To put it simply, dating is hell. It’s only complicated by apps and today’s “there’s always something better” mentality. Throw in a pandemic and, suddenly, it all seems entirely impossible. Dating no longer looks like sitting down to dinner at a restaurant, going to the movies or coming over for a drink. In an effort to continue pursuing romantic interests amidst COVID-19, however, people are getting creative and, as a result, getting more personal.
Karen B.K. Chan is a sex and emotional literacy educator based in Toronto. “Any restrictions or limitations—and these days are full of them, not just in terms of physical distancing, but also the freedom and the pressure to be in the world, to be busy, to be socially connected—can inspire creativity,” she says. “And creativity is one of the best ways of being yourself, being open and getting to know someone, growing closer to them and building a relationship.”
For many of the women I spoke to from across Canada, finding new ways to connect has led to a whole lot of video-chatting. On either side of the screen, there are still sit-down dinners, movie marathons and cocktails happening. The distance narrows when dates get personal, which seems inevitable as they connect from their apartments or childhood homes, and have less to worry about when it comes to dressing up (waist down, at least) or catching their train. Comfort and communication are on the menu now, on the very first date.
“Yes, it sucks to be dating at this time, but it’s also a great time to be dating,” says Chan. “To talk on the phone, to Skype or Zoom, to go for distant walks, to show each other your homes via a screen, to talk about all the things you would like to do with each other one day…Distance is what passion, desire and sexiness are all heightened by.”
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It might seem like yet another obstacle to connect at a time when it feels as if the world is working entirely against just that, but Chan says these are circumstances you should be taking advantage of. “That intensity is what many people crave after the initial fire dims,” she says. “Slowing down at the beginning of a relationship and delaying physical intimacy can be one way of really drawing out that delicious part—focusing on the emotional, sexual, intellectual intimacy.”
Here, 10 women on how they are navigating their relationships and the dating world during social distancing—for better or worse. Plus, keep scrolling for 10 tips for staying safe—and still having fun—while dating during a pandemic.
“It was our six-year anniversary and we couldn’t celebrate”
“At the start of March Break, I was spending a long weekend at my boyfriend Joshua’s place. Those four days together were surreal because the situation [with COVID-19] was unfolding rapidly every day. It helped that we were together because otherwise we would have been freaked out (more than we were). I definitely felt some guilt leaving Joshua at the end of the weekend for home because he was going to be alone. However, I would have felt guilty not being with my parents, and it helps that he knows I need to be with them.
“Normally, we would see each other twice a week. We’re used to the space but now it’s definitely starting to affect us. We were living in separate countries for two months one summer (I was in Sri Lanka) so this situation isn’t necessarily new to us. Video chats help because we can see each other. We’ve decided to do more of these even though both of us hate cameras. We usually talk every day for an hour or so, which hasn’t changed. We’re doing more activities together now, like crosswords and movies.
“The not touching hasn’t been a major issue (yet), because we’re not entirely based on that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely hard not being able to hug or cuddle. However, the other stuff in our relationship is strong enough that if it disappears for a while, it’s OK. It was our six-year anniversary on April 3 and we weren’t really able to celebrate. We were both stressed and anxious. That’s the reality of it but we know that we will be able to celebrate together once this is all over. It also puts things in our relationship into perspective; we can’t sweat the small stuff anymore because all we want is to be together. Nothing else seems to matter.”
— Ranuka, 31, high-school teacher, Edmonton
“It’s a lot cheaper than a King West bar”
“I relocated to my parents’ home recently but, just before, I was on Hinge, Bumble and Tinder. I was shocked by the amount of messages I was getting! It certainly kicked up once lockdown kicked in and I was still getting asked to hang out, which I was rejecting. Apparently social distancing doesn’t apply to men asking to Netflix and chill, but what do I know? Since then I’ve turned my apps off; I can only handle so many pictures of men holding fish dressed head to toe in camo.
“I have still been speaking to a match I made before I moved, who I had to unfortunately cancel a date with just before this all started—I had thought I would be back home for a week or two but not a month or more! So we’ve decided on digital dates: We grab a drink and chat for a few hours, usually before bed. It’s a lot cheaper than a King West bar, but a little more delayed with my weak wifi. We’ve also been watching each other’s favourite movies at the same time, and play games like Draw Something and Trivia Crack.
