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Dating in the pandemic

A reporter’s search for love in the time of corona

  • Updated
  • 9 min to read
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Clarise Larson and her date Wyatt Day have a socially distanced date in a parking lot on Feb. 1.

My sex life right now is about equivalent to that of the Pope. 

Not that I’m saying what it sounds like I’m saying. It’s just — I could use a good cuddle. Or someone to talk to. Everyone hears those stories about people falling in love during their college years, and I guess I always assumed I’d have one of my own to tell. 

And then the fucking pandemic hit. Now, most nights I play “Call of Duty: Zombies” while sipping on wine with my two roommates, who are happily in love. I have transformed from being a third wheel into a non-sexual partner in their relationship. It’s weird.

So I decided that for the sake of their relationship, and the fact that Valentine’s Day is coming up, I was going to get myself a damn date. 

I wanted a real date, or as real as I could get right now (six feet apart and in a COVID-19 safe environment). The problem is, I go to all my classes virtually. It’s hard to feel sexual tension between me and my classmates through the screen. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Life over this past year has been turned upside down since the pandemic hit, and love and romance have not escaped COVID-19’s wake. Nationwide, people have reported feeling more lonely than ever. Dating apps like Tinder and Bumble have seen record numbers join since March of 2020. Humans aren’t meant to be alone for this long, but in a time when solitude generally means safety, love and romance have been forced to adapt. 

I wanted to see if I could adapt as well, and find myself a hot date during a pandemic. My solution was something I never thought I would do: download an app designed to create sexual tension through a screen. 

Tinder, bitches.

 


 

Some background about myself: I don’t have any social media at all. Like, not even LinkedIn. I like to think of myself as old-fashioned, so I have never tried online dating. I told myself I’d only get Tinder if I was absolutely desperate. I’ll let you make your own assumptions about my emotional state right now.

Dating Graph

There seems to be this weird stigma that online dating isn’t real, but nothing feels real right now with the pandemic. So, fuck it! I ate the forbidden fruit. Looking at the Tinder icon on my phone made me feel weird. Like, was I really about to do this? Two glasses of wine later: Hell yes, I was.

Thankfully, my roommate claimed to be an “expert” on using Tinder, so I gave him the job of making me look like the best version of myself. I was going for the “outdoorsy-but-also-down-to-earth” look, if you catch my drift. I also capitalized on the fact that my roommate had a dog, which I’ve heard is a big hit on Tinder. 

I chose pictures of me climbing, mixed with pictures of my roommate’s dog and a few portraits. 

Before I knew it, my account was live and the first person appeared. I didn’t know how the swiping worked, so I wasted all of my super likes with the first couple of people on accident. Not off to a great start.

Between nervous screaming and small breakdowns generating questions of moral ambiguity, I got my first match: Alex. A few seconds later, another one. And another. 

Not going to lie, I was feeling like a damn queen. Did I see multiple exes whilst on the app? Bet your ass I did. 


In the midst of all the excitement, though, I decided to take a breather and put my phone down. I wanted to hear what the experts had to say about love in the pandemic. 

Mark Dadmun—a mental health counselor at Curry Health Center—said that, regardless of intentions, finding connection during the pandemic is important for mental health. 

“We are social beings, so it is important to cultivate meaningful relationships,” Dadmun said. “I think that friendships can absolutely be very meaningful relationships, it doesn’t have to be dating or intimate relationships, just as long as people are having those meaningful connections.”

According to Dadmun, dating is possible, even now. And if done safely, it can be a very healthy experience. Dating safely and responsibly during COVID-19 can give people more time to get to know each other and slow down the process. It helps build trust. The pandemic’s impact, while isolating and frustrating, still has its silver linings. Many who are dating right now are letting the process be gradual—out of necessity—and there can be a lot of benefits to that. 

“The decrease in social options has made it more difficult for people to connect,” Dadmun said. “I have seen success, but people just have to be intentional about how and where they are going to connect, because there are ways to do it and do it safely.”

For the relationships that started before the pandemic, Dadmun explained that each will respond to the pandemic differently.

“I’ve seen the pandemic certainly strain relationships, sometimes to the point of breaking up, while some relationships have really flourished,” he said. “There have certainly been a lot of breakups, but at the same time, a lot of people have felt a deeper connection.”

Dadmun has seen people grow emotionally by themselves. Being alone doesn’t always need to be seen as sad, he said. 

“It’s a spectrum. Some people it’s been very hard, and some people feel they have grown more in the pandemic than they have at other times. For some people, this has been a time of growth, some have done some significant self-exploration.”

If people have a hard time being isolated, a good thing to do is to try and trust that the situation is temporary, despite how it may feel, Dadmun said. He emphasized the importance of reaching out in times of loneliness. “We have therapists who want to help.”

The pandemic can be a great time to deepen connections in existing relationships as well, Dadmun said. During times like this, people can actually feel more connected. If the pandemic is making someone feel extremely isolated, there is help on campus, he continued. 

“You are going to keep forming relationships. You know, it’s important to be patient because it is a process. It takes time to form a connection, but people absolutely do over time.” 


Waiting for responses from potential dates, my patience was tested to the max. During the first two days on the app, there wasn’t a second I wasn’t cradling my phone, awaiting the sound of that magical ding. 

Then: A seductive “hey ;)” from a boy named Bryce. He seemed cute, and I asked him out for a socially distanced date. Simple as that. 

To my surprise, he wanted the same thing. Or at least, I thought he did.

