Love in the Age of Corona
“What’s your Covid status” is now the key question
By Kate Morgan

Not so long ago, Ryan Connelly, 23, had no problem meeting up with potential love interests after a few flirty online conversations. His standards have changed in the age of coronavirus.

“Before we meet up, I want to know what they’ve been doing,” says the Voorhees native. “Have they been going out to eat? Have they been going to the beach? I’m looking at people’s Instagram and if it’s photos of them at the beach with a ton of people, not in masks, I’m like, ‘ehh, maybe you shouldn’t come over.’”

Connelly, who currently lives in Orlando, FL, says he isn’t so worried about contracting or spreading Covid-19 – as he also suspects he and his friends and family had and recovered from the virus earlier this year before testing was available. But he’s definitely not interested in dating someone not taking the virus seriously.

He’s already tested negative twice, and says he has no problem being blunt when asking people about their health status.

“It’s just like asking people if they’ve been tested recently for STDs,” he says. “I’ll ask them: have you been tested for Covid, have you been in contact with anyone who has Covid? I think it’s normal now to ask, like, what’s your Covid situation?”

For now, Connelly says, he’s continuing to date and socialize casually. But, he adds, the events of recent months have also left him inclined to look for something more serious.

“Before all of this, I was meeting new people every day,” he says. “Now I think I may be searching for that in another place, and that might be a dating app. But in my heart of hearts my want for an actual relationship has intensified, because I have wanted someone to be with me through all this.”

Questions about who the person comes in contact with, places they go and if they’ve had a Covid test have quickly become a vital part of conversations about consent, says Sharon McCann, a professor of sociology at Rowan University.

McCann, who studies the dating habits of Gen Z (under age 25), notes that there has been a generational shift. Today, younger singles have largely turned to dating apps that many people over 30 considered as places to find hook-ups – and only hook-ups. By and large that’s not what Gen Z is looking for.

“Tinder’s usage has shot up,” says McCann. “They’re bored – that’s the bottom line. They don’t have the ability to go anywhere and socialize. There’s a demographic of young people using Tinder that didn’t normally, because in the past they met people at bars and on campus.”

She says pandemic dating habits today are reminiscent of the late 1980s and the Gen Xers who came of age during AIDs, after scientists had identified that unprotected sex was one of the major ways the disease was transmitted.

“There was a lot of discussion about having sex with you and all the people you’ve had sex with,” McCann says referring to the ’80s. “Now, for Gen Z, it’s about contact, not even sex. If you’re going out with someone now, you’re dating them and everyone in their quarantine pod.”

Even if the risks seem minor, McCann says, the virus has added a whole new layer to the considerations that come with meeting someone for a first date.

“You’re trusting that person to recognize they’re a potential life and death threat to you,” she says. “My Tinder date may be somebody who’s going on dates with a lot of people or going shopping with their mask below their nose. It’s a whole different level than, ‘Will he ghost me? Is he texting his ex?’”

The same is true for older couples looking for love during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Jane, a divorced editor living at the Jersey shore, went on a decent number of dates. But once quarantine and social distancing went into effect, she stopped agreeing to meet people she met online to keep herself and her family safe.

“The thing is it’s not just about me,” she says. “I was an empty-nester, but then all 3 of my kids ended up coming back home during the quarantine. They’re 19, 22 and 24. If I did something stupid or made a poor choice of meeting someone I didn’t know, that’s putting my kids in danger.”

But then, out of the blue, came the message from a guy that convinced her to take a chance. It was sweet, Jane says, and very complimentary about her profile. Plus, luckily for him, free of grammatical errors.

“He’s a writer, and I’m an editor,” she says. “The first thing I did was look up his work, because I figured if I didn’t like that I wouldn’t like him.” Again, lucky him. She did like it.

“And then we started talking and we just hit it off. He was really smart and funny, and we had a lot in common, plus similar values about the whole Covid thing. We were both careful.”

Within a few weeks, Jane and Ray had moved from texting to calling, then eventually to video chatting. “At first I didn’t really want to video chat because that seemed like a lot of effort,” Jane says. “Like, I need to put on makeup and get dressed up, and here I am in a house with my 3 adult children, so I have to talk to him in my bedroom. That felt like a big leap to a new level of intimacy. It’s ironic isn’t it? Normally it would’ve taken a long time to get to a point where he’s seeing my bedroom!”

As the relationship developed, the pair fell into a routine of talking every day. They played games like Words with Friends, and watched movies together while video chatting. After 6 weeks of slowly getting to know one another, they decided to take things offline.

“When we really wanted to meet, there was this tension,” she says. “I decided, you know, this is ridiculous, I’m just going to meet him. I know his habits, I know what his risk level is, I know how often he leaves the house. My only fear by then was, what if we don’t have in-person chemistry?”

Lucky for both of them, they did.

“After that we decided not to social distance from each other anymore. We hang out pretty much every weekend. It’s been nice to have someone, and I haven’t felt isolated at all,” Jane says. “I do think because of the pandemic, people are more interested in finding someone you can really get along with.”

That desire for familiarity and a connection that’s more than physical can turn friendships into romance. That’s what happened for Bridgette Burton and her now-boyfriend, Kevin, who were just friends in college before the first stay-at-home orders were issued.

“We went out to celebrate both of our birthdays in early March,” says Burton, 21. “And then school closed and we all went home.”

Burton quarantined at her parents’ house in Voorhees and talked to Kevin every day. “It was so weird how it developed over quarantine,” she says. “It started with just, ‘I miss you. I miss you, too!’ and we started being like, wait, do we like each other?”

By June, Burton says, the relationship had evolved into something different. “I think it had something to do with being apart and missing each other, not having anything to do at all,” she says. “And having a lot more time to play games together online or just chit chat.”

Not long after they decided their relationship should be monogamous, Burton says they also began weighing the idea of getting together in person. She and Kevin talked at length about how careful they’d been and how few people they’d been in contact with.

This was especially important since Kevin lives in North Carolina. Eventually Burton decided the trip was worth the risk. In early July, she flew to Charlotte to spend a week with her new boyfriend.

“I was afraid it was going to be weird,” she says, “but then it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.”

Now they’re in the next phase of romance. In addition to adjusting to finally being back together for school, there’s the new ways of attending classes, new health monitoring in dorms and the threat that more closures and quarantines may force them to be apart again sooner than expected. At least the first hurdle was simple – telling people they’re dating.

“We’re really just starting to talk about it,” she says. “I feel like you have to validate being in virtual relationships. If my aunt was like, ‘How’d you two get together?’ I’d have to be like, ‘Well…have you heard of Skype?’”

September 2020
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