Dating post-pandemic: ‘People are desperate for relationships’

Therapists explain how to navigate the search for love now the world has opened up

Video calls, mask-wearing, and socially distant dates: for hopeful singletons looking for love during the pandemic, there were many impediments to romance. But for those who dream of being swept off their feet at first sight or wined and dined in person, the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions has opened up the dating world again.

A recent study by online dating platform Bumble found that 46 per cent of single people globally are looking to “reset” their dating lives, with one in three users of the app saying the pandemic has drastically changed what they are looking for in a partner.

According to Dublin-based clinical psychotherapist Stephanie Regan, the time lost during the pandemic has now made single people on the dating scene more keen to settle down with a partner.

“People are desperate for relationships,” Regan says. Some of her clients are “almost despairing in the sense of, ‘am I ever going to get started?’”


The way people perceive the two years lost during lockdown can be relative to what stage they are in their life, she says.

“If you’re 55, two years doesn’t mean a lot in a relationship sense. But if you are 31, two years means quite a lot. And unfortunately for us women, we always have the biology factor racing around us. I have encountered a lot of women who are struggling with that, and women who are thinking about freezing their eggs who would have never ever dreamed of it before.”

Dublin-based psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Marie Walshe has observed a similar trend among her clients, particularly women.

“Two years when you’re in your 30s is very different to two years in your 20s. So there’ll be a lot of [women] out there thinking ‘that’s two years on my biological clock, that’s two years in my career which has been disrupted,’ and they have decisions to make.”

The Bumble research found that 42 per cent of women surveyed in Ireland have felt pressure to compromise on what they want while dating or in relationships, with 63 per cent saying there is an expectation on women to prioritise settling down in a relationship before they are "too old".

"People feel they've lost a lot of time," agrees London-based international matchmaker Sarah Louise Ryan, "and while they're actively and consciously dating, they are also in a rush."

But, post-pandemic, people are placing more value on their own time now, she says, and are less likely to date multiple people at once.

“Before the pandemic, people were multi-dating because they didn’t want to put all their eggs in one basket,” she says, “but actually what they were doing was dividing their energy and becoming more confused and exhausted and experiencing dating burnout.

“Now, what I see is people dating one person at any one time. It’s more of a conscious approach. People have experienced loneliness, they’ve experienced the loss of time, they’re aware of the fragility of life and time itself.”

Because of all the time we spent alone during the pandemic, we are more connected with ourselves and what we want from a relationship, but this is adding to the pressure we put on ourselves to find love, and the anxiety we feel around not finding it, she says.

Ryan has also noticed a heightened fear of rejection and a wariness of wasting time and emotions on the wrong people among her clients. She believes singletons are making quicker decisions, and being more upfront about what they are looking for in a partner, because they value their own time more.

Walshe believes many single people have had enough of online dating, and are eager to make real life dates again. Instead of chatting on apps, they want to meet in person and do things together to find out if they are compatible.

“It is part of our mental health to want to meet up, to be with people, to connect. It is anxiety-provoking [after lockdown], but I think that anxiety will go away very quickly,” she says.

But she is concerned about “all the young people who never got dating, who never got to find out what it’s like to have that first relationship. It’s hard to flirt over a mask, so there’s that whole lost generation.”

Because they missed out on two years of experimentation at a formative time of their lives, some young people are confused about what they find attractive, Walshe believes.

“We’re seeing kids who are having all these questions like ‘what is my sexuality?’ because a lot of it is physical, and without that physical contact [during lockdown], they haven’t had the signals to their body.”

However, she has also noticed people putting more time into self-development, which will better prepare them for dating or a relationship again.

“They’ve had two years to develop themselves and it’s not about being selfish. It’s about being more self-centred,” she explains. “Being self-centred is also about being self-respectful, it’s about being more self-caring and if the time is being invested properly, you’re a better partner, you’re more grounded, it means you have better boundaries.”

This more considered approach to dating is championed by relationships coach Annie Lavin, who says singletons who have chosen to "see their role in the outcome of their dating lives seem to be much more fulfilled than those who continue to believe their love life is outside their control".

“Those who are willing to look inwards at their behaviours and take responsibility for them seem to have better dating and relationship outcomes than those who choose to blame the apps or the people they date for the dissatisfaction they feel in their love lives,” she says.

Lavin, who primarily works with female clients, also highlights “dating fatigue” among those who are actively seeking a partner online.

“Many people feel the same about the dating apps today as they did pre-pandemic, they serve a purpose but leave most feeling jaded,” she says.

Tinder, a widely used dating app particularly popular with millennials aged 19-39, now has 75 million active users worldwide, up from 66 million in 2021. More than 1.6 billion swipes are registered on the app on a daily basis, with more than 30 million matches made every day.

Dating platform Badoo recently surveyed 2,000 of its 370 million users between the ages of 18-30 and found that women spend 79 minutes a day swiping left and right on the app, while men spend 85 minutes a day. That’s an average of 10 hours a week – an awful lot of swiping when there wasn’t much actual dating going on. No wonder many single people are left feeling fatigued.

The apps can be a frivolous place with lots of flirting and fun, and that that suits many people, Lavin says, “but it can also be quite a challenging place if you’re not feeling confident, strong, clear, and conscious in who you are and what you’re looking for”.

“I would say to somebody to really reflect on your readiness on every level emotionally, energetically because actually when you’re deciding to get back out dating again, it can be challenging so you really want to be in a good place,” she explains.

The relationships coach says that people need to be “consciously dating rather than unconsciously dating” in order to find someone with similar values.

“When we’re unconsciously dating, we may not choose partners who are aligned with us because we may not know what we need, but we know what we want,” she says. “So for example, I might tell you, I want a man who’s six foot two, who has got a really good dress sense and is into all of the same things that I am. But what I might need is a partner who is really responsive to me, who is emotionally available, emotionally attuned to me and truly consistent in his behaviour.”

Lavin says that ultimately, people need to look at themselves when dating and take more of an introspective approach when choosing a partner.

“Start with yourself, work with a therapist or coach to get to know why you behave as you do in love; discover the attitude you hold towards meeting a partner and become curious about how healthy this is. It starts and ends with you, you have more power than you know, but get very clear and be conscious about the partnership you wish to attract and why.”

Regan, who has noticed a tendency among her psychotherapy clients to rush into relationships since the pandemic, also advises daters to take their time.

“The best advice I can give people is to make sure you are ready and that you’re not rushing, because you do have to be able for the let downs,” says Regan.

When a date doesn’t work out, or if a person doesn’t accept your invitation to go on one in the first instance, “try not to take it as a personal insult but rather see it as a search. You’re searching for what is good for you. The more that you learn about what is not right for you, the closer you are to knowing what you really want.”

And even when things do seem to be going well, she cautions not to commit to a relationship too soon.

“Don’t over invest before you’re really in the right place. And when I say over invest, I mean mentally, emotionally and psychologically,” she says. “And I do always encourage people to keep dating others, to help keep it even in your mind.”

Similarly, accepting that people have the right to choose while dating, and that they may not choose you, can also be empowering, says Ryan, “by realising ‘actually, I also have the right to choose somebody or not to choose them’.

“I think if singles stop putting so much pressure on themselves for the next person they meet to be the last person they meet, they’ll really enjoy meeting new friends, making new connections, boosting their confidence, and increasing their social skills, which have been so lacklustre over the last few years.”