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The pandemic has thrown a wrench in our love lives. With the ever-present risk of Covid-19, many have chosen to take dating virtual, while others have paused swiping altogether. And then there are those who have split from their partners over the past year. Needless to say, many singles are now doing mental gymnastics to prepare themselves for IRL dates becoming the norm again now that more and more people are getting vaccinated. (Prayer hands.) And for a lot of people, that prospect is all sorts of freaky.
"Across the world, as different countries open up and different COVID restrictions relax, we've heard a lot of anxiety from our users about getting back out there," says Logan Ury, a behavioral scientist and Hinge's Director of Relationship Science. Hinge has gone so far as to coin this phenomenon the Fear of Dating Again, or FODA.
At the same time though, recent Hinge data shows that over half of the app's users are feeling more anxious about finding someone than they were before the pandemic. So, what's a single person looking for a long-term relationship (or even a summer fling) to do? We talked to dating experts about how to get over your FODA and get back into the dating game.
How Singles Are Experiencing FODA
Two in three Bumble users self-reported that they struggled with their mental health and well-being as a result of the pandemic in a report released late last year. And dating could certainly exacerbate the situation. After all, pandemic or not, when you're eager to settle down and find a long-term partner, it's easy to feel a lot of pressure internally — and likely externally, too. (Shoutout to parents of singles who won't stop talking about grandchildren!)
"It is definitely an intimate and vulnerable situation to be putting yourself out there looking for somebody, and you do face some rejection," says Ury. Add in the fear that's tied to so many challenges this year has brought about — from economic insecurity to grief and challenges around safety precautions — and you have a recipe for stress, she notes.
"Side effects" of FODA include not only nerves and apprehension but overthinking the little things, such as any subtext underlying a match's messages or whether there was something more to an awkward pause on a video date. In fact, Hinge's data found that one in three (38%) users said that the pandemic has led to them overthinking the little details and more than half (53%) are resolving in 2021 to not overthink their dating life and be in the moment.
"People are really getting in their own heads," notes Ury. And not to add insult to injury, but the fact is that, according to Ury, when people are focused internally on the small details, they're not as easily able to connect with others.
Ways to Cope and Combat FODA
While dealing with FODA could be downright incapacitating for anyone looking for love in a post-vaccination world, the good news is that it's possible to address it head-on — and many daters are. A majority of Hinge users (78%) noted that they're taking steps to invest in their mental health, whether that means working out more or setting better boundaries with social media. And 29% of users say they're seeing a mental health professional to help them cope.
There are also a number of centering techniques and in-the-moment moves Ury and other dating experts recommend for anyone feeling skittish.
Give yourself time to ease back in.
From having to double-check that the restaurant you've chosen offers outdoor reservations to deciding which mask to wear, dating in 2021 is undoubtedly a unique experience. Tennesha Wood, a dating coach, matchmaker, and star of the FYI series Black Love, says it's important to keep in mind that dating may not feel the same way they did pre-pandemic — and you should not expect it to. For that reason, you'll do well to give yourself time to adjust to dating in the new reality.
Ury agrees, noting that even though some people might feel "behind" as a result of the pandemic, it'll pay to go at your own pace. "Ignore the pressure to immediately find somebody," she says. "You're much better off going slowly, being honest with yourself about your connection with somebody, than rushing into a relationship just because you don't want to be alone."
Know that you're not alone.
Even if you're overthinking more than usual these days, it's important to know that for many people, that's 100% par for the course, says Meredith Golden, dating coach and founder of SpoonMeetSpoon. "It's human nature, for some, to ruminate more than others," she says, adding it's helpful to normalize this behavior.
You could very well be on a date with someone who's overthinking just as much as you — and that's why it pays to be vulnerable. Ury explains, "One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we are all going through the same trauma. While I don't think that spending the whole date talking about the pandemic is a particularly good idea, it's a point of connection. And so one thing you can do is you can start the date and say, 'Hey, you know, I'm a little nervous,' and other person will say, 'Me too, thanks for saying that.' And now you have broken the ice."
In short, knowing your potential match might be just as nervous as you can help you be more compassionate with yourself, says Ury.
Prepare mentally before a date.
Ury points out that doing something to boost your confidence and centeredness even hours before a date can be a game-changer. "At Hinge, we really recommend that people invest in getting into the right pre-date mindset," she notes, recommending that daters check out the pre-date meditations they created with Headspace, which are designed to help get people out of their heads, limit pre-date nerves, and be more present and self-assured.
Strive to be interested versus interesting.
It's natural to be nervous about how you're coming across in the midst of the date. Ury says this happens to people who are anxious about public speaking as well. "They're actually very much focused on themselves," she explains. "But when you really do a great job of public speaking, you're focused on the audience. You are giving them a gift, and you're focused on connecting with them."
This mentality can be applied to dating. "If you're so focused on how you're coming across — did they laugh at my jokes, was that an awkward pause? — you are not really present and in the moment," says Ury. "Instead, focus on being a good listener, asking follow-up questions, and being interested rather than interesting."
Take the initial leap.
Golden sees FODA as a natural extension of feeling out of practice or "rusty" in regard to your dating skills. That's why it's important to do your best to dive in — again and again. Practice makes perfect — or at the very least, desensitizes the dating process, she says.
"It's kinda like riding a bike after a hiatus," she notes. "The first few laps feel unsteady but the skills return quickly, as does the confidence. Two minutes into the first ride, a biker might worry if they know how to use the brake correctly but after an hour, this isn't even a concern. Dating is the same way."
Focus on having fun versus your end game.
While it's important to know what you want and hold that in mind as you're screening potential matches, Golden urges people dealing with FODA to avoid focusing so hard on finding "the one." "If the goal is finding 'the one,' every connection that doesn't feel like 'the one' immediately is going to be disappointing and frustrating and opportunities are going to be missed," she notes.
Not to mention that a match might feel a lot of pressure from someone who's so razor-focused on their end game. "It's like having a coworker who lives a block away ask you to drive them to work every day," Golden explains. "The responsibility/obligation to do this — especially when you don't know the colleague well, makes most people want to take a different route to work. It's too much too early."
In the meantime, it can be helpful to dive in, take it one step at a time, all while trying to focus on being open and having fun. "Happiness attracts happiness, and a great date will usually turn into another date," says Golden.
Take heart that hitting it off with the right person will automatically make for smoother sailing.
The pandemic has naturally offered people more clarity and highlighted the importance of finding a long-term partner for some daters. But an especially frustrating fact for people seeking a relationship remains: Across the dating market — i.e. Hinge, Tinder, Bumble, and a variety of other apps — you'll find more people looking for something casual and/or sexual over serious and long-term. "More profiles than not indicate that the motivation and goal of connecting isn't commitment," points out Golden.
But the good news is that no one really knows what they want until they meet the person who they want it with, she says. In other words, you're not alone if you're feeling like a fish out of water — and meeting someone with whom you feel a real connection will naturally ease anxiety.