Much like cockroaches are able to survive a nuclear bomb, we regret to inform you that f**kboys have been able to survive the pandemic.
As a single person entering 2020, I went into the year feeling hopeful and excited at the prospect of finding a partner. Like many others, those feelings were quickly replaced with fear and anxiety as the world was forced into isolation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, creating the least sexy environment for finding a mate. Still, I spent the better part of my days in March and April — during the height of the pandemic in New York City, where I live — among the ranks of the many other single people on Hinge, Tinder, Bumble and beyond.
Instead of spending nights going on dates at new restaurants or having cocktails at a local bar, singles around the globe nestled into their couches and fired up their phones. In March, Hinge recorded a 30% increase in messages between users, and Bumble saw a whopping 70% increase in their Voice Call and Video Chat features. Location didn’t seem to matter as much, likely because everyone was confined to their homes: Compared to 2019, Tinder saw seven times the amount of people using its Passport feature to virtually “travel the world and meet their quarantine match.”
To put it simply, dating apps have thrived during the pandemic. Singles have jumped at the opportunity to throw their proverbial bait into the water to reel in some attention and stave off loneliness. In a time where touch deprivation is all too real and the stakes of meeting a stranger in real person are so much higher, the dopamine burst of getting a message from an apparently hot face on a screen hits just a bit harder.
Perhaps naively, I thought I’d encounter a different dating dynamic during the pandemic, one free of fuckery and full of people looking for deeper connections at what felt like the end of the world. But for every person looking for a meaningful relationship, I’d find five who would dive into intimate conversations lightning fast; talk consistently over the course of weeks or months; follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and, hell, even the fitness app Strava — only to one day disappear. I also thought a virus would deter people from casual sex, but it seemed to only enhance the need and create the space for it. With no bars or restaurants to meet in, men often asked to come over or invited me over to their place which, when it happened, fostered fast emotional and physical intimacy.
My journey through the complicated pandemic dating scene made me curious to hear what challenges persisted through this hellish year of dating, so I spoke to nearly a dozen people in an effort to find out.
This is an international trauma and people are experiencing and reacting in different ways.
Anna Snapp, a Brooklyn, New York-based actor, told me she found it “amazing” that so many men “are out there looking for a one-night stand during COVID,” and shared how she had been ghosted after virtually dating a man for a few months.
After talking daily and video-chatting often, Snapp said one day he just went silent and, after a week, she texted him saying that it felt like they went from “100 to 0 really quickly” and wanted to see what was going on.
“He responds immediately and goes, ‘Yeah, it’s too intense and complicated for right now, but it’s been fun and memorable,’” she said. “It was weird.”
A similar situation happened to Kell Cholko, a public relations professional in New York City, who said “ghosting is still happening” during COVID-19, but that she’s also had multiple men tell her some form of, “This is just really getting serious and I don’t know if I can do this” in 2020.
“They’re freaking out about how serious it gets, probably because of all of these intimate conversations happening [so soon],” she told me.
Like Snapp and Cholko, I’ve had similar interactions. There was the sneaker fanatic with antibodies (he’d already had and recovered from the coronavirus) who ghosted me after a weekend together only to later booty-call me on a Sunday night because he was having surgery soon and would be “out of commission” for a while. There was the long-haired filmmaker who ghosted me after more than a month of talking and a hanging out a few times. And there have been a countless number of men who insist on getting my number, make no effort to have a conversation, but then throw out the vague idea of making plans once every few weeks — with absolutely no follow-through.
Getting ghosted by someone who you know is sitting at home with their phone in hand feels shittier than it did pre-pandemic. At least in the Before Times you could lie to yourself and say that they’re just too busy to answer your texts. And being booty-called (when you don’t want to be) or inconsistently contacted in a pandemic feels even more egregious.
“If you’ve been in communication for a long time under lockdown, and this person becomes a fabric of your life through a daily call, text, or Zoom meeting, for them to pull away is devastating,” Susan Winter, a dating and relationships expert based in New York City, told Well and Good last month. “That’s abandonment.”
Chicago resident Af Sanni, who admitted to both ghosting and getting ghosted during the pandemic, thinks flaky behavior is “definitely a lot more common now,” but also offered an explanation for why it’s still happening — even during a global health crisis.
