Up until 20th March 2020 I celebrated my single life, and then a global pandemic came to rain on my parade. So, what does it really feel like to date during COVID19?
If you’re stuck in the house going crazy home schooling kids, or with a partner that you’d rather strangle than seduce, it may seem from the outset that being single during a global pandemic is paradise. The grass is always greener on the other side right? Wrong. What it really feels like is a post-apocalyptic scene from Will Smith’s ‘I Am Legend”, paired with with Lionel Ritchie’s infamous “Hello… is it me you’re looking for?” and wine. There’s always wine.
I’m a professional, intelligent, well-travelled woman in my 30s living an awesome life, at least until a global pandemic struck my social life down like Harry Potter’s lightening rod.
When you’ve been single for as long as I have what starts to happen is that family at the dinner table tire of asking “Have you met anyone yet?”. The Elders in my tribe have all but lost faith that I’ll marry in return for a handsome dowry, and the little tribe cubs are growing up hypnotised by 2020’s Tik-Tok revolution, so it’s at this point you can’t help but look around and realise you’re truly the Last of the Mohicans.
What I’ve come to realise about being the last single person in my family (and sometimes, it feels like, the cosmos) something beautiful starts to happen… no one cares anymore! I’ve transcended societal norms and can now happily skip down the yellow brick road like Leonard Di Caprio discovering the utopian Beach with unlimited sun, sand and singles. My life pre-Covid was a colourful tapestry of long working days, fun nights, friends, dinner parties, Saturday sleep ins, yoga, coffee (and more coffee) and this exquisite privilege of doing what I wanted, when I wanted. Life, if you choose to design it, can become your own private nirvana.
I curated my life to reflect a vision board of travel and experiences. I was the picture of a privileged urbanite singleton always on-the-go. But when COVID19 set to threaten my every freedom, and fun and physical connection was on lockdown, I sat deep in fear of losing it all. Shit. Was. Getting. Real.
When news first broke of the Coronavirus cloud descending upon Australia, I, like many others in my age group, probably wasn’t overly panicked about the threat of actually getting sick. I was, however, feeling overwhelmingly anxious about what life in a global pandemic might feel like, and, bit by bit, my freedoms were stripped from me. But it took only two words to have me deep in hyperventilation with a brown paper bag to my mouth. ‘SOCIAL ISOLATION’. Or if you want a double whammy, ‘PHYSICAL DISTANCING’. These words shouted at me on the daily news. I mean, what the fuck is social distancing? Did anyone know what this was before COVID19? Could I still hug people? Could I have friends over for a drink? Ok maybe just 1 friend. Pretty please… I have a Pine-O-Clean friendly home!
‘Social isolation’ and ‘Physical distancing’ need to hire a PR team for a good old fashioned rebrand because those two words have mentally and emotionally shot AK47 bullets deep into anxious wounds. A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down right?
As the streets got quiet, shops closed up, and people crawled indoors like Huntsman spiders, even the most basic of human interactions became fraught with fear and policed. How could we have gone from one extreme to another in such a short stretch of time? The shock of it surrounded me like heavy cumulus clouds. No more handshakes, no more hugs, no more events, no more gigs and gatherings, no more “people stuff”. Everything and anything that included social or physical interaction was on lockdown. And in the most dramatic way (Bridget Jones with tub of ice-cream) I was thinking, “my life is over. O.V.E.R!”
As one of the Last of the Mohicans, people endlessly tell me “You’ll meet someone when you least expect it!” Well how is that meant to happen during a global pandemic? I couldn’t help but dream up the COVID19 version of Disney fairy tales with the mask-wielding Prince climbing up to Rapunzel in her isolation tower, or Sleeping Beauty awoken with an iPhone ping when Prince Charming swipes right on her profile. Could I really find “him” during COVID19?
I have a love-hate relationship with online dating apps. I’m an “in-person” kind of person. I don’t translate well online and trying to come up with a witty opening line just gives me a headache. But, we are in ‘unprecedented times’ as they say, and options are limited so I’ve decided to try the new flavour-of-the-month dating app in Australia, ‘Hinge’.
One night whilst on the couch (actually I lied, it wasn’t just one night, it’s every night) I whipped up a quick profile (hello Selfie no. #534) and got started on Hinge. 20 minutes later, BOOM. I didn’t just have 1 match, I had 23 matches. Beginners luck maybe? Thus unfolds how I was able to waste hours of time during lockdown swiping, matching and messaging other lonely nearby singles (who may or may not have also been on their couches with wine or ice cream). Seems I wasn’t alone after all.
