an endless time-loop. With no option to meet in real life, dating apps have strangled the last shred of respect, and effort, from the majority of the population. I think that entering the game a few months late has made it visibly obvious to notice everybody’s fatigue; nobody really has faith in dating right now. For most, it’s simply something to pass the time.

Social dating apps such as Tinder and Hinge have occupied many of my spare hours, sure, but what do I have to show for it? A few matches, a handful of conversations spanning a couple of weeks, and now just Instagram-story updates from said matches, proving that they still exist, somewhere out there, even if they’ve stopped replying to me.

I don’t blame anybody. I’m equally frustrated, and it’s impossible to stay optimistic when you’ve adapted to realise this is a constant pattern, that’s only going to repeat until the end of the pandemic, one way or another. But what happens afterwards?

“I feel stuck in an endless time-loop. With no option to meet in real life, dating apps have strangled the last shred of respect, and effort, from the majority of the population."

Are we going to remember what it’s like? Sure, I’m sure if the option to go on a date right now was presentable, we’d be able to smart up, and blaze through it… like riding a bike, right? But I’m talking about the long-term after-effects. What about the roster of loose acquaintances we’ve built, collected like Pokémon cards in our phones? Will we work our way through them, constantly reminded of their existence as they post?

A habit takes 90 days to make. By now, we’ve trained our brains to source serotonin from these apps, and become accustomed to these dry, wistful conversations with strangers. As a generation already facing the death of monogamy, it doesn’t boast progress for the construct. Will fidelity be harder for those who are chasing monogamy, or will this lead to another pillar of the current sexual revolution, fuelled by the rise of OnlyFans, etc.?

After such a hiatus from real, human interaction, will we find ourselves craving more alone time, to spend on our dreams that we’ve discovered in Lockdown that we have? I personally think the balance definitely needs to be shifted, and I’ve noticed that by removal of the option to properly date I’ve uncovered many aspects of myself that have heightened my ambition. With only myself to focus on, I’ve thrived.

I’m not anxious for the next chapter; I’m excited. I think that, with us all coiled up like springs, aching for clubs, bars, and warehouses, we’re all in for a very good time when we’re able to dial those Ubers.

This feature was taken from tmrw #39: The Evolution Issue, available to buy below.

Words by James Hawkridge

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