In January 2020, casually dating a few people at a time was still a common practice, especially in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where being single in your 20s is pretty much the norm. But times have most definitely changed during the pandemic. With some cities still shut down and others embarking upon the reopening process, people everywhere are (hopefully) acting cautiously to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19 — and they’re worried about their dating lives. 

What exactly does this mean for the future of seeing multiple people at once? We know that the coronavirus is primarily transmitted through human-to-human contact — including things as platonic as talking and as intimate as kissing. We also know that a very significant portion of people with the virus are asymptomatic, making it hard to spot and therefore easy to transmit. In other words, the more people you are in contact with, the more at-risk you are for catching not just feelings but also COVID. 

Change Is Afoot

“Before COVID, I was dating multiple people — somewhere between two and seven — at a time,” says Mya A., 25. “But since COVID, my entire dating life has changed. I only see myself dating one person at a time moving forward, at least until there’s a vaccine or medicine available to ease the symptoms.” Mya has also changed her perspective on dating people who are seeing other people while also seeing her. What previously was not an issue is now a deal breaker. “I want to be as in-control as I can in limiting my exposure to this virus,” she adds. In addition to being exclusive right off the bat, Mya plans to vet potential partners more closely. “I want to know if you’re an essential worker, whether you are wearing a mask, who you live with, if you are taking care of somebody else, whether you take vitamins, and how often you interact with people who don’t live with you. It’s a lot early on, and that kind of pushes away casualness.” 

Samera C., 24, is already asking more questions, and she finds herself gravitating toward dating apps. While she previously met most of her partners at bars and events, in the age of COVID, she wants to avoid heavily populated settings. “Being in a crowded place is off-putting,” she says. “I’m not sure when I‘ll feel comfortable enough to be at a bar again. So I’d rather prioritize intimate moments, which are hard to have with a lot of people. I’m not coming from a place of excess or looking to talk to and meet up with a lot of people anymore. This time has made me step back and think about what is important, and that’s health, so naturally, less people will be involved.” 

A More Rigorous Vetting Process

Asking pointed questions of a potential partner is one way to build trust during a time when lack of trust can be particularly dangerous. Lisa Ronis, a matchmaker in New York City, has started preparing guidelines for her clients to screen potential partners. “Have you seen your friends? Have you been in the office? Have you flown anywhere? These are all questions I want them to ask,” Ronis says. “I might even add new questions to my registration form, like have you been tested?” 

The additional steps required to decide if someone is worth their time and risk have made her clients, including those who were not previously as serious about commitment, ask questions that focus more on long-term relationships. After a lonely quarantine and given concerns that dating multiple people increases their chances of getting sick, “people really want to meet someone and land that genuine connection,” Ronis adds. “They are willing to take things more seriously and not be that kid in a candy store.”

Amie Leadingham, a dating coach in Los Angeles, is seeing this same seriousness among daters, along with a desire to slow down. “They’re really taking the time to get to know someone and build trust before considering bringing it into an in-person setting,” she says. She’s noticed that the tradition of getting offline as soon as possible is less common. “You’re really asking, ‘Are you worth putting my health at risk?’ Before you could go on five different dates in a week, and now you really have to vet someone to see if it’s even worth meeting them in person.” The quick turnaround between matching with someone and meeting them for a drink could now look like matching, chatting for a long period of time, following each other on social media, and then bringing the connection offline. 

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Getting Intimate

Gabrielle I., 26, for one, finds this all exhausting. “I’ve maintained closer ties to people I’ve dated in the past, and I’ve actually been making plans with them instead of focusing on new relationships,” she says. And for the first time, she sees herself limiting how many people she will date at once. “All of this has kind of closed my field and allowed me to focus on just a few connections. And maybe, it’s for the best.” 

Although she isn’t getting physical with anyone right now, Gabrielle is less likely to have sex with people she didn’t know pre-corona, and, no matter who the potential partner is, to do it quickly. “I’d be concerned about closeness because of COVID transmission,” she says. “I’d feel as if I’d acted selfishly and frivolously if I were to make my family sick, which means not having sex until I know the person for a longer period of time than before.” 

Mya, who also hasn’t been sexually active since quarantine began, agrees with needing more time now than before the pandemic to become physically intimate. And when she does meet someone she wants to be physically intimate with, sex will be off the table if they have recently engaged in any risky activities. “I plan to let ample time pass between meeting up with someone and the last time they went out. Like if a guy just got back from a trip or spent time with a big group of people, I’d probably wait a couple of weeks before [being in close contact].” 

Mya’s mandated waiting period speaks to the importance of keeping tabs on a potential partner’s lifestyle, especially when intimacy is involved. Additionally, Leadingham believes greater attention will be paid to hand-washing, wearing a mask, and overall cleanliness, causing singles to have a smaller pool to choose from. “[I predict] hookup culture will see a slowdown for those who are more conscious about this virus,” Leadingham says.

Ronis agrees that until there is a vaccine, casual sex will be less common. “People will get to know each other before engaging in intimate acts, because they’ll want to be sure their partner is taking their health seriously,” she says. “If you take it seriously, you have to find a partner who [does, too], and only time will tell if your stances really align.”

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