“As an avid rom-com fan, I feel like this all sounds like something out of a movie—if it ends up going as well in person as it has on FaceTime.”
— Brianne, 28, blogger and freelance writer, Georgian Bay
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“I don’t know if this will go anywhere after all of this”
“There was a woman I was seeing on and off for months before we all started to self-isolate. I thought that it was over, and I had lost interest. And I wasn’t really looking for anything long-term. I even kind of thought heading into all of this that, in this part of my life, maybe it could be a good thing, like maybe I could stop thinking about if I even want a relationship for once. I deleted my dating apps, I just stopped thinking about it all.
“But then that woman and I started to text a little more each day. We’re both isolating on our own, and I know for me it’s because I feel kind of lonely. It’s nice having someone reach out to ask how you’re doing or if you’re cooking chicken for the fourth time this week. And we’ve started to have deeper conversations, first just about the pandemic and what’s been going on. But then she was telling me all these personal things about her family. I told her about how I’ve kind of been questioning my career lately. It’s getting personal in a way I never expected with her and it probably wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t isolating.
“She asked me the other day if I wanted to video-chat and, I guess in this new world, it felt too intimate? Like now I have to work my way up to that! It’s funny, but I think I’ll do it. I don’t know if this will go anywhere after all of this, but right now it’s nice just having that person.”
— Jamie, 34, lawyer, Vancouver
“We’ve had to put our timelines on hold”
“I was hopeful that quarantine would provide a unique environment for connection and would foster real conversation on dating apps. It soon became clear to me that is not the case. App users who prefer to meet up quickly and go on dates aren’t great at engaging in small talk online. On the other hand, people who do enjoy speaking online are anxious and it’s hard to sustain meaningful conversation beyond the pandemic. It’s understandable, but it’s frustrating.
“People are connecting with their immediate communities and don’t have the same emotional capacity to create new connections during the pandemic. I’m wary of trauma bonding during this unusual time. Connecting over a shared anxiety or trauma isn’t a healthy foundation for a relationship even though it does signal a shared compassion and empathy. Can it be sustained outside of the trauma? Without knowing what our new normal is going to be, it is unlikely that these types of connections will have a strong foundation.
“Everyone is grieving multiple losses during this pandemic. A very significant loss for single people is the time we would spend dating and meeting our match. We’ve had to put our timelines on hold and that means pushing off not just romance, but starting a family. Biological clocks are a reality for everyone. Through the pandemic and this freeze on my own dating timeline, I am deeply hopeful about meeting someone when restrictions loosen. I hope people will be more willing and eager to meet one another and allow their walls to come down. I know I will be bolder and braver.”
— Kaley, 31, podcast host, Toronto
“Online dating is still dominated by the most selfish and unenlightened men”
“I had two digital dates recently with the same man. I moved our conversation from Plenty of Fish to video chat because I learned a while ago that I don’t want to spend weeks chatting with someone via text and get excited only to meet them and be disappointed. Online chats do not equal real life chemistry and attraction; I can have the most amazing chats with a man I would never kiss.
“During our first FaceTime date, he drank quite a bit. It was Saturday night and he admitted he was nervous, so I gave him some leeway. During our second FaceTime date, he drank again, and this time grew rude and argumentative. I was drinking tea and relaxing on the couch taking in his behaviour. Apparently I had said something he didn’t like and so he told me he wanted to ‘punch me in the throat.’ Over several hours, he became more graphic and aggressive, and tried to invite himself over to my house. I let him know that would not happen—even if there were no pandemic. At that moment, I had a picture of who he was and I wasn’t interested.
“Conversations with men on dating apps are tougher now, in a way, because they’re bored, killing time. I had hoped that the pandemic would have men being introspective and wanting to have a meaningful connection. Unfortunately, from what I and my peers have seen, it has just led to men focusing on how much hornier they are now. So many are ready and willing to hook-up ‘on the sly’ in spite of the virus. Online dating is still dominated by the most selfish and unenlightened men in the city, it seems.
— Natasha, 38, night auditor, St. John’s
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“Quarantine and chill?”
