“It’s a match!” – dating during a pandemic

Youth is the time to get to know people, find your significant other and date but my failures in pre-covid dating may have actually been for a good reason.

I have waded through profiles, swiping left more than right, but nothing has come of my Tinder and Bumble matches. I have tried to act mysterious and aloof on the Gautrain in hopes of attracting the advances of my future significant other, which has also failed to yield a return on investment.

The outcome of the two seemingly passive attempts at breaking into the world of dating had me thinking about how I was supposed to actively start dating. Twitter’s minefield of do’s and don’ts, unattainable material standards and retweets, all had me wondering if I even had the knack for Gen-Z’s non-committal dating style. Add to that our seemingly unending covid-19 lockdown (South Africa is currently on day 607 of a lockdown that started in March 2020) and you are left with a very complicated obstacle course to manoeuvre through.

It is probably a good time to mention that I have no prior dating experience. No CV with notable past relationships or references to testify to my sparkling personality and cute quirks one may have to get accustomed to. I have, however, had relationship problems with people I did not even date, “situationships” as they are commonly known. This year, after one of the most gut-wrenching heartbreaks I have ever experienced, I was ready to throw in the towel. That was until at 21-years and 251 days old, I went on my very first date.

I took to Google like a secret agent, collecting intelligence on the unknown battleground that is “the first date.” However, the Cosmopolitan, Glamour and GQ articles that were meant to quell my anxiety left me more overwhelmed than before. Despite a few helpful pointers, the articles were relatively outdated because I had somehow not considered how covid-19 might affect the dating scene since their writing.

In the articleLove, delayed‘ by Elizabeth Segran, she notes that many romantic relationships during covid might be more doomed than promising. As sickness, death, and general instability surrounds us, we might not be at our best – mental health wise – to enter into new romantic relationships; especially when some of us already struggle to maintain present relationships with friends and family.

I can honestly say that I have battled my share of lockdown depression and gave in to an ugly and unshakeable existential crisis at some point in the last year and a half. Why would I possibly try entertaining any semblance of romance when the futility of life was staring me in the face every time I turned on the TV or walked out the front door?

“When people start avoiding something, they then associate it as something dangerous or stressful,” says Dr. David Spiegel in What to Know About Dating After COVID-19, an article by Barbara Field. This was completely true in my case, the mere thought of trying to date or even no-strings-attached situations had me in a near panic.

I have considered myself to be compulsively unlucky at love. The stories about my romantic life had a few things in common: lack of effort, intention or respect. Their endings were similar too: the other person’s feelings for me expired and I wound up like a sock without a matching pair. The possibility of having to go through that again was too anxiety-provoking to bear.

Back to the date – it went as well as first dates can go, if not better. We had met last year and became fast friends, doing the whole “we should hang out soon” thing during every conversation. A few months ago he made his feelings for me clear and asked me out on an official date. I told him that I had never been on a date before and he took it upon himself to plan a surprise that would make it memorable.

He picked me up from my house, even opened the car door and let me guess (with no confirmation) the location of our date on the way there. We went bowling, which I was very bad at, a score of 40 to his 90, even though he tried to let me win. Side-splitting laughter was the official soundtrack of our date and that, not the game, was the best part of the entire experience.

A silver lining in the pandemic cloud is “that people are engaging in more authentic ways, and dating more cautiously and intentionally,” says Barbara Field. People are far more considered in their advances and overtures.

We talked for what felt like hours going back and forth in easily flowing conversation. No surface level, “what is your favourite colour”, generic questions were asked. No white lies or embellishments on the seemingly mundane stories that make up our public lives. I certainly could not let him know me if I showed him an image of a person that was so far removed from who I truly am.

At the end of last year, as restrictions eased, I saw people going on the most wholesome looking dates and outings; picnics, movie drive-throughs, hiking, the works. It looks like it is finally my time to strike it big in the dating world and I think I may have.

FEATURED IMAGE: Hopelessly devoted to romance. Photo: Kemiso Wessie