Though I had my date set up, I kept going back on the app. I convinced myself it was purely for educational purposes, but I kept matching with people. I had about 10 conversations going at one time—all of them extremely innocent. I felt I was just texting a bunch of friends, not people who potentially wanted to sleep with me. Though, I won’t be sleeping with anyone anytime soon—not as long as the pandemic is still chugging along. 


Bryce and I set the date. We exchanged numbers and were texting for a few days, which I thought was fun. 

And then I got the text: He bailed. 

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Did I question my existence? Yes. Did I cry? Hell no. The bad bitch in me is strong, and I wasn’t about to let some internet boy make me sad. 

I decided to play some sad boi music, looking out my window pretending I was Bella Swan to make myself feel better. 

That’s when I happened to see my upstairs neighbor, Wyatt, walk past outside. 

Though I have never actually had a conversation with him, he seemed nice and cute, and I’m nice and cute, so that’s enough in common for me.

I was not going to accept failure on my part, dammit. I wanted a date, no matter how I got it. Also, it was kind of comforting knowing that he was a real person and seemingly nice guy—not just a profile picture on a screen.

I texted his roommate, got his number and asked the man out. To my surprise, he was down. Actually, he even said he was excited. I couldn’t believe it was that easy, but I wasn’t about to question it. 

Since this would be my first actual date in lord-only-knows-how-long, I went all-out. Outside our apartment complex, I set out my $10 coffee table because after measuring it, it was approximately 6 feet wide. We sat outside in folding chairs with the tasteful sounds of French café music playing from my roommate’s speaker and cars speeding down Higgins. I even cooked real food—none of that ramen shit. 

The date itself was like any other first date: Awkward, but fun. We had a lovely time talking about how weird it is to be on a date, our classes and how strange the situation was.

It was pretty comical sitting outside our apartment, knowing that our roommates were watching us through the window. Neither of us could hold eye contact because we were so nervous, but that made a great conversation about how many social skills we have lost thus far into the pandemic.

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Clarise sits across from her date.

It was nice knowing that neither of us had been on a date in a long time. He liked my pasta, and I liked his jacket. His favorite color is blue, and so is mine. We didn’t move from our respective lawn chairs, but I felt closer to him by the end of the date.

The whole thing only lasted an hour, partly because it was getting cold, but also because I could not stop blabbing and I felt bad for the guy. He was sweet and kind the whole time, even finishing his entire plate of pasta I made. It wasn’t that good, so I appreciated his kind gesture. 

There wasn’t a question as to whether or not we were going to hug at the end of the date, like I’ve done so many times before the pandemic. We both knew the risk that entailed. 

It feels good to have someone interested in you, and to be able to see them in person. Tinder is great, don’t get me wrong, but I guess some things never change. He lives right above me and all I needed to find was the courage to ask him out. I’ll blame the coronavirus. 

As social creatures, we are hardwired to connect with others socially, said Nora Uhrich, a Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student at UM.

“Having positive social connections are harder during the pandemic, but so important for anxiety, depression, even immunity. Social connection is just a positive feedback loop,” Uhrich said.

It doesn’t matter the kind of connection, whether it’s online or socially distanced, just that it’s happening. Social connections with other people—friends, family members, co-workers, romantic relationships—are important not only for our mental health, but our physical well-being too. Relationships that are healthy can buffer our stress levels, and we know the pandemic is causing a lot of stress, Uhrich said.

When it comes to dating, don’t be hard on yourself, she continued. 

“I think it’s important to normalize the global stress and anxiety this pandemic has caused. No one is [unaffected], and acknowledging this is affecting the world. Practicing self-compassion right now can be powerful during the pandemic. Seeking counseling can be great as well,” she said. 

Dating during the pandemic has been fun for me, but it’s weird not being able to feel that physical connection. Uhrich said that can be a good thing. 

“We can think about the values that we have in our personal and general life. We can ask ourselves what we are looking for in a potential partner. It’s very possible to have fun and do that safely,” Uhrich said. 

“Let’s just put it out there: It’s more laborious than it was before, but it’s definitely possible. It might be harder, but it also might be a unique opportunity to bond with someone,” Uhrich said. “I think that we have this opportunity to be unique and creative and figure out what one wants in a relationship and dating.”

I wondered how my fellow UM students had been handling love and romance at this time. I strolled around the Oval, asking students the same question: Have you been dating during the pandemic? 

“I didnt even date before the pandemic,” Maggie said. 

“Um, kind of,” Carly said, laughing. 

“No,” Kelton said.

“Nope,” Emily said, simply.

“I dated two people. I went on dates with each of them,” Abby said.


 After the date, I can’t say I found true love. Rather, speaking for both Wyatt and myself, we each found a new friend more than anything else. Feeling isolated sucks, and this silly journey for love landed me with a much more philosophical conclusion than I ever expected. 

It’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to date. Whatever people choose to do, know that it’s valid. What is going on in the world is insane, and self-forgiveness is everything. Not finding someone on Tinder is okay, but I guess some things never change. All I had to do was walk up a flight of stairs to find someone who is kind and gave me a big smile during our date. 

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I might be old-fashioned and just in need of some courage, but I’m just one silly perspective among many. Tinder was fun, and I intend to keep at it throughout the pandemic. 

In the past week, I probably smiled more at my phone and talked to more people than I ever have. 

More than anything, it just feels good to have conversations with people who aren’t my mom or my roommates.

Regardless of where it is, finding connection during the pandemic is everything. I may not have found the love of my life on this dumb journey to find a Valentine, but I sure didn’t stop smiling while I was doing it. 

And that my friends, is what it’s all about.