“This is the longest I’ve had Tinder on my phone. I usually delete it after a week maximum, but I’ve had it for almost a month now, because what else is there to do? Many of the profiles I saw at the start of the pandemic had cheesy new pickup lines, like, ‘looking for my quaranqueen’ or ‘quarantine and chill?’ But all they wanted was to jump straight to sex. I’m not opposed to hookups but, personally, as someone who has long awaited a true romance, I’d reply with a swift ‘no thank you.’
“Once the pandemic grew more serious, and the 14-day social distancing period went into effect, my matches had changed their profiles almost entirely. They added more wholesome photos, and their bios were more affectionate. They’re engaging in deeper conversation, and speak as if we’re long-term friends. Of course, everyone wants someone to talk to during these times, so conversation is flowing. Because we can’t see each other, many of my matches ask for my Snapchat or Instagram so that we can video-chat right off the bat. Most of us are at home, so our true selves are coming out during these dates; you can really see what a person is like.
“While I still prefer making connections in real life, I do have a FaceTime date planned, which is exciting. I’ve never done it before, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. At least I don’t have to worry about what to wear or what time I have to leave to make it in time. We can just set up a time and talk!”
— Reyanna, 20, student, Toronto
“Communication is the key”
“Dating during this pandemic has been an adventure. Men have been more responsive when replying to messages on dating apps, yet most still want to meet up, so I write them off.
“But I have matched with a few men on Tinder and Hinge who I have had some sort of connection with. I FaceTimed recently with a man I had been speaking to on and off for months. We had a wine night, ordered sushi and watched Clueless (since he had somehow never seen it before and it’s my favourite) at the same time so it felt like we were out at a restaurant and at the movies together. I also had a virtual dinner date with someone I matched with on Hinge, which went surprisingly well. I’m usually really nervous when talking to new people, but both dates went great.
“I personally don’t find having to build a virtual connection or relationship to be weird or out of place. In fact, I met all of my closest friends online. With each of them, we found each other through social media, chatted for a few months, and when we met we built these unbreakable bonds over time. So it is possible. Communication is the key in any successful relationship, and since self-isolating, I’ve found it to have dramatically improved with men I’m speaking to.”
– Michelle, 23, student, Montreal
“Everything is suddenly reminding me of sex”
“I met my boyfriend Stephan on OkCupid almost exactly a year ago, so it feels as if we’ve gone back to the beginning of our relationship. We typically see each other every weekend, so this has been an adjustment for us. The longest I hadn’t seen him was when I went on a trip for a week over the summer, and he couldn’t handle that time away. So for us, communication is everything. We video-chat and make sure we say ‘I love you’ every day, we send each other memes, silly videos. We’ll have tea time, choose each other’s outfits, give each other challenges. The first week I was at home due to being laid off, he put on his Blue Jays sweatshirt, I wore my Blue Jays T-shirt and we FaceTimed and pretended we were going to the home opener. For a good five minutes, we acted as if we were in the stands cheering on the team, and I felt so much better.
“I don’t get any alone time at home since I live with my family. So if we’re in the mood we’ll send each other nudes or provocative videos. There was one day when my mom had to head into work and my sister went to get groceries that I managed to have some alone time, and we had phone sex. Otherwise, I feel a sense of withdrawal; I’m hornier than ever and everything is suddenly reminding me of sex, from the banana on the kitchen counter to the seagulls cawing outside my window in the morning. It’s crazy though, because we were intimate with each other merely once a week before quarantine, but because I can’t ever physically be around Stephan now, it makes me want him more. Sometimes I feel an urge to break the rules, jump on the train and go see him. Still, I feel connected to him every day because I talk to him every day. It’s all made me realize how important human connection and touch is.”
— Karen, 29, teacher, Toronto
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“We said ‘I love you’ on our fourth night together”
“Jon and I began isolation in our own homes, video-calling each other for five hours at a time. It became torturous because we really missed each other even though we were still kind of strangers, in a romantic sense. We first met in August but it was uneventful. After months of false starts, we re-connected in early March over a mutual personal issue, and ever since then everything changed, and he asked me to be his girlfriend.
“We started to worry about what might happen to our relationship as it had just started. The isolation was killing my soul despite all my digital interactions with him and my friends. We messaged online, we did improv shows over Zoom, but it was insufficient in lieu of real-life socialization.
