What Comes Next: The coronavirus pandemic will change how we view dating
Either through spending so much time in close quarters or apart, for better or for worse coronavirus and the resulting lockdown has laid bare the foundations of romantic relationships and been a formidable test for couples.
For some, unsteady foundations, economic strain and/or the pressures of having a family during lockdown has left their relationship on the rocks – if it’s survived this long.
For others, this test has helped romantic partnerships to grow stronger than ever.
Jessica Leoni, sex and relationship expert at extramarital dating site IllicitEncounters.com told Metro.co.uk: ‘There is no doubt that the lockdown has put all relationships under a level of scrutiny they have probably not experienced ever before.
‘When you are with someone 24/7, often with no job and very little to do, any little faults will become evident.
‘If your relationship is good, it is probably stronger now. And if your relationship was at breaking point before the crisis, it is probably bust now because there is literally nowhere to hide. It is a good job that estate agents have been allowed to re-open because a lot of people are going to be looking for new homes.’
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Briony Leo PhD, Head Coach at relationship coaching app Relish, tells us that, even though they have noticed themes she termed ‘extra responsibility and stress’, ‘make or break’, and ‘anxiety and loneliness’ emerging in the messages they’ve been receiving from clients amid the Covid-19 pandemic, this ‘baptism of fire’ will make relationships stronger ‘across the board’
When it comes to those experiencing extra responsibility and stress, Briony tells us: ‘The presence of financial stress and homeschooling has meant that quarantine has been a stressful time for them – instead of baking and doing extra self-care, they are feeling overwhelmed by their demands, and this is negatively impacting their relationships.’
Other couples who have found themselves entering lockdown at the start of their relationship are feeling what Briony describes as a make or break moment. She explains: ‘We are also seeing some couples for whom lockdown is a make or break moment – these are often couples in the early stages of the relationship and who might have been in the process of getting to know each other – the stress of lockdown, with its associated financial, social and health challenges has led to pressures in the relationship.’
The third theme, anxiety and loneliness, seems to have been found in those who have been going through lockdown without their partner.
Briony says: ‘The challenges of being away from a partner, combined with a lot of uncertainty and possible employment/financial/health stress, results in symptoms of anxiety and sometimes withdrawal – these members have really struggled without their partner there.’
In spite of the difficulties associated with lockdown, Briony thinks that in the future relationships that made it through lockdown will be stronger ‘across the board because people have had a baptism of fire and, through being locked down together, might have found strategies to sort through their issues and have come out the other side with a better understanding of each other (this also happens a lot during crisies – they can make or break a relationship)’.
She also thinks there will be an increase in relationship counselling as people start to prioritise their relationships more after a rough time in lockdown – acknowledging that, if this did happen again, that they want to be experiencing harmony with their partner rather than arguments and frustration.
It’s not all sunshine and daisies, however, as Jessica thinks we’ll also be in for a rise in infidelities, saying cheating is ‘bound to increase.’
‘At IllicitEncounters, we have seen an increase in dating activity since the start of the crisis – 18% rise amongst men and a 12% rise with women,’ she says.
‘Why is that? Because people are bored at home with nothing to do, often because they have been furloughed from their job, and they are looking for any kind of stimulation. Video sex sessions, in particular, are booming.’
On a much lighter note, the fourth and final key theme that Briony highlighted to us is ‘couples getting closer’ with the help of the extra spare time. She tells us: ‘For many of these couples, they were doing okay before lockdown and were starting to make progress on relationship issues such as communication and mood – and the extra time and space has helped speed this process up.’
On top of that, Annabelle Knight, sex and relationship expert with Lovehoney, says there’s evidence that, even though people have been having less sex during the lockdown, couples’ sex lives have improved in terms of the quality of sex being had, and that 70% of those surveyed said they’d keep up their new sexual habits after the pandemic is over.
She told us: ‘Lovehoney found that sexual activity from couples or singles (masturbation) had gone down from 2.7 times a week before the crisis to 1.9 times a week during it. The decline was even steeper amongst women – 36% of women said they were having less sex compared to 18% of men.
‘The survey found that while couples were on average having less sex during the crisis, the quality of the sex had improved. They were being more adventurous and trying new things.
‘Seven out of ten people said they would carry on these new sexual routines after the crisis is over.’
