Illustration by Cate Johnson
Each week, Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year will be answering Colorado College’s questions about the one thing that most perplexes our student body, Love on the Block. This week, we ask about online dating during quarantine. Is it worthwhile to try to find a romantic partner right now, when the future seems so uncertain? And if we decide that it is, how should we go about it? Email your burning questions about love, sex, and relationships to Catalyst@ColoradoCollege.edu for a totally free, totally anonymous consultation in these very pages.
Dear Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year,
I’m a graduating senior, and I stayed in my off-campus house when CC decided to transition to distance-learning for the remainder of the academic year. A few weeks before that happened, my long-term boyfriend and I broke up. There wasn’t any strong reason for this. I’m graduating and he’ll still be at CC next year, and we just figured that it made sense to break up now. It seemed uncertain whether things could work through the summer and into next year. I thought I’d get over this pretty quickly, and eventually meet someone new. I’m going to be starting a job in Denver in September, and I was going to start trying to meet people there. Now that bars and clubs are closed, and there isn’t any great way to meet new people, I’m thinking about trying online dating. I’ve used Tinder before, but never very seriously. I’m worried about doing that right now, though. Does it even make sense to try to meet people, and maybe date, when nobody is going out anywhere? And if I do meet somebody online, how do I talk to them when I have no idea when we’ll ever get to meet?
In normal times, the loneliness and boredom that sometimes characterize the days and weeks after the end of a relationship can drive us to regret bringing things to a close. Sometimes, this leads people to get back together — even when the relationship wasn’t so wonderful the first time around.
The loss of that special bond forged, perhaps over a significant duration, between romantic partners can also lead us to seek new connections. This may be because we want to share our world with someone else or to feel whatever we felt with our ex again, maybe this time without the same hurdles.
The time after a breakup can prove exceptionally trying when all else is going well. But of course, it isn’t only the heartbroken who find themselves lonely and bored today. There’s some irony in the fact that we’re all lonely together right now, all bored, all waiting for the world to get its motor running again.
And while some time alone can be edifying — as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company” — there are only so many hours we can each spend attempting to come to terms with ourselves and what might seem like the absurdity of our situation.
Now that pretty much everyone has left campus, leaving you to quarantine in your off-campus house, the loneliness and boredom that tend to follow any breakup are probably more palpable.
The first thing to say is that the loneliness, boredom, apathy, or worries that might follow a breakup aren’t signs that you shouldn’t have ended things. It might seem at present like you made a mistake, like things might’ve worked out had you stuck with them. But you and your ex-boyfriend made a decision in light of some uncertainties about the future, and regretting that now that you’re lonely in quarantine won’t make things better. Trust the choice you made.
The weeks and months after a breakup can allow for some welcome time alone: time to focus on yourself and your aspirations, on your career or something you want to achieve, or on taking care of yourself. There’s no need to rush into something new. Unlike some other skills, being good at being in a romantic relationship requires some time not doing it. The time after a relationship ends affords you with an opportunity to do just that.
But that’s not to say that it’s a bad idea to try to meet new people, go on dates, and see what happens. Maybe you want to find someone who’s similar to your ex in certain ways and different in some other ways; or maybe you want to meet someone totally unlike your ex. This is what dating allows you to figure out (whether in person or online). In more normal times, I’d encourage you to try to meet a variety of people, to date around, and not to commit to anything too serious right away but just to see how dating different people feels after the conclusion of a long-term relationship.
But with restaurants closed and bars shuttered, and with people keeping distance from one another, meeting face-to-face isn’t exactly an option. For this reason, plenty of single people have turned to online dating or hook-up apps. Some of these apps are geared toward those looking for dates or relationships or even friends, like Bumble, while others are geared toward those looking for hook-ups or sexting, like Grindr. Some apps are specific to people with certain identities or traits: there’s Her for lesbians, Christian Mingle for Christians, Farmers Only for farmers. Others cover the gamut: Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid.
Online dating can no doubt come in handy. You might meet someone online and make plans to meet in person at a later point. Even if it isn’t clear when this later point will be, video calling and the like allow for virtual dates in the meantime. These may be awkward at first, but they will get better with time. And it might help to remember that there’s not another option — it’s not like you could’ve gone out for dinner but settled for FaceTime instead.
To be sure, dating apps aren’t perfect. They’re often full of people unsure about what they’re looking for or people who only want hook-ups without any commitment. And it can be challenging to assess whether someone has promise as a romantic partner — whether there’s chemistry between you two or any red flags to watch out for — when your communication happens over Tinder’s chat interface, or Snapchat, or even video calls.
It can also be hard to sustain romantic interest when you can’t meet in person. This is difficult enough for those in long-term relationships who are quarantining separately. It can be much more difficult for those who’ve never met before. It might be impossible to get a sense of whether you’re really interested in someone until you’ve properly met in person, or have kissed, or have had sex, or whatever, no matter how excellent our technology is. Since these things aren’t feasible now, and since you aren’t sure when they will be, you might think that it’s not worth trying to date online.
You might wait until things start to open back up again and meeting people face-to-face is possible. Then, maybe you’ll have a clearer sense of what dating can look like going forward. I don’t think this is a bad option, especially if you’re willing to wait until September, when you start a new job in Denver, which will likely allow you to meet some new people.
You could also try online dating. I don’t think this is a bad idea either, but I would counsel you to not take it too seriously. If you decide to try it, see it as an opportunity to possibly talk to some interesting people and set up first dates once it’s feasible to meet in person.
A first date that comes after weeks of talking online could be leagues better than a typically awkward first date. If it feels burdensome to sustain virtual conversation with someone for that long, this may be a sign that a relationship wouldn’t have worked out anyway or that it’s worth waiting until after quarantine to date seriously.
You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth waiting to date for the time being or whether you want to try online dating. And remember, you can always change your mind.
Whichever you choose, just keep in mind that the loneliness, boredom, and anxiety you may feel aren’t yours alone to bear; we’re all trying to make sense of things and to live as best we can in this strange time.