How Has the Pandemic Changed Dating?

*laughs so hard she starts sobbing*

This is the free, weekly version of Men Yell At Me, a newsletter that explores the intersection of politics and power in red state America. If you like it, consider subscribing. If you hate it, you can subscribe too.

On June 15, launched a new ad where out-of-work wedding singers sang that people need to “get back to love, so we can get back to life.” The song is silly and light-hearted: “You’re double vaxxed, but you’re still single AF.” 

The message: Get back on and make weddings great again. 

Not only have 3.81 million people died worldwide from this pandemic, but their partners and loved ones are left behind to mourn them in a world that so desperately wants to move on.

Additionally, the pandemic revealed how broken our concept of partnership is. Heterosexual marriage is inherently unequal and designed to be. Our society rests upon the backs of unpaid caregivers (mostly mothers), who are required to carry an unequal burden of childcare and housework responsibilities, in addition to the emotional care and maintenance of a relationship.

I was dating someone in the beginning of the pandemic, and I ended it with him, partially because I was so tired — tired of managing all the details of where we’d go, what we’d do, what we’d eat, and were we okay, did we need to talk? This person was not a bad person. But I was at the time working two jobs, preparing for a book launch, writing an audiobook, freelancing, and caring for two children as a single parent with no help beyond the co-parenting schedule. I didn’t need to take care of another person.

I broke it off in a particularly epic moment. My sister had come to visit to help me for a few days, and I was just so grateful to have someone show up, make sure the kids got fed and hand me a beer. My relationship with her hasn’t always been good, especially growing up. But just having her wipe the counters down showed me what I really needed was some help.

I had been planning on absconding to a cabin in the woods for a little break, and he was supposed to come with me, but he’d failed to confirm plans, or even talk about them. I gave an ultimatum: let me know by three days before the trip or you are not coming. I sent reminders and forwarded the email confirmation. One day before the trip, while my sister put the kids to bed, I went outside and called him. He’d simply forgotten, he said. He was too sensitive thinking about other things.

I yelled that he wasn’t sensitive, he was just selfish. I yelled some other things too. When I came inside, my sister was sitting at the dining room table, and she clapped. I went on the trip alone.

I went on the dating apps not long after but immediately logged off when someone I matched with told me I was overreacting about the pandemic, and another guy told me that he and his friends had pandemic raves. “Do a little molly and wear a mask, it’s fine,” he wrote. 

I remember because I texted the screenshot to my friends.

There have been Zoom dates (ever been ghosted after a Zoom date? It’s humiliating). There have also been long walks and DM slides and once even a Cameo sent from Sir Mix-a-Lot. It’s been a mess. We are all a mess. 

But something has changed. Everything. The forced alone time, the fact that people have died and we just didn’t care, witnessing the brutality of our politics and becoming a victim to it when I was fired, being kicked down because I was good at my job, and then the hours with my kids and the hours with myself, the hours and hours of The Great British Baking Show, and the days when I had a broken arm and I was mopping puppy shit off my floors and crying. All of this adds up to something that is so hard to articulate.

It’s like mud settling at the bottom of a lake. 

I asked people on Twitter how the pandemic has changed their approach to love and relationships, and the responses were both beautiful and heartbreaking. For some, the pandemic meant they realized they were with the right person and it deepened their relationship. Others realized they were queer or open to dating all genders. Others experienced heartbreak and triumphant loss. Still others experienced the power of being alone without being lonely.

It’s hard to put together a unified theory of love post-pandemic. Especially since we might never truly be post-pandemic. And the reality is a large part of the country would rather not stare into our collective wounds. That they’d rather cruelly barrel forward as if everything that happened was just some silly little joke time when everyone learned to make bread.

A large number of think pieces have predicted that this will be a summer of mess and romance and, well, more mess. And yes, but the reality is something has fundamentally changed in the way we see relationships. And we can choose to acknowledge it or just fervently try to forget this whole thing ever happened.

I don’t have the answers. This is just a newsletter. But I will tell you something. I recently found myself in a city that was not my own, in a situation where I didn’t want to be, with someone I cared about but who was being unkind. And I found myself in the situation of once again doing a mental and emotional calculus: What do I put up with? What do I just handle? How long can I suck this up and deal with it before I break?

And my dear friend Katie texted me to tell me, “You didn’t just survive a pandemic to put up with this.You didn’t go through a year of hell to put yourself back into it.” So,  I left. I left and met up with friends and laughed and drank with a new friend, and we watched a ballet class dance in the street. I ate an obscene amount of pasta with a beautiful, amazing human I’ve always wanted to meet. And went to a last-minute party with more new friends, and then I met up with another friend, who insisted on coming to my hotel after the party and bring margaritas, and I tried to microwave a DiGiorno pizza in the hotel microwave, and when that failed epically, I tried to fold it into a calzone and eat it. And when that failed because the middle was frozen, I just ordered a pizza and ranch dip and we talked until 2am. And the next day, I came home and told a friend I was too old to be such a mess. And she told me that this is the only way to live life. 

And now when I think about love, I think about my children and how grateful I am for them. For the late nights we have catching fireflies and snuggling in bed watching TV. I think of my dear friends who have meant so much to me in the pandemic. I think about how I could just live a whole large, wonderful life, microwaving pizza at midnight, and drinking margaritas, and crying and laughing on the porches and living rooms of all my friends. And I think about what has been sold to me as what comprises a complete life, and I think maybe it was wrong and that this is about as wonderful as it could ever be.

More Reading:

Read the replies to my tweet; they are great. I love everyone. I am also reading Nancy Jo Sales wonderful book Nothing Personal about dating and apps in midlife. Also, I just watched This Is My Life, and I demand you all watch it right now. During the middle of all of this, WGBH did a series on love in Corona Times, and here is a link to the series.

Men Yell at Me is a newsletter about the places where our bodies and politics collide and yes, the occasional yelling man. Learn more about it and me (Lyz) here. You can sign up to receive the free weekly email which includes interviews, essays and original reporting. The Friday email is a weekly round-up of dinguses, drinks and links. On Monday I have a subscribers-only open thread where we discuss politics and our bodies and more.