Dr Daria J. Kuss, associate professor in psychology and associate course leader MSc Cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University tells us she believes lockdown may have caused our priorities to shift, and our romantic bonds will be even stronger.
‘In my opinion, the outcome of the lockdown situation for relationships will be a growth in appreciation, care, and shared face-to-face moments when we will finally be able to see each other again,’ she says.
‘Having shared this unprecedented experience with our partners may make us grow stronger and foster our romantic bonds – if we can survive the lockdown together, we can get through anything!’
What about single people?
When it comes to how single people have been impacted by the lockdown, Jessica says: ‘I think there is a good likelihood that we won’t get a baby boom as a result of the crisis – but we could get a marriage boom, or at the very least, more singles looking for love and committed long-term relationships.
‘When you live on your own and have been banned by the Government from seeing anyone in your own home for months on end that is going to concentrate the mind a little and make you more likely to seek companionship.
‘Dating sites will see a boom in registrations just as soon as we can all meet again legally and have sex without breaking Government rules.’
On the subject of sex, now that doing it with someone you don’t live with has been effectively outlawed in the UK, Jessica arhues that ‘single people in their 20s are now largely ignoring the rules’, especially this one.
She adds: ‘Is it really reasonable to expect millennials, with a very low risk of serious illness from the virus, to go without the sex for the whole of the summer?
‘We know from activity on IllicitEncounters that young people in particular are ignoring the rules and more than half have broken the lockdown for sex, most commonly with a partner they were seeing before lockdown but don’t share a home with.
‘Compliance with the rules rises as people get older and only 30% of over 30s have broken the lockdown for sex and 20% of over 40s.’
She also says that people who are not considered particularly vulnerable to the virus will carry on much as they have before when it comes to their sexual activity, however, when it comes to those who are vulnerable, ‘then there is a whole new reality until or if a vaccine is found.’
She says: ‘Clearly people in that group will be wary of human contact because it could kill them but I still think a sizeable proportion will be prepared to take the risk when it comes to sex.
‘They just might be more careful, insisting on potential partners having a test before engaging in intimate contact.’
When it comes to how dating will work going forward, Badoo’s UK Brand Marketing Director Natasha Briefel tells us that virtual dating is likely to still be popular when lockdown is over.
‘We believe that this has become such a prevalent trend, that people will continue to go on video dates even once the lockdown is lifted, and that it will become a natural step in the dating process before meeting face to face,’ she says.
‘It’s a great way to get to know somebody beyond messaging, and it also means you can make sure they are who they say they are!’
Annabelle thinks the opposite and says virtual dating will end when social distancing does, adding: ‘A Zoom date works as a first date where you are both getting to know each other and lots of basic details need to exchanged. But it simply doesn’t work for more intimate contact as you get to know someone better and inevitably start to crave physical contact and comfort.’
What comes next?
After lockdown, priorities for single people – and what we view as important for a relationship – may change.
Briony believes that many singletons will soon be looking to settle down after and due to lockdown, and says: ‘Possibly, happily single people may look at things differently and consider the benefits of a relationship (affection, support, shared financial burden) against the costs (loss of independence, someone in your space), and make the decision that being in a relationship might be worthwhile.’
She adds: ‘People who have demonstrated self-sufficiency and resilience might be seen as more desirable partners, rather than people who went to ground during lockdown – we might start to consider what this person might be like in lockdown, and whether they would be good to be locked down with!’
Chartered psychologist Dr. Hamira Riaz, agrees that someone to love and trust will take on new importance for many. She tells us: ‘Modern society offers lots of distractions from the trials and tribulations of being single.
’21st-century dating provides myriad opportunities to pick and choose potential partners. Romantic relationships have become more disposable as a result.
‘Lockdown has compelled us all to more closely examine the quality of our personal lives, and I think people will put more of a premium on finding a trusted intimate to share home life with now.’
What Comes Next?
After months of strict lockdown measures, isolation and anxiety – we’re beginning to look to the future.
What will life look like when we emerge into our new normal?
Can things ever be the same as they were? Do we even want them to be the same?
What Comes Next is our series of in-depth features unpicking the possibilities for the future.
Every day for two weeks, we will look at the future of work, dating, mental health, friendships, money, travel, and all the other elements that make up our existence.
Our lives have been turned upside down, but change doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
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