“COVID has amplified everything for good and for bad. The fuckboyism is definitely much more powerful now than it was before. It’s much easier to have that kind of personality because there’s no accountability. Unless someone’s going through your phone, they’re not going to know you’re up to anything else,” he said. “There’s no real downside. I’m not gonna see you in person, so what’s the consequence?”
After all, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the conversations between potential partners right out of the gate, prompting more probing questions so both parties lay all their cards on the table for the sake of everyone’s health. Cholko said, “You can’t really take a relationship in COVID casually.”
“If you’re seeing six other girls, I need to know that. Not even from a jealousy perspective, but just from the standpoint of — are they getting tested for COVID?” she said. “Chill dating was the prevalent way for elder 20 [somethings] in New York, then all of a sudden with COVID, it became not really an option.”
Sanni echoed those sentiments, telling me he finds it “unusual to have to ask someone to give you all that information so early on.”
“It’s sometimes not even you want to be exclusive quite yet. It’s like ‘Hey, what else are you doing because I want to keep safe,’” he said, adding that pandemic dating has made him much more “proactive” in asking how people spend their free time.
That health conversation can often be fraught with politics, which adds yet another complicated topic to discuss, said Emily Sroga, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. The 29-year-old said it’s been “harder” to date in this climate because “the mask is such a political stance.”
“You see people’s true colors sooner,” she said. “We can agree to disagree, but with something like that … If they’re a non-mask believer, there’s going to be a lot of problems here.”
Many said that having to discuss health, risks and precautions before a first meeting has accelerated the pacing of their interactions.
Taylor Jannotte, a social media manager who lives on Long Island in New York, found that in her interactions, “COVID sped up the conversation process,” leading her to talk about being laid off from a job within the first few weeks of talking to someone, which she said she “never would’ve talked” about that early on — especially over text — had the pandemic not been happening.
I take the pandemic seriously and wasn’t just going to show up for anybody.
You’d think having such open conversations from the outset would mean people would be better communicators and not ghost or breadcrumb or [insert flaky dating behavior here]. But Snapp offered a theory for why fuckboy behavior is thriving: On “a very primal level, people crave sex and physical intimacy even if it is less meaningful for some people than others.”
“This is an international trauma and people are experiencing and reacting in different ways,” she said.
And by now, for some looking for a relationship, that means waiting out the pandemic. Ian Jones, a 30-year-old dating in London, said he previously felt “ready to have a girlfriend before COVID-19” hit his country, and now he feels differently.
“A prerequisite for [a relationship] is for normal life to be back,” he said. “You need to know what people are like in normal life and be able to live normally before being able to gauge somebody or want to start a relationship with them. I quite wanted something serious before COVID-19 and now since it’s begun, I’ve felt more like that’s unlikely.”
Jannotte feels similarly and has even taken a break from dating for the time being. She says this year has helped her become more “mindful” about the “time and the physical space” she’s putting out in the world because it’s “precious.”
“I feel like building a relationship … It just seems like not a good idea to build a meaningful relationship when things are just so wobbly,” she said. “Once you get your grounding on this normal, this normal is going to change. Then it’s like, where do we go from here? Am I going to get heartbroken? Is it going to make us stronger? It’s another unknown on top of what we’re dealing with.”
Despite all of that unknown, there have been those lucky few who found love (or something close to it) in a hopeless place.
Sanni told me he’s been exclusively dating someone who he met on Hinge in August and it’s “going well.” His partner, who is “very sure of what they want and the type of partner they want,” holds him to “rigid” expectations, which he said is a “good thing for me because I’m looking for something serious too.”
A couple in Washington, D.C., who asked for anonymity due to their jobs, met this year, and both used the word “deliberate” when discussing their time on dating apps during the pandemic.
“I take the pandemic seriously and wasn’t just going to show up for anybody,” said one half of the pair, who added that the nature of the world right now caused their relationship to “escalate more quickly.”
They both felt they “had to be all in” immediately, a facet they found to be “amazing” for their partnership.
“The inherent life and death of this made it a lot easier to not worry about … playing the games I’ve had to play in the past that are just a waste of time,” one said. “No time has been wasted here.”