Emma Sampson started dating her current boyfriend last February, right before the world went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sampson and her boyfriend, Josh, met each other at work. In the first lockdown, a world where you had to have an all-or-nothing approach to social contact, Sampson chose to quarantine with her new boyfriend.
“Even though we were pretty early on in our relationship, we were basically almost living together,” she said.
In June, they made it official and moved in together.
“Just with the way the world was at the time, it made the most sense.”
Sampson, originally from Nova Scotia, moved to Ontario in the fall of 2019. She’s relieved she had someone to quarantine with, as she hasn’t been able to see her family in over a year.
Even though they had an unconventional start to the relationship, Sampson said the time together during the pandemic has strengthened the relationship.
“It was beneficial to us.”
Sampson is one of the many people who’s dating habits have changed as a result of the pandemic.
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A clinical look at love
Maryanne Fisher is a psychology professor at Saint Mary’s University. She released a survey last summer to study how romantic relationships have changed during COVID-19.
Fisher typically studies a person’s “mate value,” which is a way to tell how much value a person would have to someone they were interested in dating, with different values for hookups versus a long term relationship. She became interested in seeing how mate value changed during the pandemic.
The survey was open to everyone, regardless of relationship status or sexual orientation. Fisher estimated around 1,100 people filled out the survey, which is moving on to phase two soon.
Along with the survey, Fisher and her team have used the dating website Plenty of Fish to study dating for years. Since they had data about the service already, they also used it to gauge how dating patterns had changed through COVID-19.
While the study is not finished, Fisher has already noticed trends.
“People did a lot of reflection,” said Fisher. Whether people realized they wanted a relationship or not, Fisher said people largely used their time in lockdown to figure out what they wanted.
She also noted mate value is hard to gauge during lockdown, because people are less likely to have interactions with strangers that they would like to date. Fisher notes that while some people were taking steps to improve themselves, through working out or self-reflecting, she said other people were simply enduring the pandemic.
And while a large number of people were focusing on surviving the pandemic, Fisher said almost everyone assumed that everyone else was using the time to self-improve.
On Plenty of Fish, Fisher noticed a trend that she chalks up to risk assessment: people over 40 are largely not on the site anymore.
While the service has always skewed between 20 to 90-years-old, the average person is now in their 20s. Fisher doesn’t know for sure, but said it could be that while younger people are willing to take the risk of dating during a pandemic, people middle-aged or above are not.
She also noted it could be because people in that demographic are busier through the pandemic, possibly with children or other family members. She said this trend is consistent across Canada.
Matchmaking in a pandemic
Jean-eva Dickie runs J-E Matchmaking, a matchmaking service out of Halifax since 2017. An alternative to online dating, Dickie talks to each prospective client and then matches them up based on who she thinks they would be the most compatible with.
She said business pretty much stopped during the spring, as “we were all in shock.” When the first lockdown ended in Nova Scotia, Dickie refers to it as “magical May/June,” where her business boomed. What started as a total shutdown eventually brought her a “record-breaking year” in matchmaking.
Dickie had to adapt her usual matchmaking techniques. Normally she would host speed-dating events, but this became impossible due to public health restrictions. Even setting up dates became a bigger challenge, with conversations around comfort levels of possible ways to meet up. Once the bars opened, some people were uncomfortable going and Dickie would send them to go on a socially-distanced walk.
The new rules and regulations around dating made an awkward situation—a blind date—even more awkward, she said.
“We basically gave people scripts,” Dickie said. She would tell people to wave and say that they were not going to hug the other person because of social distancing. This then stopped the “hugs, handshaking tango.”
Some dates were fully virtual. Dickie said that the relationships that started by talking online for long periods of time before meeting up “created amazing success.”
She said that while some of the connections fizzled out once people met in person, the couples with chemistry in-person have been longer lasting and stronger than they would’ve been pre-COVID.
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Dating for yourself
Kelly (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) went into quarantine single. When the pandemic first started, she went on Tinder and talked to a few people nearby. She said she was surprised by people still wanting to meet up, despite the clear public-health regulations forbidding it.
In the summer, Nova Scotia had lowered their COVID-19 numbers enough that it was safe to date. Kelly went on a few dates, but found the men she went out with were hesitant to make any commitments.
“They don’t know where COVID is going to be in a couple months,” she said.
A worker in a nursing home, Kelly is now vaccinated against COVID-19, and feels safe to go out again. She went on her first date since the summer a couple of weeks ago.
“I was so nervous,” she said.
For her first date, which was also her first night out since the second lockdown and being vaccinated, Kelly got ready in her room alone.
“When I was getting ready for the date, I wasn’t getting ready for him,” she said. “Never before have I gone on a date and (tried) to do it strictly for me.”
The future of dating
Post-pandemic dating remains a mystery until a larger section of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19.
Kelly thinks it might take a bit of time for younger people to get back to normal.
“The whole dating scene will be filled with this generation whose going to be very anxiety ridden,” she said.
It’s going to be “tough,” but Kelly said it will eventually come back.
In a world that strives to find normalcy again, Dickie remains hopeful that everything will go back to the way it was.
“I honestly think that dating is going to completely go back to the way it was before,” she said.
But, Dickie does see one shift in the dating world due to the pandemic.
“I think there’s going to be a huge level of partnership.”
Dickie’s theory might soon have some evidence to back it up: Fisher’s survey results are showing the same trend.
Fisher said that it used to be common for people to not be interested in relationships and only hookups, but after COVID-19 people are looking for deep and meaningful relationships.
“That was the biggest shift we’ve seen,” said Fisher.
“People engaged in some pretty deep thoughts about what they actually wanted from their lives.”
About the author
Emily McRae is a journalist based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Natalie MacMillan is from Toronto, Ontario, and works out of Halifax.