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The pandemic changed the way people relate to one another in every way imaginable—physically, emotionally, politically, and sexually. For some, the pandemic became a relationship accelerator; new partners moved in together during quarantine and found rapid commitment and success. For others, intense isolation exposed the incompatibilities in their relationships and led to confusing (or revelatory) break-ups. It makes sense—given the intense stress, grief, and uncertainty—that one effect of the pandemic was a spike in breakups and divorces.
Scroll on any dating app, and you’ll see the same thing: smiling (or masked) singles slowly re-emerging from quarantine and looking for romantic connections. One profile I came across read, "Fully vaxxed, covid negative, looking for a serious partner."
For Cabrini (he/they), a 23 year-old living in South Florida, everything feels different. "I’m dating again, and I feel like a newborn calf trying to walk for the first time. There’s so much re-learning how to flirt and socialize," he says.
Dating During The Pandemic
For many freshly vaccinated singles, there’s a sense of emergence into a newer, stranger world. After almost a year and a half of intense isolation and confinement—where even platonic or necessity-driven interactions like grocery shopping or doctor’s visits were planned—adjusting to the spontaneity of romance is even more challenging.
During their final semester of college, Cabrini and the rest of their graduating class were instructed to leave campus and finish out the year remotely. "After that, I moved back in with my mom and dad," they say. "I have OCD and was the caretaker of a sick parent. For a while there, seeing people and experiencing joy...It felt like it was never going to happen again."
"I’ve been single for a while now," Catherine (she/her) says. Laughing, Catherine told me her hook-up buddy ghosted shortly after the pandemic hit. "After that, dating wasn’t worth it at all. It was too dangerous, especially in New York City."
Dating wasn’t worth it at all. It was too dangerous, especially in New York City.
Given the risk of in-person meetings and massive closures of bars and restaurants, it’s no wonder interest in long-distance, and online relationships exploded during the pandemic. MaríaEmilia (she/her), a 29-year-old woman living in D.C., says posting on queer dating apps like Lex led to a long-distance connection.
"We never met in person, but we had a very steamy internet relationship. It was very hot and burnt out very quickly," says MaríaEmilia. "The pandemic was so boring and awful. I just wanted to see other hot queer people and be seen myself."
How The Pandemic Shifted Their Perspective on Dating
Despite the grief and ongoing anxiety of Covid, all three singles had something they’d never experienced before: endless time. Finally, there was time to think about their past relationships and the dynamics that did and did not serve them. Finally, there was time to think about the future and the kinds of relationships they truly wanted.
Cabrini, Catherine, and MaríaEmilia kept coming back to their key desires and needs throughout our conversation. "I’m finally ready to date intentionally," says Catherine.
As one of the very few Black students at a predominantly white high school, dating was out of the question for Catherine. Then during college and afterward, she wanted to explore, have fun, and focus on her career. "Now I’m finally ready," Catherine says, "After all this time indoors, I’m just ready to say yeah, this is me. I’m so much more at ease with who I am and what I look like. I’m ready to shed the mindset that dating is too hard or too scary. I’m done wondering what if. I’m setting those intentions."
I’m so much more at ease with who I am and what I look like. I’m ready to shed the mindset that dating is too hard or too scary.
The most significant change in MaríaEmilia is her new focus and determination to get what she wants. She pulled up the notes app on her phone and read off her working list of qualities she’s looking for in a partner—humor, honesty, good politics, and sexually adventurous, to name a few. "I’ve had so much time to think about what I want," she says. "I want a monogamous, committed partnership. I’m more selective now, and I’m not fucking around anymore."
After a pause, Cabrini says, "I’m ready to fully come to the table. I want to fulfill my needs and fulfill someone else’s," they say. "I’m ready to put in the time and attention active dating requires. I’m not stumbling around anymore. The pandemic showed me how important human touch and connection are, and the work it takes to honor that."
Recognizing your needs, expectations, and goals for a relationship is critical anytime, especially during the ongoing pandemic. Boundaries around safety, vaccination status, and wearing masks are just the beginning. But remember, there’s no "right" way to start dating again, and there’s no rush to the finish line. Keep it simple and go at your own pace—invite someone for a walk outside, a picnic, or to watch the sunset. Everyone—including Cabrini, Catherine, and MaríaEmilia—is rusty, excited, nervous, and ready to try something new.