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“Is it too soon to bubble?”: how we’re dating as lockdown eases

By Joy Molan


Four quarterlifers share dating doubts and single-life realisations.

Early summer is prime dating time: getting to know someone new over lukewarm pints in a crowded pub garden, sharing overpriced post-work drinks in sunny rooftop bars, maybe even taking a dip at the local Lido...except coronavirus. So, none of that has been happening. But, things are slowly changing. With the government’s announcement of “support bubbles”, adults who live alone are now allowed to visit someone else's home and stay overnight. But, even if some of us can now take things to the next stage in our dating lives, does that mean everyone will? I talked to four quarterlifers who shared with me their six dating doubts and single-life realisations, triggered by this global limbo.

#1 “It’s been hard to not friend-zone people when you’re having socially distanced dates.”


There’s no denying that coronavirus has completely rewritten the rules of dating in the short-term. Social distancing has forced us all to be a bit more inventive when it comes to meet-ups. Maybe you’re one of the brave souls who’s tried virtual dates via Zoom, maybe your dating life has taken an unexpectedly wholesome turn with picnics and long walks, some of you might even have gone as far as to try a “work-out” date (definitely just an excuse to see each other in lycra). 


While socially distanced dates can be a great way to get to know someone without rushing into things, David, who has been dating a guy he met on Hinge last month explains, “if you’re just meeting in the park for socially distanced walks and you can’t take things to the next level, it can be really hard for that person you’re seeing to not fall into the friend-zone”. He explains, “because you spend all this time together just talking, you learn about each other in a more in depth way than you might normally. But it also makes you question where it’s going, especially if you’re not in a position to “bubble””. He admits there are, however, some benefits, “it’s great to realise the positives that can come from taking things slow. It’s nice to know you don’t have to go straight into the physical stuff”.


#2 “It’s actually a relief that there is no expectation to date.”  


If you’ve been single for a long time, the incessant enquiries from friends and family about your love life can get pretty irritating. Helen, who describes herself as “very single”, tells me that this period of distance has actually been a welcome change: “I was forced to abandon my post-uni gap year (“yah”) due to Covid and I’m now back at my family home in York and desperately seeking a job so I can move out ASAP”. Despite having to miss out on her year abroad, she explains to me that, “I think that the physical boundaries enforced by lockdown mean that no one expects me to be dating or meeting new people at the moment – a refreshing change. The result (for me at least) is a relief from the pressure of having to appear to be making maximum use of being single (which by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean going on lots of dates)”. 


#3 “It sounds shallow, but I’ve realised how much I enjoy the attention of others.”


Not everyone has found this enforced distance easy; for some it is triggering uncomfortable realisations. Hannah, who has been single for two years and is looking for a long term relationship, tells me, “it definitely feels like my mid 20s are being wasted both in terms of my career and relationships. I feel like I might feel a heightened pressure when I get out of lockdown as I try to race to make up for lost time”. 


She goes on to explain that because she used to meet people on nights out, she’s now having to rely on dating apps. Despite Tinder not really “working” for her because she’s living in a small town, she says, “I continue to use it, simply for validation from the opposite sex. Being surrounded by women all day every day means I don’t get the same attention that I would normally get if I had the chance to go on a night out or if life was normal”. Although we tell ourselves that validation from others shouldn’t influence our self-worth, it’s clearly important to feel desired: “it feels like a really shallow thing to be concerned about but it’s quite interesting that I’m missing something I hadn’t even considered I needed before”.


#4 “Putting myself first is something that I really want to work on when we come out of this.”


Holly, who has been single for 18 months because “there hasn’t been space in my life for the rigmarole and stress of dating”, says that lockdown has actually been a great opportunity to focus on her own goals. “One thing that lockdown has given me is time to consider my priorities. At the beginning of lockdown, I was inspired to write down my goals for the next five years”, Holly tells me. 


Hannah has also found lockdown a great opportunity to reconnect with herself: “something I really want to do differently would be to not try to fit a mould that the other person wants me to fit. I have a very bad people pleasing trait; I try to become the person the other person wants me to be rather than being my authentic self”. She hopes that this realisation will give her more confidence when it comes to dating in the future: “putting myself first is something that I really want to work on when we come out of this”. 

#5 “I feel like I’ve run out of interesting chat in lockdown.”


“Being unemployed and unable to do anything seems to be extremely energy draining and frankly, even the thought of trying to have a date via Zoom makes me feel ready for a nap”, Helen tells me. She hasn’t “really been dating at all” since she graduated last August, and says that her dating chat has seriously suffered from lockdown lethargy. This is a situation many of us have found ourselves in. As The Guardian’s Zoe Williams says, “we have been robbed of daily encounters with fascinating, delightful or irritating characters. How can we fill our conversations now?”.  Helen continues, “I’ve found myself in the tricky situation of having almost nothing to say, a very rare and slightly depressing occurrence for me, which hardly makes me the perfect candidate for a virtual date”. It’s important to have that level of self-awareness; if we can’t even keep ourselves interested by our own chat, it’s hardly fair to inflict it on someone else. 


#6 “I am worried about emotional intimacy when I do finally meet someone new.”


To bubble or not to bubble? That is the question on the minds of quarterlifers who have been successfully dating during lockdown. But, it’s not always as simple as being allowed to be physically intimate. For some, there’s a greater question about feeling confident getting close to someone emotionally again. After months of minimal contact with those beyond our immediate circle, it can feel even more exposing than normal opening yourself up to new relationships. Hannah confesses to me, “I think it will be a while before I start to feel comfortable with all of that again. For all of us, I imagine it's going to be a complicated business re-introducing ourselves to the world and each other. It will definitely take time”. 

A closing thought: whether you’re taking this time for yourself or soldiering on with distanced dates, it’s reassuring that, no matter how tricky you might be finding it, everything we’re going through is temporary. 


What these four experiences prove is that we might even have some positives to take from this time; whether it’s realising what you want from a future relationship or feeling more confident shrugging off the pressure to constantly date. Perhaps we’ll emerge with even healthier approaches to intimacy and renewed understanding of what really makes us happy. So keep swiping (if that’s your thing) and keep smiling; it’ll all work out alright in the end. 

Image by unknown Pinterest artist.


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