Dating during Covid-19: ‘It’s on pause. It’s like you’re spectating your own life’

Restrictions on gatherings and usual meeting places have forced people to adapt

Rachel O’Neill in Clontarf, Dublin: ‘I kind of feel like I’m just sitting here waiting for something.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Rachel O’Neill in Clontarf, Dublin: ‘I kind of feel like I’m just sitting here waiting for something.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Rachel O’Neill (25) has been single for the past few years, but Covid-19 has brought how lonely it can be into sharp relief.

“The thing about the pandemic is, it’s made us realise what’s really, really important in life: friends, family, good support systems and things like that,” says O’Neill.

“You can explain to yourself that there is a pandemic and it’s not really about you, it’s just the circumstances you’re living in, but it still doesn’t make it any easier when you’re having a really [bad] day, and you want to chat with someone and have a laugh.”

She hoped to start dating again this year, but public health restrictions, she says, have made it next to impossible.

“I kind of feel like I’m just sitting here waiting for something. I don’t know what it is but waiting for a sign. It’s on pause. It’s like you’re spectating your own life.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in the number of Irish people turning to dating services, as restrictions on socialising and movement cause a sense of isolation among the population.

Jennifer Haskins, dating expert and director of matchmaking service Two’s Company, has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of people enquiring about her service, and could receive up to 50 calls a day.

“Not all of those people will sign up for the service now, maybe it doesn’t suit them, or the pricing doesn’t work for them, but it still shows a desire to meet new people,” says Haskins.

“I think Covid has hugely influenced people in their search for a partner and highlighted the need for that in their lives. If someone is single and living alone, their sense of isolation became much more heightened.”

Haskins adds that people in their 30s and more “high-end” individuals who travel for business have particularly been keen to find love.

“Time is important. If people are looking to start a family then every month counts, every year counts,” she says.

“And if there are no prospects, because we have no idea how long it will be until society returns to normal ... that’s why there has been a lot of people reaching out.”

I think a lot of people are looking for more meaningful relationships

Dating app Bumble has seen a 41 per cent increase in the number of Irish users opting for video chats on its app in the last few months, with the average video chat lasting 30 minutes.

The company also saw a 35 per cent increase in the number of messages sent between users, with the greatest increase seen in users aged 23-29.

Naomi Walkland, Bumble’s head of UK and Ireland, says a number of trends have emerged in Ireland, with Irish users now preferring to date locally, and an increase in “slow-dating”.

“What we’re noticing in Ireland, in particular, is people are really getting to know their prospective matches before meeting. I think a lot of people are looking for more meaningful relationships. We’ve noticed that a lot of people want a proper relationship,” says Walkland.

However, with the closure of pubs and restaurants for much of the past six months, the way in which people can date has also been altered. Walkland says she has seen some innovative ways in which people have dated digitally.

“They’ve been doing things like following a recipe and cooking while on a video call, or they’ve done things like ‘meet the pets’ nights and showing their pets on video calls, and then even like having a drink together on a Friday night through video calls,” she adds.

For people who are used to picking people up in bars and clubs, that’s just not happening. I feel sympathy for them

For 23-year-old Vicki McCormack, however, the pandemic hasn’t changed how she dates all that much.

“I was picky before the pandemic and I’ll be picky afterwards,” she says, with a laugh.

“I definitely am missing out on opportunities to meet people. Humans are social creatures and you do miss people whether you just want to chat once and never speak to them again, or whether you plan on having a once-off with them, or if you plan on being friends with them. You do miss that.”

She added: “For people who are used to picking people up in bars and clubs, that’s just not happening. I feel sympathy for them.”

O’Neill agrees that the closure of bars and restaurants in Dublin again has made things difficult for single people to connect with others.

“With the closure of the pubs, you kind of realise how much of our dating culture is based around going for a pint. If someone is just asking me to go to theirs for cans, that’s an immediate red flag for me,” she says.

“We can go for a socially-distanced walk, or we can go for a coffee but all the usual routes are closed down. The cinema is gone, the restaurants are gone, the pubs are gone, the pool halls are gone. The options are very limited and people have to get creative but that can be difficult.”

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