The pandemic has dramatically restricted the options of meeting new people and starting new relationships. Giulia Magri analyses love in the time of coronavirus.

Ruth* admits that her patience is growing thin as she has been single and has had little human contact for most of the past year. She speaks of desperation, loneliness, sadness and of being “touch starved”.

“They say you need eight hugs a day for maintenance and 12 for growth, I would be lucky if I have had one a week!”

With bars and clubs closed, and dating apps posing their fair share of challenges, single people have been confined to their homes for most of the past year. Some people are choosing to remain single longer in a bid to stay safe but many are looking for company, desperate for love, or even out of the feeling of isolation.

Single women and men who spoke to Times of Malta on condition of anonymity said they felt robbed of the best years of their lives.

They felt they were becoming more invisible by the second when normally they could be out with friends, partying or attending conferences.

Before COVID-19, data showed that online dating was on the decline, but with more people forced to work, study and spend time indoors, dating apps like Tinder have hit record numbers.

A Tinder spokesperson said daily conversations were up an average of 20 per cent around the world, and the average length of the conversation is 25 per cent longer.

According to Tinder, over three billion swipes were made globally on March 29, 2020, which is more than on any other single day in the history of the dating app.

While there has been an increase in the use of dating apps, this does not always result in more conversations or even finding a connection.

Coming out of a six-year relationship in February 2020 before COVID-19 hit Malta, one 27-year-old man found it harder to connect to potential dates through social media, even once he met someone in person.

“I connected with someone online and our conversations became more personal; we seemed to have really hit it off,” he said. In summer, the two decided to meet outside for a walk but once they did, the connection fizzled out.

“It was extremely awkward, and we had nothing to say to each other, despite speaking daily online for a good two weeks beforehand.”

When he did eventually meet and hook up with someone else, he made sure that all precautions were taken.

They say you need eight hugs a day for maintenance. I would be lucky if I had one a week

“The fact that we both live alone and work from home made it easier to plan when we could meet and spend the night together. When we both have plans with our families or have a week of physical meetings, we decide to isolate ourselves for a week or so before meeting again.”

‘Mask came in handy’

First dates can at times be nerve racking, more so during a global pandemic, but certain restrictions can come in handy to hide first-date jitters.

But for some, the pandemic gave singles the time to focus on themselves, especially if coming out of a long- term relationship.

“Meeting someone for the first time with a face mask on is quite handy because it hides your nerves and excitement,” Caroline* told Times of Malta.

For the 26-year-old freelance writer, the semi-lockdown introduced last March took place just one month after her break-up.

“I was freshly single and not ready to mingle,” she said.

The break-up had affected her mental health, but having to work indoors gave her time to heal.

In a way, the pandemic relieved pressure to meet someone new, gave her more control over her dating life and helped her prioritise who she really wanted to spend time with.

In May, when restrictions began to ease, Caroline decided to meet potential dates face-to-face.

“I was usually the one to bring up the subject of COVID-19 etiquette and we would check with each other to make sure we weren’t at risk,” she said.

When she did go on dates, she would suggest going for walks in the countryside or having dinner outdoors.

She said wearing a mask  helped to steer away from unwanted kisses after first dates. “At times, I used the pandemic as an excuse if I wasn’t attracted to them!”

In the dating scene, it appears to have become the ‘norm’ for people to ask whether their potential date was ever tested for COVID-19 and whether their job put them ‘at risk’ of coming into contact with the virus.

Caroline came across people who were sceptical of the virus, which led to an immediate swipe left and unmatch on Tinder.

“I had matched with someone but we couldn’t find a day to meet. I was lucky, because just a week later I saw videos of him partying at illegal gatherings. I dodged a bullet there!”

Postponing dates

Apart from the concern for their own health, single people also have to keep in mind the health conditions of their families, according to sex and relationship councillor Matthew Bartolo.

“We still have a number of adults living with their parents and many have decided to postpone dating so that they do not put their loved ones at risk,” said the founder of Willingness Malta.

Prior to the pandemic, many people used to cope with the stress of everyday life by going out to meet new people, and for some it even ended with spending the night with them.

“Now, with restrictions in place, and people being more cautious who they meet, many people are suffering from feelings of loneliness.”

While a number of people have adapted to dating online, the pandemic has left a huge impact on certain age groups.

“Those over the age of 40 and especially those who might have just finished a relationship, were already struggling to meet new people. They feel that before the pandemic there were not enough places for people of that age to hang out, meaning that a number of single people already felt a sense of loneliness and isolation.”

One 41-year-old single mother from Żebbuġ said she has not dated anyone since the start of the pandemic, sticking to her own ‘bubble’. When it came to dating apps, she refused to use them because she felt many people do not tell the truth on Tinder and she wanted to stay in her own bubble.

“How do you meet new people now? I think the pandemic has taken away the opportunity for spontaneous encounters at cultural and social events.”

She said that she missed such encounters but was hopeful as the pandemic will not last forever.

“Some scholars are saying that the 2022s will witness a revival similar to that of the 1920s. We can only hope for that.”

*Names have been change to protect identity.

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