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The 5 Stages of Dating during the Pandemic That Was

The last year has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. The pandemic changed pretty much everything about how we live our lives, and that includes the dating game. I know a lot of people (including myself) who have actually kind of enjoyed being able to work from home, at least for a short period of time. I’m sad to report that the same cannot be said for dating from home, which in retrospect should really not have been much of a surprise. Let’s break down what the past year has looked like from the perspective of a single girl living in a very, very lonely world…

Stage 1: Forget about it!

I have a confession to make. When the world first went into lockdown in March of last year, I was kind of excited. Hear me out before you cast your stones, please. It was just supposed to be two weeks! I’m not denying that things were scary, but I was optimistic that everything would be okay, which just goes to show how far optimism got you in 2020.

Sure, I was excited about “working from home” for two weeks, not having to sit in hours of stupid L.A. traffic, and spending 24/7 in my pajamas. But I was also excited to take some time off from the dating scene because it’s f***ing exhausting. What better excuse to turn down a guy than, “You see, there’s this pandemic ravaging the planet so I just don’t really feel comfortable grabbing drinks.” Dating during a pandemic felt like putting on a tuxedo to go to McDonalds – stupid and pointless. So I didn’t do it. Instead, I caught up on Netflix, gained a new appreciation for Clorox wipes, and learned how to bake sourdough bread from scratch. Which, as it turns out, is very hard. How bread doesn’t cost $50 per loaf is beyond me.

But as things got more serious and reality settled in that this was real and we might never get to leave our homes again, the fun quickly wore off.

Stage 2: Wait, everyone’s dying and I’m alone?!

I used to joke that I hated dating apps but considered them a necessary evil because I didn’t want to die alone and it often felt impossible to meet people organically. But then we were living in this endless pandemic where far too many people actually were sick and dying, and being alone during a time like that makes everything even scarier. It also makes you check your priorities. I found myself yearning to interact with the outside world and try to find someone. Suddenly, these dating apps like Hinge and Bumble felt like lifelines.

So I did what I swore I would never do. I put on that tuxedo and went to McDonald’s. (Metaphorically! McDonald’s was closed. Pandemic, remember?) And you know what? It was awful.

Stage 3: Zoom dating < literally any other activity.

If you thought that having conference meetings with your co-workers over Zoom was bad, then here’s some news that probably won’t shock you but was still a jarring realization for me: having a first date with someone over Zoom is so, so much worse.

You still have the same shitty Wifi connections, camera issues, and questionable background image choices. But on a Zoom date, the frustration and amusement takes on a deeper, more depressing level. It’s weirdly both too intimate and too impersonal at the same time. There’s no distraction of other people in the restaurant, no waiter to crack jokes with in an effort to ease the tension or find an ally, and there’s no easy way around a firm goodbye. Neither of you has an early day or anywhere to go tomorrow.

On a Zoom date, you can’t help but wonder what kind of mess their grainy “The Office” conference room background might actually be concealing. One guy I zoomed with was staying at home in his childhood bedroom and his mom walked in on our date. The words, “Mom get out, I’m on a Zoom date!” will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Another time, I went on a socially distanced hike with a guy in Griffith Park. While it was far more preferable than a Zoom date, he did pull down his mask and try to kiss me halfway through. I didn’t see it coming and panicked, so I just yelled, “No!” and backed away. To be honest, it was only 20% because of the pandemic and 80% because I just wasn’t that into him, but the pandemic was a better excuse. The worst part was that we then had to walk all the way back down the trail for an hour of awkward, heavy, masked silence and I longed for an “End Call” button or a screen I could simply X out of.

Dating during an endless pandemic really does feel like milling around McDonald’s in a tuxedo (this is the last time I’ll use the McDonald’s metaphor, I promise): You’re all dressed up with no place to go and the options are both limited and unhealthy.

Stage 4: That whole “being alone” thing actually doesn’t sound so bad anymore…

Living through a pandemic (especially if you live by yourself) gives you a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts. Probably too much time. You tell yourself you’re going to start a new hobby. Learn to play the guitar, read more books, don’t let the sourdough starter in the fridge (that you spent weeks making but only used once) die.

You may or may not do any of those things. The likeliest scenario is that you won’t, but that’s okay. Because you also have time to re-assess your life, your goals, and even your morals. When you’re not so busily focused on what the outside world thinks of you, you can finally focus on what you think of yourself, and you might come to some uncomfortable conclusions.

Stage 5: The great awakening.

Now that we’re opening back up, I’m realizing I’m not the same person I was when this thing started. None of us are. A lot of the things I thought were important to me, aren’t. A lot of the things I was doing weren’t actually bringing me the fulfillment I’d tricked myself into believing they would. It takes most people decades to learn those lessons, but I learned them in the space of a few months.

One thing the pandemic did was teach us big life lessons in a short amount of time. Even though it sucked and a lot of people suffered far worse than I did and I’m in no way naïve about that, I am choosing gratitude. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that it is impossible to feel both grateful and depressed at the same time.

That’s why I’m hopeful for the future of dating in a post-pandemic world. Whatever that looks like. I think we’ve all grown and matured and hopefully become better, more down-to-earth people who know what they want in life. Or who at least know what they don’t want. And I know, with absolute certainty, that I never want to go on another Zoom date again for as long as I live.

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Written By

Ella is a writer originally from Gettysburg, PA and yes, her parents are Civil War reenactors (no really, they are!). She's worked on a few TV shows (Gotham, Hightown, Debris) and when she's not procrastinating writing the next great American novel, enjoys riding horses, attempting to go hiking instead of just talking about going hiking, and playing with her adorable dog, Finnegan.

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