“Finally, on March 25, he said I should come over. I cycled from my East York apartment to his North York house, with a duffle bag full of only essentials. We both felt unprepared: How long will the isolation last? How long will I stay? Will this ruin us? We took the risk. Time feels like it’s moving quickly now. We feel so emotionally comfortable, despite only going steady for a few weeks. We’ve learned each other’s habits, which have also changed because of the circumstances: I’m in bed at 5 a.m. because I’m a night owl and struggling with my depression and limited motivation. He’s started to match my rhythm and sleep in with me. We’re having sex a few times a day but it’s already become secondary to communication.
“We said ‘I love you’ on our fourth night together, which I realize sounds insane. But, emotionally, we were there. And we said, ‘happy one-year anniversary’ to each other two nights ago, just because that’s how close it feels we’ve gotten. I feel that amount of experience in a phenomenally developmental way, as if we might be teenagers; a year of maturation and growth basking in youthful energy.”
— Zoe, 27, actor and comedian, Toronto
“I miss being in the same bed”
“Let’s just say there’s a whole lot of sexting going down. Does anyone still say ‘cyber sex?’ Because now I understand that concept. My girlfriend and I have been together for two years, and this month so far is the longest we’ve ever been apart. On the one hand, we have faith in our relationship, we’re not worried about any kind of strain it could have on us. But we miss each other, I miss being in the same bed or even just having my grocery buddy (and her car, I’ll be honest). You start to realize how that person fills in those little spaces in your life. We’ll FaceTime while we take walks so it feels like we’re next to each other on the sidewalk.
“It sounds so corny, but you get corny thinking about this stuff, and you think about this stuff a lot when you’re without that person for so long. We were talking about moving in together recently and during all of this we’ve decided it’s official, we’re doing it when this is all over. Why waste any more time? If something like this ever happens again, god forbid, I wanna be together. She’s with her family right now, so sometimes I feel guilty about thinking that, and I’m glad she’s with them. But I don’t have mine to go to in that way, so if we’re together, we can build that for ourselves. That would be nice, I think. Corny, but nice.
— Aja, 26, illustrator, Vancouver
Top tips for dating during a pandemic
- The basic rules still apply: “Although we still recommend virtual dates as a first step to connect with someone new, we know that as we move into summer, singles will want to meet in person to see if those sparks are there,” says Toronto-based dating expert and matchmaker Shannon Tebb. “Masks are still advised, as is consistent hand-washing. And social distancing at two metres should continue to be practised. Which means it’s all about the smize.” Even a mask can’t hide a flirty glance.
- If your Zoom chats are starting to feel boring, give your virtual date nights a theme, and dress up (or don’t dress at all!). Or find new activities, like a virtual escape room, a book club or cooking a dish together neither of you have made before, by propping up your phone and connecting to FaceTime in the kitchen to cook “side-by-side.”
- Go on a socially distanced date. This could be a walk through the city, grabbing takeout at your favourite restaurant and going on a picnic, or exploring new hiking trails together. For a date that would make Lorelai Gilmore proud, head to a drive-in. There are still over 30 across Canada, and if you bring your own snacks, you can catch a movie in your cars side-by-side. It’s even better than going to a regular theatre.
- We may not be living in the 1920s, but that doesn’t mean snail mail has lost its romance. In fact, it’s gained in appeal, having become something of a relic. Taking the effort to write a love letter by hand and seal and stamp an envelope is dedication in 2020. Bonus: Letters can make for pretty special keepsakes.
- Learn how to sext. Seriously, if you haven’t started yet, now’s the time. Here’s a guide to doing it safely.
- As the country slowly reopens, so does patio season, so you can actually—gasp!—meet for a drink. While patios may only offer limited and distanced seating, being outside (as opposed to indoors at a bar or your apartment) is safer during the pandemic, where risk of virus transmission is relatively lower.
- Get active. Certain low-contact sports have been A-OK’d so get out and play a few rounds of tennis, outdoor ping-pong, hit the driving range, take a frisbee to the park or bike along a waterfront.
- If you’re showing symptoms of any kind, stay home. “Don’t feel pressured to meet someone outdoors,” says Tebb. “While this might feel like an odd time to develop a relationship with someone, it’s a great opportunity to build a stronger emotional foundation and limits people from serial dating, meaning you are their priority to get to know.” Take advantage of this time to really get to know your new partner—and what you both want and need.