People keep referring to life after the world "gets back to normal," but what will normal look like? After months of self-isolation and anxiety, social distancing will most likely affect dating long-term. But according to experts, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Instead of greeting each other with a handshake or hug, perhaps people will keep their distance. Until you get to know someone, you might not feel the need to rush into a no-strings-attached hookup. And while many daters will probably continue conducting themselves as they typically would, the fear provoked by the pandemic may continue to loom overhead.
"People don't like to be told what to do, and in addition, very few people do what is best for them," Lynell Ross, a certified health and wellness coach, behavior change specialist, and relationship expert, tells Bustle. Although public health officials are recommending social distancing for months to come, that doesn't guarantee everyone will follow those guidelines.
"It will be up to each individual to decide what advice they will listen to, and how they will proceed with dating and socializing," Ross says. And for many, that will mean continuing to social distance and connect with partners over dating apps, video chat, and text.
Therapists Believe Dating Will Slow Down
As people replace in-person meetings with online conversations, the pace of dating has been gradually slowing down. And that's a trend Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, sees continuing into the future.
"Daters are emotionally connecting more, which is going to impact dating long-term in a positive way," she tells Bustle. "[They] are naturally talking more and opening up to each other and really connecting."
Those looking for serious relationships will see the benefits of getting to know their potential partners a bit better before becoming too invested. What do they want for the future? What are their likes and dislikes? By chatting online and having these discussions early on, they'll get their answers upfront.
If you did end up meeting someone during quarantine, experts believe your relationship will likely be off to a good start. "Coming out of this, couples will feel more connected and bonded and stronger overall," Bronstein says.
Dating Coaches Say People Will Be Pickier
"This is because so much of dating is based on sex and sexual chemistry, and this is something that comes across greatly only while speaking to others in person," she tells Bustle. "Humans want to connect in person, so once the bans and lockdowns are lifted, dating life will go back to normal."
Otoya predicts that people will feel that magnetic energy, just like they always have. But one thing that might change? How good you are at weeding out potential partners from those you have nothing in common with.
Since people have been using Zoom and FaceTime to talk to potential dates, they've gotten used to reading people and figuring out what they're truly like, right from their living rooms. And that skill will carry into the outside world, Otoya says, and make for stronger relationships.
A Dating App Founder Thinks Virtual Dating Isn't Going Anywhere
"We can take the time to go deeper with one person at a time — give each person a proper chance," Kang says. "I think 'slow dating' can actually be a faster way to find that type of genuine connection you might be looking for."
Singles are also more open to using virtual dating than ever before. "For the past month, we’ve been surveying our US users on a weekly basis to see how the pandemic is affecting their dating lives," she says. "The biggest trend we’ve noticed is that singles are increasingly becoming more open to virtual dating."
During the week of April 13, 84% of US singles said they were open to a virtual first date, Kang says, and nearly half plan to text or video chat with their matches, while 38% plan to call more.
Public Health Experts Predict People Will (Literally) Take Up Space
Although it's only been a couple of months since people last mixed and mingled in public, social distancing rules will be ingrained in people's brains for a while, Carol Winner, MPH, MSE, a public health expert and founder of give space, tells Bustle. And that'll stick with you as you venture back into public spaces.
"Proximity is a new issue for many people, and it will have an impact on the way singles date for at least a year," she says. "Less kissing on the first date or even holding hands is to be expected." Picture yourself going for a socially-distant walk, or having lengthy convos on the phone, before meeting up IRL for the first time.
"It's not about being modest or prude; it's about community health," Winner says. "Recovering from the effects of a global pandemic doesn't happen overnight, and some things will change indefinitely. People will be vigilant about who they spend time with within the next year or so."
A Behavioral Expert Foresees A Return To Singledom
Tracy Crossley, a behavioral relationship expert, believes more people will want to remain single after coronavirus, as it'll be a while before they feel comfortable around strangers again. Fear will play a role, she says, so you may find other ways to be social that don't involve dating, kissing, or having sex.
That said, it's possible you'll respond by jumping into bed with someone who isn't necessarily a good match, simply because you missed being around people, Crossley says, adding there are many possible outcomes.
The third option, she says, is that people will continue to take time to self-reflect and think about what they want in a partner, and then slowly get to know someone without being in a rush. "People either come together or go the other direction," she says, "and it will continue to be a diverse universe as individuals are not all the same."
Matchmakers Expect Your Priorities To Shift
People's perception of their "ideal partner" will change after the coronavirus pandemic, Susan Trombetti, a matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, tells Bustle. "We are going through a life-changing situation making [...] dating wants and needs a lot clearer," she says. Facing a global health crisis can reframe your priorities, what you want, and where you'd like to see your life go.
Communication skills have also been improving for everyone stuck at home, as we text and video chat with cute strangers. "Even though touching in a relationship is bonding, so is talking about your hopes and dreams," Trombetti says. "Whether consciously or not, this will carry over into relationships for a while, which is a plus."
Psychiatrists Warn That A New Vetting Process Is In Order
Psychiatrists believe that everyone's fears won't be alleviated until, to some degree, a vaccine is found for COVID-19. "Some level of caution may be simmering in the background, but whether or not someone is vaccinated for COVID-19 will not likely be at the top of people’s minds when dating three years from now," Dr. Margaret Seide, a board-certified psychiatrist, tells Bustle.
Until then, she says people likely adopt a stronger vetting process when it comes to dating. "There will be much communication prior to meeting up," Seide says. "Daters will be selective about with whom they are willing to meet." And that may mean asking more personal questions, including their line of work and who they live with. "People will essentially be weighing out your corona exposure risk factors before meeting you," she says. "That’s reasonable; it’s a new world."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC or NHS 111 in the UK for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.
Lynell Ross, certified health and wellness coach, behavior change specialist, and relationship expert
Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker
Tracy Crossley, behavioral relationship expert
Dr. Margaret Seide, board-certified psychologist