I’m a 34-year-old woman and I’m finding Covid and lockdown extremely difficult for a reason that I feel a bit embarrassed about: I really miss dating. I have been single for about three years, with some flings and casual relationships during that time, and have been quite happy with this. I’ve been focusing on my career and my mental health so I wasn’t actively looking for a serious relationship (though I wasn’t closed off to the idea if someone incredible came along).
Before Covid I was actually doing and feeling better than I had in years. But during Covid, obviously I haven’t been going out on dates, and it’s really shocked me how much that has affected my mood and mental health. I use a few apps and people are active on them, but because people aren’t meeting up, people either don’t chat or conversations peter out quickly, and I find it really depressing.
Most of my friends are in relationships and married and because I’ve been happily single for a while, my friends don’t really take me seriously when I say I miss dating. I’m healthy and have managed to keep my job so it seems like a stupid and selfish thing to complain about, so I try not to, but it’s really affecting me. Any advice for us singles on getting through this?
Do you know what dating is, at its core, no matter what you’re looking for? It’s hope.
It’s the hope of a connection, a spark, an evening filled with interesting conversation or a silly and fun diversion from the weight of everyday life. It’s the hope of the first kiss, of great sex, of another date, of a relationship, or just a good story. It’s the hope of learning something about someone else, about yourself, about life. It’s the hope of having your life change, either monumentally or in those tiny, sometimes fleeting, sometimes lasting shifts that happen over the course of an evening. Even underwhelming dates and mediocre dates and outright bad dates still hold elements of hope: the hope of a good dinner, a funny story to tell your friends later, and the hope that by eliminating one unsuitable option, you’re one step closer to what you want.
Dating is and always will be about hope. And at a time when we all need it more than ever, you’ve lost a huge, consistent source of hope. And although I know the following sentences would be far more satisfying coming from the mouth of someone you’re attracted to over some fancy dinnerware, I hope they still offer you some comfort: I see you. Your feelings are completely valid. You are not being stupid or selfish. You are looking for hope. And that impulse to seek it out, to spend your time forging connections with people, to keep searching for something fun and fulfilling and full of potential is brave and beautiful. And I’m so sorry both that it’s been so diminished by this exhausting, relentless pandemic – and that the people in your life aren’t trying to understand what dating means to you, and aren’t recognising what a loss this is.
There seem to be two main issues here – your dating life and the lack of recognition for your feelings from your friends – but essentially they boil down to the same problem, experienced in different ways: the desire to find hope and connection at a time when that is harder than ever. You’ve lost a huge source of that in your dating life, and you aren’t feeling heard and understood by your friends, who then can’t offer you much comfort or support on this issue because they aren’t grasping the impact of it.
This could be because they are married and in relationships and are taking the connection and validation they experience regularly for granted; this could be because they have falsely equated you being happily single with dating not being important to you; or it just could be that, like many of us, they’re struggling too and so aren’t being as proactively supportive as usual as they try keep their own heads above water. We’re all struggling right now, and sometimes it means that we don’t realise when other people need us. This doesn’t mean you don’t deserve support, because you do – but it may mean that you need to explicitly ask for it instead of expecting your friends to have a flashing moment of enlightenment and offer you the support you need.
I’ve written before in this column that I think it’s really important for all of us to be able to explain, in detail, how Covid has impacted on our lives out loud, to somebody – because expressing ourselves and sharing our stories is a really important way we can process our emotions, and feel understood and supported. It’s also a way of deepening our connections with each other, by learning about each other’s needs and priorities. Tell your friends: “I really miss dating and connecting with people, and for the next 10 minutes I need to you listen to me tell you everything I love and miss right now.”
As for online dating when you can’t actually meet people for dates, you have two options. You can leave the apps for a while, and try spending the time finding other ways of connecting to the emotions and desires that dating fulfils: the sense of feeling connected to people, of feeling validated, of feeling hopeful about the world. This could involve connecting with friends and family more, joining some online communities, or taking up a new hobby that gives you something to look forward to both on a short and long-term basis.
Or you could stay on the apps, and maybe alter how you’re using them. Put more questions in your profile, or ask upfront how people feel about Zoom dates or phone calls. This way, you’re going to eliminate a lot of people who are just swiping for a distraction and have no intention of chatting, and the people who do respond to you will hopefully be more interested in forging these kinds of connections.
But please remember three things: One, this situation is hard and difficult, and your feelings are completely valid. Two, your desire for hope and fun and connection is beautiful, and you need to hold onto it like a life-raft, and nourish it the way it nourishes you. Three, we will all get through this eventually, and when we do, thousands of connection-starved singles will be out in their droves, ready to offer you all the glorious, entertaining, romantic, sexy, awkward, clumsy, boring, fascinating, disastrous, spark-filled dates your heart could desire. There are so many people out there hoping for you.