When lockdown began, one of the many aspects of “normal” life that came to a complete halt was dating — well, for most people, but not for everyone. I somehow found myself as an exception to the unofficial anti-meet-up rules of quarantine. While others were proceeding with caution, I found myself diving head-first into the dating pool and emerged in a serious relationship.
During a year of unexpected twists and turns, I was desperate for stability, and my new partner provided that in every sense of the word. When the world — or my world — felt unbearable and uncontrollable, he was there to hold my hand, and it was exactly what I needed at the time. But I could never admit to him, or myself, that our relationship never truly felt right to begin with.
The relationship itself was far from terrible. It was without a doubt the healthiest one I’ve ever had. We never fought, we explored the little we could of NYC during the pre-vaccine season, and at the end of the day we would hide away in my apartment, confining ourselves to the little escape from reality that we found in each other and in my bed. At face value, our relationship looked fine, nay, great.
But deep down I always felt something missing. I never fully developed that intense chemistry that comes with a new relationship, but I was comfortable and satisfied during a time when I needed it the most. I loved him and our bond overall felt healthy, but I would always question whether I was truly in love with him or if I just grew dependent on the comfort he gave me while everything else seemed unpredictable.
It seems like he felt the same way, because he broke up with me three weeks ago.
At first, I was heartbroken, devastated, and what I had left of my ego immediately came crashing down from what I saw as rejection — after all, nobody likes being broken up with. In retrospect, I sensed that the demise of our perfect little quarantined bubble would come sooner or later, just not that soon. But after two weeks of inconsolably crying to FKA Twigs’s “Cellophane” on repeat, I realized that after a long, cold, and cuffed-up winter, I have a full summer of newfound romantic freedom to indulge in.
Understanding Why Quarantine Relationships Happen, And Why They’re Ending
It doesn’t seem like my relationship was the only one to begin and take flight during the lockdown. According to Dr. Isabelle Morley, licensed clinical psychologist, many people jumped head-first into partnerships during COVID for the same reasons I did: because it was a time of uncertainty, and relationships bring some sense of stability during a time when everything seems unhinged.
“[Some] people quickly coupled off at the start of the pandemic in order to have a comforting attachment, and there was also a sudden loss of other dating options when the world went into quarantine. There was a desire to have someone to hunker down with,” she says. “People couldn't see friends or family; they didn't want to be even lonelier, and a partner was a reasonable solution.”
Morley also notes that during the peak of the pandemic (around summer of last year), dating was just less enjoyable. After all, a Zoom call doesn’t stir up butterflies in your stomach the way getting dressed up for a date does. “[Some] people felt it was better to stick with their most recent partner, treat it as an extended sleepover, and have some fun while warding off loneliness,” she says.
But now, quarantine mandates have loosened up and so have thoughts on dating. “All of my single clients have rushed onto dating apps and been asking people to fix them up,” says psychotherapist and relationship expert Stacy Kaiser. “We have all felt so trapped and isolated that the freedom of getting back to life makes dating and finding love exciting. Also, lots of people have spent the quarantine time really thinking about what they want out of life and so they’re excited to find a match that fits the image they’ve created in their minds.”
And with this ideology of re-entering the world fresh and anew, some are choosing to sever ties with their former quarantine lovers and partake in new experiences, and new people. Yale professor and social epidemiologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis notes in his book Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live that the world is actually getting prepped to relive another socially rouge time in history: the roaring 20’s, which happened in the first place due to the world recovering from the 1918 flu pandemic. Christakis noted to The Guardian that he expects people to “relentlessly seek out social interactions,” which includes “sexual licentiousness,” by 2024 — but could it be that the world is already beginning to indulge in a new, single sexual reawakening?
“After more than a year, we have exhausted ourselves of fresh conversations with those we have communicated with during the extended pandemic,” says Tammy Shaklee, certified matchmaker, relationship coach, and president of LGBTQ+ matchmaking service H4M. “To meet a compatible personality of someone excited to get out of their home and socialize is invigorating for some.”
How To Get Back On The Dating Scene
Now that I’m single, I have to dust off my dating shoes and step back into the game. But there’s one issue: I already hated the concept of first dates before the pandemic, and now that I’ve been socially distant for a year I feel like I’ve lost my ability to speak to anyone who wasn’t in my quarantine social bubble, let alone go on a date with a new person. Just the thought of going on a first date triggers my social anxiety, and I’m not alone on this. A 2021 study found that social anxiety symptoms significantly increased during the COVID shutdowns.
“Lots of my clients are feeling social anxiety. It’s almost as if they forgot how to date,” says Kaiser. “Also, this pandemic has changed us, so we don’t know exactly how to date as our new transformed selves.”
If you’re also dealing with similar bouts of anxiety, or if you just feel like you’re rusty at dating, here are a few tips from relationship experts on how to step into this new post-lockdown world (you’re welcome):
Baby Steps Are Key
You don’t need to force yourself to go on tons of dates — if you’re comfortable with that, then feel free to go forth and have a dating rampage, but that’s never a requirement for stepping back into the dating scene. Instead, Morley suggests taking small steps back into the world itself before you start committing to long dates with new people.
“Don't commit to a three-hour date if that's going to send you into a panic. Start with shopping at your favorite stores, practicing small talk with neighbors or strangers, or even just getting used to being in person with friends again,” she says. “If you'd like to do the first date virtually before meeting them in person, that's great, start with that. What social rules we had around dating have been bent and/or broken from the pandemic, so make new rules that work for you. Being patient and kind to ourselves as we adjust back to normal life is very important.”
Get Some Help From Your Friends And Family
Kaiser notes that one of the best ways to get back into dating is by “dating by committee,” meaning you bring your friends, family, or other people you're comfortable with into the experience. No, that doesn’t mean bringing them with you on dates, but it does mean they can help set you up or act as a wingman.
“When you have company, things are easier,” she says. “Get some trusted friends or family members involved to help you in your search. Have them look for people to fix you up with, or get them to help you search on dating apps or online or in a restaurant.”
Address What’s Giving You Anxiety, Then Work On It
What exactly is it about dating that’s making you (and me) anxious? Kaiser says that it’s important to ask yourself this question, pinpoint the aspect of dating that causes you to become anxious, and work on it.
“Assess what you’re anxious about and problem-solve to fix what you can,” she says. “Do you feel like you need some new clothes since you haven’t shopped in a year? Get some. If you feel like you’ve lost the ability to flirt, commit to practicing flirting with new people without expectations of things lasting. Worried that you and a date won’t be on the same page with COVID rules? Have those conversations in advance so that you’re not dealing with it in the moment.”
When In Doubt, Joke It Out
If you’re feeling anxious during a date, don’t fret! Morley says the best way to break that ice is by simply addressing it, and even make a joke out of the situation to relax any tension you may be feeling.
“It helps to just openly label the feeling and make it a joke. Chances are the date is feeling similarly,” she says. “Remember, we're all rusty on our social skills. Deep breaths, baby steps, recover with rest, and have fun!”