My eldest daughter is a sociable 19-year-old university student who’s been enjoying her newfound freedom 200 miles away from parental supervision. Yet, two weeks into the UK coronavirus epidemic, she is spending her Saturday nights, not at a club or even a pub, but in her university dorm eating home-made pizza with a girlfriend. She is not alone. As the disease spreads and the panic intensifies, many of her friends have started to avoid crowded and sweaty places as well.
What about boys I ask her? Have you met anyone interesting? Any kissing? “Gross mummy! Yack. What if they have the coronavirus?” I can’t blame her of course. There is not much kissing going on during these panicked days of masks and sanitizers. Even handshakes are becoming taboo. People that I know reasonably well have been turning away from my outstretched hand slightly embarrassed, and as an asthmatic, I should probably be doing the same.
So, is it all bad news for love and dating during the epidemic? It depends on what you are after.
Hook-ups and dating several people at the same time will almost certainly take a beating. Touching a stranger’s face when you cannot even touch your own? Who’s going to do that? Jumping in an unknown bed while this epidemic rages will surely be foolhardy. What if this person has not washed their hands 4 times a day for 20 seconds each time while singing “Happy Birthday” twice?
So, what is the silver lining?
If the coronavirus epidemic lasts 9–12 weeks, as predicted, this is the perfect timeframe to get to know someone and start building a relationship. With casual hook-ups out of the picture, people can take their time to explore each other’s feelings, and the waiting period will most definitely heighten sexual desire.
Online dating, face timing, and sexting will almost certainly flourish. Less predictably, dating partners will become more open with each other. With the pressures of face-to-face contact and with the expectation of sex both removed, they can take the time to know each other and open up in ways that they would not have previously. When they finally feel comfortable enough to meet in person, the date will likely be outdoorsy, or in places with fewer risks of catching the virus. Hiking, walking by the river, picnics in the park are all safer options than crowded pubs, clubs, and concerts, and also much more conducive to conversation.
Overall, I estimate that the coronavirus will have some unexpected results on dating in general. Online dating in its current format has been losing favor, especially with the younger generation. The ease of swiping left or right encourages people to develop a shopping mentality. Like in a supermarket, online daters quickly move down the aisles with a list of ideal qualities. Their choices often result is many short, disappointing, and meaningless encounters.
It is hard to give someone a chance and really find out how funny or warm they are when there are thousands of other potential dates a quick flick away. But given the luxury of time, these superficial relationships have the potential to become deeper and more meaningful. Stuck at home, with nothing to do, potential daters will take the time to converse and get to know each other.
Coronavirus may be a double-edged sword for marriages and long-term relationships. When couples end being cooped up together for weeks, they may start communicating more and rediscover the magic that brought them together in the first place. Stripping daily life from its trappings and distractions can be the right medicine for partners who have been alienated by their hectic schedules. There may be more romance, sex, and heart-to-heart conversations, and possibly some new babies nine months later. At the same time, extramarital affairs may fizzle out for lack of contact.
On the flip side, some marriages and relationships that have been on autopilot for years may end if the partners end up stuck in self-isolation and forced to keep each other company. Partners who had previously met like ships in the night as they juggled work and kids will now face each other in ways that they have not done in years, and they may decide that their relationship is caput.
Love in the time of coronavirus presents an opportunity. While online dating has solved the problem of supply, it has taken a toll on emotional intimacy. Getting to really know someone and allowing them to see the real you, takes hard work and lots of time, both of which are in short supply in our instant gratification culture. It’s so much easier to meet many strangers who can’t hurt your feelings rather than open up yourself to judgement and criticism by becoming emotionally available and vulnerable. Yet, falling in love requires that you do just that. The combination of an ample supply of partners through online dating, coupled with the luxury of time may just be the magic formula to find love.
As for my daughter … what should I tell her? “Sweetheart, this enforced slowing down of the dating process is your chance to truly connect with someone and have a meaningful relationship. Take your time to get to know better the people you swipe right. Scratch below the surface to discover what lies beneath the swagger and the bravado. If you decide to meet him in person, don’t be forced into a crowded bar. It will be more sensible to have your date in a park or somewhere outdoors and watch the sunset sitting on a bench together.”
Love in the age of coronavirus has some advantages after all.
This article was originally published on PS I Love You. Relationships Now.