And I really wasn’t. Dating is a numbers game. There were over 3 billion swipes on Bumble (another popular dating app) at the end of March 2020 than any other day in the app’s history, with an increase of 16% higher engagement on Bumble globally in the last week of April compared to the first week of lockdown. It seems singles everywhere were on the prowl for a quarantine partner.
If there’s a common theme I’ve noticed throughout all my matches, it’s a change in language and a longing for deeper connection. Time has afforded us a chance to slow down and smell the (emoji) roses. We can get off the merry-go-round. We can talk and listen and engage in a more meaningful way online if we truly want to get to know someone. I finally understood that if I was sitting here longing for a connection, surely single men were too. Single men with time on their hands are different. They are better actually. They are willing to talk on the phone, to listen, to do a video call, or a walking date in the park, they always asked me “How are you doing during COVID?” Or “How was your day?” In a way that actually meant something. What a refreshing change. Could COVID actually be good for fast-paced singles? Could it be that we are all truly awake now and available to notice each other?
Because there’s not much else to do in a lockdown situation, virtual dating feels both exciting yet intimate. The enticing idea that you might just form an emotional isolation bubble with someone you clique with.
With a plethora of messages to filter through, some chats that went for weeks without either party asking for more, others fizzled, some got promptly removed, and some progressed to late night phone calls.
My first video date was kind of exciting, and yet oh-so convenient that it makes me wonder if I’ll ever want to leave my house for a physical first date again. I matched with this tall, dark and handsome Sri Lankan man. We set a time to call on WhatsApp video and I put a nice black jumper on, earrings, blow waved my hair and put some make up (for visual effect), but I was all trackie-daks and ugg boots below. I positioned myself with good lighting hitting facial contours and showcasing my eyes. I dialled. “Hi!” How are you?” I blurted bouncily. He gave me the kind of look I tend to get on most first impressions which is a mix of a deer caught in head-lights, with an upturned Mona Lisa smile. I wonder whether this is just plain fear, anxiousness or delight, or maybe all of the above?
Disappointingly for me, he was unshaven and his t-shirt was wrinkled, but he did look like his profile pic (I’m trying to be less judgemental) and who could penalise someone for being unshaven during COVID-time? He did get brownie points for engaging conversation. We talked about adjusting to life in lock down, dating apps, work and family. He was divorced with 2 kids (again, trying to be open minded) and not afraid to share his struggles with me. I appreciated his honesty and it endeared me to him. We spoke for almost an hour and whilst it was very pleasant, I knew afterwards that I didn’t want to progress to round 2. We said our goodbyes and I wished him good luck for the week ahead. I put down my phone, wiped my make up off, tied my hair up into a top knot, and changed back into a stained, daggy hoodie. I felt proud of myself for trying. One hour of my time and I didn’t even need to leave the house! If I was rating Hinge for their date-from-home capabilities my Tripadvisor review would say “5 stars, will be back for more, would not hesitate to recommend to friends!”
At a time when my life has come to a complete standstill, I find myself being more open-eyed to the possibility of someone completely unexpected. Maybe I was too critical before? Expectations too high? When you have nothing to lose, there’s everything to gain.
In the pursuit of self-development, I’ve tried to be honest and vulnerable with men in a way that offers them greater clarity about what I want. Pre-Covid, I would have been too busy to notice someone, or flip flopped with mixed messages. I now find myself responding to men I don’t want to pursue with more authenticity.
COVID19 has been such a confusing and difficult time that it’s only fair to offer a bit of straight-up realness right now and practice karma, ‘what you give out, you get back in return’. My confidence towards potential suitors have enabled me to see the good from the time-wasters. I very recently matched with someone whom I absolutely would have swiped left on if judging on looks alone. Instead, COVID has afforded me the power to pause, take a breath, open my eyes, asses and then swipe. I went right this time. And, so did he. As physical restrictions slowly ease now, we were able to go on a walking date to the Prahan markets, get a takeaway coffee and a baguette. I went in open minded. I came out pleasantly surprised. Three hours of non-stop chatting with someone I was highly compatible with. Time will tell if it progresses further, but for right now, I’m happy living in the moment.
If there’s anything I’ve come to learn during this time of COVID19 lockdown, isolation and physical distancing, it’s that we have traded up our ‘busyness’ for time, and in doing so, some of us will be able to reclaim our deepest held values. When all your freedoms and luxuries are stripped away you realise that what is most important is a sense of connection and tribe. Single or not, relationships are important. Have your eyes, ears and heart open. Even if we are not fully able to congregate and celebrate yet, we can allow ourselves to see people more clearly and have faith. And you never know… maybe one day I’ll look up and I won’t be single anymore.