Because eye contact makes me wildly uncomfortable, and I’d sooner go cliff-diving than approach potential romantic partners in public, I’m what Tinder would probably consider a “heavy user.” I rarely end up actually meeting anyone, but the inherent thrill in swiping left or right keeps my account active nonetheless.
To be clear, I absolutely hate Tinder. The reality of meeting new people in any capacity is terrifying and seems to be much more trouble than it’s worth. At least, that’s what I tell myself to justify my unwillingness to actually do so.
If you’re shy like I am, approaching or talking to others is daunting. I find myself stuck between revealing enough of my personality to be likable — perhaps even dateable — but not wanting to expose myself emotionally to a potentially unfit partner. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded this fear because I, like most others, haven’t even had many opportunities to meet anyone or go on dates. I’m out of practice.
Social media, group chats and online dating apps allow me to feel a sort of pseudo-connection to others, giving me an excuse to avoid opening up or making actual plans. I can feel like I’m making the effort without any real exertion on my part.
There are various reasons why some people might be anxious about dating during or post-COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, my reasons are not only due to fears of being known or getting hurt, but also the obvious health risks of meeting new people face-to-face.
Excessive caution in the face of a public health crisis isn’t inherently my fault, though.
This phenomenon evolved in the human psyche as the “behavioral immune system,” or an unconscious set of emotional responses to infectious disease, according to a dating behavior study conducted by McGill University in Montreal. Because pathogens have recurred throughout history, humans have developed certain social behaviors to reduce the threat of imminent disease such as being more guarded and avoiding eye contact.
Nevertheless, it is still important to engage with others and pursue platonic or romantic relationships, as human connection is an integral part of the human experience.
Even though online forums pale in comparison to direct physical communication, pandemic-induced remote socialization garners one positive: the inevitability of pre-date vetting from cautious individuals.
By sitting back and really ascertaining what’s important to prospective daters before actually doing the thing and meeting up, they are more likely to “develop extensive skills in social emotional intelligence and communication,” according to Laura Murray, a clinical psychologist and senior scientist in mental and international health.
Messaging or video chatting before an in-person meetup can ensure participants have compatible priorities and avoid awkward miscommunication or lack of connection.
The hardest part, I think, is simply reaching out to begin with. I understand being rejected in any context — especially if the other person doesn’t know you at all — is like microdosing heartbreak, but it’s essential to redeveloping interpersonal skills that have become greatly impaired due to the pandemic.
To be transparent, I feel rather underqualified to weigh in on this. Asking me about dating is like the blind leading the blind. But considering what I’ve learned from friends who’ve found genuine connections amid the pandemic, I’m hopeful — and others should be too.
Natalie Gabor (she/her) is a junior studying journalism with minors in business marketing and philosophy. She hopes to one day find a career that tops her brief stint as a Vans employee.