On the 12th of March, as coronavirus concerns began to gain velocity in the U.K., Durham students were told that the final week of classes would be delivered online. Almost 10 days later, the British government announced a national lockdown. It’s been nearly four months since then, but the feeling of stark abnormality hasn’t faded; we’re being forced to reckon with our collective vulnerability and how our struggles and experiences inevitably converge and contrast in numerous ways. Our connection to each other across geographies and cultures is essentially a giant web of relationships: cycles of communication, compromise and epiphany. Nothing illustrates this more vividly than individual portraits of love and dating in these times. Indigo Features interviewed a number of Durham students who’ve been dating or in a romantic relationship during the U.K. lockdown*. Hopefully, in these portraits of connection despite distance, disaster and uncertainty, there lies proof of how we’re stronger together even as our messiest, most terrified and lonely selves. And what better backdrop than a global pandemic for this messy togetherness to bloom?
Quarantine and enforced social distancing offer obvious deterrents for budding romance, but one thing’s for sure: they’re great prompts for some truly eye-roll-inducing pick-up lines. One of the gems I heard in the interviewing process was from Andrea in the U.K: ‘Have you got Covid? Because I can’t stop looking ah-choo’. She assures me she has plenty more such messages in her Bumble chat histories. However, for the most part, things haven’t been too exciting. ‘I find constant messaging quite fatiguing’, she says. ‘It’s easy to fall into repetitive patterns of messaging, because you don’t really have anything new to tell each other every day.’ She’s been messaging a guy for two months, but since it’s all been online she tells me that nothing has technically moved forward much since day one. She’s not entirely put off by the experience though. ‘The remoteness gives you time to really get to know each other. I like to be overprepared for everything in general, so it’s been good for my anxious side,’ she laughs.
On the other hand, Elena has found using dating apps much less stressful during this time. ‘Back in Durham, there was a chance I’d cross paths with my Tinder matches, which can be kind of stressful, especially if one party’s been ghosted and you spot each other at the Tesco self-service check out.’ As an international student, Elena was able to leave Durham before the lockdown was imposed, and being in a bigger city, she confesses, ‘It took a lot of stress away from the situation’. However, she admits that the dating app experience has felt a lot more meaningless. ‘Firstly, I wasn’t planning on meeting up with anyone, and it couldn’t be a long-term thing anyway since I now live in the U.K,’ she says. ‘It’s sad, but I feel like dating apps in general make relationships more transient, and lockdown exacerbated that.’
But don’t feel too dejected, folks, for we do have a success story to share. Daisy from the U.K. has been chatting to a girl for a couple of weeks, and she gleefully tells me that it looks promising. ‘It can be hard since none of us are going out to events or seeing our friends, so sometimes it can be difficult to think of topics to chat about,’ she says, ‘but this also means you talk less about surface level topics and can make a deeper connection with someone.’ This time has also forced creative alternatives to dates. According to Daisy, ‘first dates no longer look like drinks at the Swann – they look like Netflix Parties and Zoom dates.’ It may be complicated for some people to freely use dating apps at home, though. ‘Especially for LGBTQ+ folks, it’s important to consider that some people can’t be open at home in the same way they are at university,’ she remarks. She tells me that she luckily doesn’t have that problem anymore. ‘But I’d say that’s definitely something that’s different for a lot of people in the community who are using dating apps in lockdown.’
All in all, while the pandemic has predictably been a dampener for the social lives of many single students, there is some solace to be found. This solace perhaps lies in the idea that while dating apps have their shortcomings, we’re finding creative ways to make it work. We can still find ways to celebrate love in all its hues: from first-date butterflies, to heartbreak, to the pure joy of togetherness, and every other way that love makes cameos in our lives. One thing’s for sure: we’re learning to cherish moments of genuine human connection, and once normalcy begins to make its comeback, our patience will have been worth it.
*Some names have been changed to maintain anonymity.
Image: Heidi Januszewski