It’s January 2020 and “coronavirus” is not yet even a meme. I’m just out of a yearlong relationship and come February, I’m doing what I do best: going on so-so dates and occasionally getting oral sex from random guys from Tinder. I’m back on the scene, ready to return to the familiar groove of online dating.
But soon, it’s March. Life is put on pause. Panic sets in. A deadly virus has rendered us housebound, and less severe but still worth noting, my dating life has been majorly disrupted. We can’t see our closest friends or family, so a date with a stranger is completely out of the question.
The loneliness crept in fast. Normally I could fill the void by seeing friends, going out, or even connecting with a hookup from my past, but not now. For a few short weeks, I consider getting back with my ex. I power through that, knowing it would be a decision borne out of fear and scarcity-thinking more than out of genuine regret we broke up.
So, I stay single and on the apps.
I start thinking maybe, just maybe, this might mean more available men are on there. Maybe, just maybe, they might even want to be in a relationship. If anything can get a man in Los Angeles to finally be emotionally available, surely it must be a global pandemic.
Oh, how wrong I was. I was shocked to find that everything was, for the most part, exactly the same as before. But now, with more bad jokes in their bios about having plenty of toilet paper and promising they don’t have the coronavirus even though there was no way they could possibly know that ― this was way before tests were widely available.
I swipe left endlessly (that’s the “no thank-you” direction), but eventually find some people to swipe right on. When we match, I am shocked to find that most of the initial conversation is still something to the effect of, “Come over.”
When they’re not saying that, they’re not saying anything at all. We might exchange our hellos and have some obligatory small talk for a few minutes, but I am almost always left on read, especially if I initiate speaking on the phone or video chatting.
I swiped through Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, etc., for months and months, only to be met with the same results ― men either not communicating at all, or just trying to hook up. As if I’m going to risk my health for what is sure to be a mediocre experience at best.
The guys I do speak to are bored, want a companion, want to flirt and exchange nudes, but don’t want to be in a relationship. In other words, nothing has changed. The apps are still exactly the same, except I’m not getting laid as a consolation prize for men’s inability to commit.
Somehow, eventually, I do meet someone. Sort of. We FaceTime a few times a week and get along really well. But he doesn’t want a relationship. Knowing that “casual” dating just can’t really exist in this moment in time, I end it.
Around July to August, my horniness has peaked to levels never before seen. I convinced myself briefly that instead of being in a relationship, I was down to find a COVID-safe hookup buddy who’d be willing to keep it casual ― but also exclusive.
Yet, of course, anything with the word “exclusive” in it sets off a giant alarm in most noncommittal men’s ears.
I was going through withdrawals. But I’ve gone long periods of time without sex before, so what was I really withdrawing from? What was I craving, other than sex? Other than a relationship? I think it was simply the notion of dating.
In the past, even in the bleakest, most sexless periods of my life when the dating pool felt like nothing but a pit of despair, there was still some flirting here and there. Still a crush to occasionally think about. There was still that small ray of hope that said, “Who knows, maybe someone will pop up soon who I wasn’t expecting. Maybe I’ll meet them at a bar tonight, or at a party next week.”
With the pandemic, that little ray of maybe vanished. I had to face a new reality: Even if I want to date, I can’t.
The reality is, meeting someone you have a genuine connection with is rare. For them to also be available and ready for a relationship makes it even rarer. In all my years of going through it ― nearly a decade of online dating ― this kind of connection happened only a handful of times. Only once did it lead to an actual relationship.
Everything I was doing in the months and years in between was senseless flirting and dating just to do it for the sake of it. That’s not all bad, mind you. It has led to some solid hookups, funny stories and interesting friendships.
However, I’m at a point in my life now where I don’t care for any of that anymore. This pandemic has made clear to me that my time is precious. What I want is that rare thing that doesn’t come around often, and for the first time in all my years of casual dating, I must confront that truth with myself, instead of being distracted with filler dates and trying to make something happen with the occasional guy who comes close to being what I want (but isn’t all the way there).
I have to actually be completely alone without the diversions. Like, really alone, and not alone but with a new message from some dude on an app. I have to savor being truly, fully single.
In doing so, I’ve tapped into a part of me that was missing for a long time. I’m more dedicated to my work, more playful with myself and better at taking care of myself. I’ve had an extra spring in my step acknowledging that I finally really do feel like an independent woman. I’ve been getting to know me even better and enjoying my own company. I’m not lonely or sad or even all that horny anymore (shockingly).
Now it’s 2021 and let me tell you, I am thriving being single now more than I ever have when I was single and swiping. Losing the hope of meeting someone has been freeing, as has being honest with myself about what I desire.
I’m living day by day, knowing there’s going to be love eventually. Just not now. For the first time ever, I’m being patient and appreciating its benefits.
A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus
Is it safe to see people who have gotten the coronavirus vaccine?
What it means if your partner tests positive for COVID-19 but you don’t.
How worried should you be about the new strains of coronavirus?
The unexpected challenges of co-parenting during a pandemic.
19 things we took for granted pre-pandemic but now miss.
Find all that and more on our coronavirus hub page.
As COVID-19 cases rise, it’s more important than ever to remain connected and informed. Join the HuffPost community today. (It’s free!)
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.