‘At this age, connection is often light, sparkly, fun, not yet heavy with meaning and consequences’. Louise Lawless looks at what Covid-19 has done to dating and relationships in your twenties…[restrict]
If it weren’t for Covid…
I’d be in Berlin to see friends now… (April)
I’d be able to actually meet people on my course… (October)
I’d be having Christmas Eve pints with people I haven’t seen in years… (December)
Looking back on what we’ve missed over the last year, it’s not necessarily the events or the holidays that we miss, what it all boils down to is: If it weren’t for Covid, there would be connection with people.
It goes without saying that there have been unquantifiable devastations in the past year, with the death toll over 4,000 in Ireland alone. It is simultaneously true to say that over the last year, everyone’s social connections have been severely impacted.
The past 12-odd months have meant significant losses. One of the most widely applicable ones, however, was the loss of our social lives: from both our nearest and dearest, to work acquaintances, to strangers in pubs, in clubs, at concerts. For those of us in our mid-twenties, that loss of connection isn’t necessarily just the deep, close, forever kind of relationships, but also the superficial once-offs, the people you meet but who don’t last in your life: friends from being abroad, flings, one-night stands, fast friendships.
Being single during a global pandemic means meeting new people isn’t just daunting but actually prohibited. Or as an engaged friend recently said: “I’d be going crazy if I was single at the moment, it’s difficult to be in your twenties like this!”
At this age, connection is often light, sparkly, fun, not yet heavy with meaning and consequences. There is a tangible sense that anything could happen, everyone you meet has the potential to be a funny story, every adventure proof of reaping the benefits of being young but old enough.
The organic, natural ease of flirting and anticipation is gone, and with it, that feeling of being desired, chosen, seen. Instead, to feel something (anything?), artificial connections are forged, there is a revisiting of roads you would otherwise no longer have travelled.
If it weren’t for Covid, would there be the same level of people reaching out for the most tenuous of connections? Responding to Instagram stories, sending nudes to exes, sharing unsolicited Tiger King quizzes, a school friend stopping his taxi just to strike up a conversation, actually messaging on your poison of choice, be it Tinder, Grindr, Bumble or Hinge?
For those in relationships, Covid has often affected the momentum of their situation. There has been loss, but also gains of a sort. People on a path that, if it weren’t for Covid, they probably wouldn’t have taken for a couple of years. For people in committed relationships, Covid often initially meant acceleration; choosing to move in together rather than face an open-ended amount of time apart.
After numerous lockdowns, for the couples that remained together, things seemed to settle, milestones that usually came further down the road arrived early. With money saved and their options, or outside distractions, narrowed, long-term decisions were made. A former school friend got a puppy with her long-term partner; a work colleague spent Christmas with hers rather than her parents and younger siblings; a friend and her partner are buying an investment property, becoming business as well as romantic partners. And of course, there were the Christmas engagements. Decisions laden with far-reaching consequences have arisen earlier than might have been expected, possibly influenced by the belief that “if we can get through Covid, we can get through this.” Connections that already existed became cemented, solidified, fixed in place through this external milestone that dominated all our lives.
For the less fortunate, the possibility of maintaining something, warts and all, with which to see through the pandemic, is on occasion better than nothing for the foreseeable. There is a scene in Little Women where Jo March considers marrying her childhood friend Laurie, despite having rejected him previously: “I care more to be loved, I want to be loved. I’m so sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for, but I am so lonely.” This feels apt for nowadays, as standards slip and edges soften, accepting what previously was considered untenable for the sake of being loved.
Anna, 24, told me that her long-distance relationship was over, their beliefs not being aligned enough to last the long run, (“He doesn’t believe in masks”). She texted later, backtracking, chalking her annoyance up to not spending enough time together. “It’s the distance you know? I’m always happy when I’m with him, it’s only when we’re apart for a long while that I start to worry,” she said. For now anti-mask beliefs and all, he is enough.
Others I spoke to described returning to exes, people they’d made a compelling case against just weeks previously, now saying that it was worth trying again.
Marie*, 22, said: “It wasn’t until I joined a dating app for the first time that I really realised that there were other options than my ex? It’s that subconscious fear that you’re never going to meet someone else. Even just being on the apps reminds you that there are other options.”
It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for Covid, things would be very different. However, when we – eventually – make it back to our new version of normality, return to dance floors, pubs and into each other’s lives, there will once again be great nights out, mediocre dates, and bad hangovers. We will go to big weddings, and bigger funerals, have a pint and talk shite with our friends, meet new people. And once the dust has settled and we are gratefully back in ‘normal’ times, maybe there will be a quiet realisation that the light moments were never meaningless. That they provided a chance to find what you like, what you don’t, what you’ll tolerate, what you won’t. And that literally anything, including a global pandemic, can happen. So you better make the most of it all.