Dating in the age of COVID: More cuffing, less ghosting

Between social distancing guidelines and worries about meeting potential new partners, dating, in the coronavirus era, has certainly become more complicated. And now, as cuffing season approaches, it’s more important than ever to be aware of how the current climate has impacted our desire for a relationship.

“Cuffing season is a time when single people are often looking to get into a relationship to get them through the cold winter months,” explains Jen Hartstein, Yahoo Life’s Mental Health Contributor and practicing psychologist in New York City. “It frequently starts around October and ends about March, April as the spring starts. We tend to be more lonely in the colder months. We don't go out as much. We aren't in the world as much. It motivates us to want to find that partner, even if it's a short-term one so that we have some companionship and we have someone that we can spend time with and not be alone when we tend to be inside more often.”

This year, of course, cuffing season came a bit sooner, as people spent the majority of the spring and summer months inside of their homes because of the pandemic. With cold weather and chances of a second wave of COVID cases coming, people are putting more pressure on themselves to find someone to spend time with.

The coronavirus has heightened people's need for companionship. (Photo: Getty Images)
The coronavirus has heightened people's need for companionship. (Photo: Getty Images)

“When we're feeling isolated, we want connection. And during this period of time where we have been isolated from people we might care about, many of us are also touch deprived and we're really desperate to just have connection,” Hartstein continues.

This increased willingness to enter into a relationship has been largely demonstrated on dating apps like Hinge, whose data shows that people have dated more and ghosted, or disappeared without explanation, less since April, as people turn to meeting others virtually instead of in-person as a safety precaution. This data, Hartstein explains, might be a result of self-reflection taking place during increased alone time. “People have also been working to identify what matters to them,” she says. Still, she warns that newer relationships can also be a result of settling, just for the sake of companionship.

“We really want to be able to enter the relationship for the right reasons,” she explains. “So it's really important to slow down, pay attention to what it is you're looking for and kind of follow your own needs so that you don't compromise what you want just because something's in front of you.”

Unsurprisingly for the many people who already found dating difficult and nerve-racking, Hinge has gathered information signaling even more singles experiencing anxiety when it comes to finding meaningful connections during the pandemic. The dating app teamed up with Headspace to create meditations specifically meant to target that increased anxiety that comes with meeting matches during this difficult time.

“We know taking care of your mental health and well-being is crucial to creating a meaningful connection, and over these past few months, singles have been feeling more anxious,” Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO of Hinge, says in a statement to Yahoo Life. “We want our users to be calm and relaxed when connecting with each other, so it was a no-brainer to partner with Headspace to develop the first-ever meditations for daters.”

“It’s always important to focus on your mental health when dating,” Hartstein adds. “Dating in and of itself creates anxiety, as we want to put our best selves forward and, even when doing that, there is a lot of judgment involved. And that’s when the world is ‘normal.’ At this time when things are even more stressful, making sure you are able to mange your negative self-talk and anxiety is really important.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic is largely to blame for these unprecedented times, Hartstein acknowledges that the political climate has also become an obstacle when it comes to dating. “It’s a challenging time surrounding the election, and sometimes, we may meet people who we like but who do not share our political leanings,” she says. “This can create some feelings of anxiety, too.”

The lack of dialogue characterizing the political landscape adds to the difficulty of approaching new topics with a largely unknown person. The key to overcoming these issues, Hartstein explains, is to engage in open conversation.

“There used to be the belief that when you are newly dating, you don’t talk about religion, money or exes. That isn’t really the case anymore. It seems that everything is on the table for discussion,” she says. “As you open the door for what could be a highly charged conversation, set some parameters around it. Check in with your own feelings and see what you’re willing to accept and decide how you want to end the conversation if you are uncomfortable. Push through the fear you may have of standing your ground and standing up for your beliefs.”

With many more considerations in place and less opportunities to meet people more candidly in-person, Hartstein emphasizes the importance of singles taking their time this cuffing season to make healthy decisions when it comes to how you’re spending your time, and with whom.

“Weigh the pros and cons of getting involved with someone. Can you spend that time with friends and family that are really close to you rather than cuffing up with someone? Will that bring more to you than cuffing up [will]?” she asks. “Figure out all those things and then embark on that relationship journey.”

Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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