If you think COVID-19 is only temporarily impacting our lives, think again. The effects of this pandemic are far from over, especially when it comes to how people navigate romantic relationships. The ways in which we approach moving from Tinder to IRL, planning first dates, and getting physical with someone new are just three of the facets of dating that are undergoing serious shifts — the list goes on and on.

“The future of dating is truly uncertain,” says relationship coach Wendy Lyon, Ph.D. Although we can’t consult a crystal ball to determine exactly how dating will unfold (we’re only human, guys), we can anticipate what may be around the bend based on what’s already happening.

1. Physical Contact

Whereas some singles enjoyed the alone time and were thankful that they didn’t have to quarantine with a partner they grew to dislike in close quarters, most have shown an interest in dating again. However, they’re reluctant to meet just anyone. 

“There’s a fear instilled in people that has to do with self-protection and health,” says sex and relationship expert Gabi Levi. Because of this, she believes there’s added value placed on intimate moments, like kissing and sex, which carry a new risk.

Kel, 23, who is in an open relationship, recently went on an in-person date and confirms that the only awkward thing about it was being unable to hug or touch one another. “When I told one of my [other] partners that I was going on the date, he asked, ‘What happens if it goes well and you like this person?’ ‘I go home,’ I said.” And when the date was over, that’s exactly what she did. “We air-hugged from a distance and I went home, [satisfied] from a day spent with a lovely human being.”

This slower pace may actually be beneficial for building solid relationships and realizing what you truly want in a partner. “If people continue to proceed with caution, dating could evolve to become more conscious and deliberate, which would be great for everyone,” says Lyon. “My single clients have shared that being alone has given them a chance to recognize their priorities.”

On the other end of the spectrum are those who, after this pandemic-imposed break, want something purely physical. Jenna, 20, says that she and most of her friends are impatiently awaiting their next hookups. “At this point, we’re not even thinking about dating or starting a relationship. We just want to get laid.”

The approaches to dating post-quarantine are clearly mixed, but a common denominator of the desire to connect with others is still very much there.

2. A Partner For The Second Wave

After months spent in solitude or cooped up with family, it’s no surprise that many singles are craving a romantic connection. And with news suggesting we may see a second peak or wave of infections later this year, they’re looking for someone with whom they can quarantine the next time around.

“Single people who aren’t staying with family are going to need that loving interaction with someone, and the fear that this could happen all over again is going to highlight that desperation even more,” says Levi. “During a pandemic, surviving seems easier with a partner,” This makes sense. Having someone to help clean, buy groceries, or, more simply, keep you company with jokes or cuddles can make a huge difference to your overall wellbeing amid stressful times like these. 

Plain and simple: People are realizing that they don’t want to play games anymore (and this is a very welcome, positive change).

Levi predicts that, yes, many romantic interactions will be slower and more serious moving forward, but “there will be some outliers who rush into something serious to either consciously or subconsciously prepare for a second wave.” To get ready, you may be matching with anyone and everyone or talking to an ex right now.

3. No Time For Games

The ways in which we communicate with potential partners have already changed as people become less afraid to speak up what they want. “People are going to be more inclined to be vocal about the fact that they either are or aren’t looking for something casual,” says Levi.

She is also observing people giving further consideration to how they spend their time and taking their personal boundaries more seriously. “Time has become so much more valuable,” she says. “They’ve got their deal breakers that they might be less likely to negotiate, a smaller tolerance for flaky behavior, and are less likely to engage in hookups if it’s not what they want. They’ll be more firm about that.” Plain and simple: People are realizing that they don’t want to play games anymore (and this is a very welcome, positive change).

Before the pandemic, Samantha, 27, took an easygoing approach and went with the flow when it came to dating. “However, I [recently] realized that you shouldn’t do something or waste your time on something that isn’t going to benefit you in the future, especially now that we’re in a pandemic situation,” she says. “I’m more serious about spending my remaining time with the ones I value and who value me, too.”

4. Video Dating 

Lisa, 29, has been on several first dates during quarantine, but they are different kinds of dates than she is used to. “First dates are FaceTimes or outdoor activities that don’t involve drinking. I’m so used to grabbing drinks or generally drinking on early dates, and it’s different to be sober.” (ICYMI: Although sober dating has its own benefits, virtual happy hour dates are definitely still a thing.)

“The other big change that is kind of fun is more unplanned FaceTime dates and impromptu walks,” she adds. “Everyone knows everyone isn’t all that busy [in quarantine], so I have lots of short chats with people at random rather than scheduled dates that are only in the evening and are more formal.”

For obvious reasons, video chats have spiked in popularity over the past few months, and they’ll likely continue to be a thing as we begin leaving our homes again. A recent study found that 84% of participants would prefer to conduct a first date via video chat than in person. Lyons, who believes that video chatting is a solid way to get to know your dates better before progressing from Tinder to IRL, understands where daters are coming from. 

This additional level of screening may even prevent you from falling for those who aren’t right for you. That’s what happened for Elaisha, 27, who started chatting with somebody right when the COVID-induced shutdowns began. “It was nice to have someone to talk to, but because we couldn’t meet in person, it removed the rose-colored glasses I’d usually have on while ignoring red flags,” she says. “[They] were hard to ignore, so I ended things earlier than I would’ve if we were dating in person.” 

IMHO, these changes seem more positive and full of promise than of doom and gloom. Prioritizing authenticity in others and our personal values, health, and time are practices I can get on board with. So maybe, just maybe, this pandemic isn’t going to destroy dating at all — it may actually improve it in many ways. 

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