By ERIN ROLL
COVID-19 has affected all aspects of life, and dating and relationships are no exception.
With nights at the movies, dinner at a restaurant, or even a meet-up at a coffee shop out of the question due to social distancing, singles and couples are having to find new ways to begin or continue a relationship.
Some people might have wine while chatting over Zoom. Others might go for walks in the park, while maintaining a six-foot distance from each other.
After being in isolation for some time, says Rachel Russo, people are feeling a strong urge for connection. They may be bored, or lonely. “They’re alone with their feelings, which is not always a good thing,” Russo said.
Russo has been a dating coach and matchmaker for 15 years. She runs Matched in Montclair, a match-making service that pairs up local singles. She is also a marriage and family counselor.
Not surprisingly, people are feeling a lot of fear, confusion, and anxiety over relationships these days. “How can you have a relationship when you’re supposed to be social distancing?” she said.
Video dating was not really a trend before the pandemic, Russo said. But online dating has gone up significantly since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March.
Dating sites such as Match.com and eHarmony have added video dating to their regular features, while Bumble has had a virtual dating feature in place since last year. Tinder and OkCupid reported 20- and 30-percent increases in users in April.
Match’s website posted a list of 42 questions that people might have about dating during a pandemic, with answers provided by a panel of Match.com consultants.
Some of the sample questions:
- • I’m honestly feeling really anxious and down about everything going on in the world. Dating is last thing I want to do. Help!
- • I think it’s going to be weird to start up a relationship when it could be a while before we ever meet in person. What do I do?
- • How do I know if he’s really interested in me or just messaging me because he’s bored, with nothing else to do while quarantining?
Russo says some of her clients, primarily over the age of 50, don’t like the idea of video dating or are uncertain about it. But it is popular with clients in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, she said.
She said she’s heard of bingo parties over Zoom, and online happy hours. Some couples may order takeout from the same restaurant and eat it at the same time. They might walk together in a park while wearing masks and maintaining distance.
However, dating sites have cautioned against trying to meet in person, for health and safety reasons. Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd posted a letter to users urging them not to meet in person. “We’re encouraging you, for now, to please take all your dates virtual. Even if you’re feeling well, you could be unknowingly spreading the virus by meeting IRL (in real life).”
For couples who are living under the same roof, the pandemic means that they are spending much more time together than they would otherwise. And the closeness may get to be a strain, Russo said; one person might discover that the partner’s quirks are becoming annoying. There might be a conflict over the division of labor in the household. Or one partner might want closeness while the other wants more alone time.
The financial impact of the outbreak may delay people from getting married or having children, Russo said. Conversely, people might rush into relationships if there is the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19.
Wedding planning website The Knot reported that at least one million weddings have been postponed through at least August. The website opened up a hotline to aid couples whose wedding plans are being complicated because of COVID-19.
But there is a definite upside, Russo said: People are being forced to slow down and take time to get to know each other better.
In today’s world, she said, there is often the temptation to rush into a relationship or quickly hook up with someone.
“Now, we’re forced to get to know each other, and build up a friendship,” she said.
“I think you have to not put all of your hope into someone making you happy,” Russo added. It’s important to spend time on yourself, whether it is taking up a new hobby or concentrating on aspects of your career. “Keep yourself busy. Don’t look to your partner for your happiness,” she said.