Navigating dating through the phases of COVID-19 in BC

Jul 2 2020, 4:09 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Mo Amir, host and producer of the podcast This is VANCOLOUR, based in Vancouver. 

It is common to hear singles complain about dating in Vancouver.

Between the players, the ghosts, the flakes, and the cheaters, Vancouver did not need a global health pandemic to make dating even more of a challenge.

Even our intrepid Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, showed flashes of discomfort last week when asked about “the kissing questions.”

While there is room for some interpretation to safely date during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still clear guidelines to keep in mind if you are actively seeking romance and companionship — guidelines that may change dating trends moving forward.

Dating has always been a concept in flux. Like any cultural practice, dating changes with time, particularly when responding to technological, social, or economic shocks. Whether it is the advent of the singles bar, the legalization of the birth control pill, or the mass adoption of swipe-apps like Tinder and Bumble, dating is always evolving.

COVID-19’s effect on dating will only be fully realized once the pandemic is over. But, there are some observable changes through the different phases of social distancing protocols.

Some singles in British Columbia simply took themselves off the market during Phase 1. Some even resorted to reaching out to ex-partners or ex-potentials. After all, common places to meet new people, such as bars, fitness studios, and large events were effectively closed.

However, while social distancing during Phase 1, those seeking to meet other available singles probably migrated towards online dating if they were not there already. Approximately 40% of heterosexual couples and 65% of same-sex couples were meeting each other online pre-COVID. Presumably, these numbers will rise through the pandemic.

In Phase 1, there was no physical dating whatsoever as your bubble was supposed to be restricted to those with whom you already lived. Consequently, many daters turned to “virtual dates.”

Pre-crisis, only 6% of daters used video conferencing apps like Skype or FaceTime to go on virtual dates before meeting in person. In the age of social distancing, upwards of 69% of daters now use videoconferencing apps for their first date. Since it also provides a mechanism for pre-screening potential partners, this may persist as a trend in the post-crisis future.

Beyond technical issues, however, videoconferencing has its issues. For example, in terms of intimacy, eye-contact is a vital component of non-verbal communication. Unfortunately, when on apps like Skype or Zoom, eye contact is impossible to achieve as a user has to choose between looking at the camera and looking at the other person on the screen.

Even more changes to dating culture were observable in Phase 2.

Dr. Henry explicitly disapproved of serial dating. She did, however, advise that if you had gotten to know someone (over the Internet or phone) in Phase 1, you could potentially see them in person. Still, she emphasized being judicious about who you let into your circle.

Consent is always the most important aspect of physical relationships, but in Phase 2 it reached a new, heightened awareness. Amongst close friends who you were now permitted to see, shaking hands or hugging may have been an automatic greeting in the past. Now, it requires permission or an alternative agreement to bump elbows (or just not touch) to accommodate everyone’s comfort level.

In the dating world during Phase 2, a physical greeting was commonly negotiated when first meeting someone. Touch-free? Hand-shake? Hug? Do you even sit beside this person you had gotten to know virtually? Consent around personal space became more definitive than ever.

For some, Phase 2 was almost a new “cuffing season” — a time when more people want to be in a committed relationship. For others, the exploration of a relationship with someone they met in Phase 1 may not have automatically or rapidly meant exclusivity, but there was still a large cultural and public health-related resistance to serial dating.

In effect, Phase 2 made daters much more judicious and choosy with regard to who they dated in person. The era of three to four dates per week with different people was certainly discouraged, if not abandoned.

Now, in Phase 3, with more social venues open, but large events still banned, it is likely that the dating patterns of Phase 1 and 2 will persist.

Seeking partners online and virtual dates may continue to be increasingly popular dating methods. More singles will meet more singles in person, but perhaps with a pickier predisposition than in the past. In an era where many people are trying to encourage (or shame) others to wear masks in public, it is unlikely that serial dating will return to pre-crisis levels just yet.

Plus, whether it is healthcare workers or people in regular contact with elderly parents, a segment of the population has chosen to commit to social distancing rules more consistent with Phase 1.

After all, the health crisis is not over.

As good (or lucky) as British Columbia has been with containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the concern of a second wave still looms. Currently, epidemiological modelling has shown that since loosening social distancing restrictions, BC has risen to 65% of its pre-COVID interactions, which is the precipice of “allowable” contact before COVID-19 cases would rise sharply. So, if more people come in contact with more people, the provincial health authority may have to reassert some of the restrictions from Phase 2 or possibly even Phase 1.

This possibility should be a reminder to be responsible with your social interactions. Be cognizant of your bubble, as your decisions impact others. That’s the big lesson of dating during the pandemic.

As Dr. Henry put it, “people need to make their own decisions based on what their own risk is and the risk of those that they are closest to.”

Mo AmirMo Amir

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