Dating during COVID-19: College students adjust to new norms, take precautions

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KATIE KASPERSON / THE FLAT HAT

The coronavirus pandemic has severely altered many aspects of traditional college life, dating included. Social distancing guidelines have made it increasingly difficult to meet new people — something that usually happens in class — at parties or during extracurricular activities. While dating is still possible during COVID-19, it can be somewhat of a high-risk activity to invite a new person into your social circle.

One reason for dating in general is to combat feelings of loneliness. As social distancing separates people and discourages physical contact, some students at the College of William and Mary have noted intensifying feelings of isolation.

“I definitely feel much more isolated and lonely than a normal semester,” Olivia C. B. ’23 said in an email.

Will Sambrook ’21 said that it’s difficult to find a balance between protecting others’ physical health and prioritizing their own mental health.

“I have become very lonely away from campus and the people I love,” Sambrook said in an email. “I try to just keep reminding myself that the choices I made were for the best of my family and my health, but it’s super hard nonetheless.”

Despite feeling lonely, especially when college encompasses both a social experience and an academic one, Miso Park ’21 is still trying to date for the right reasons.

“I don’t want to date someone just for the fact that I’m lonely,” Park said in an email.

“I don’t want to date someone just for the fact that I’m lonely.”

Sambrook started dating his girlfriend before the pandemic hit.

“My girlfriend and I started dating in March 2019…COVID has made everything so much more difficult and lonely, but my amazing relationship has proven to be the silver lining throughout it all,” Sambrook said.

Dating apps like Tinder and Hinge provide a way to date from a distance, since they provide a virtual pathway to meeting new people. Some apps even provide virtual dating options; both Tinder and Hinge have added video dating features. While Tinder and other dating apps initially piqued their interest, many students agreed that they never seriously used them to meet people.

Even so, dating app usage has spiked during the pandemic, particularly during quarantine. According to Morning Consult, about two-in-ten U.S. adults surveyed April 22-24 report using those apps “much more” during the pandemic and about three-in-ten report doing so “somewhat more.” According to Business Insider, Match Group — the company that owns Tinder and Hinge — reportedly ended the second quarter of 2020 with 10 million users and a 15 percent increase in subscribers compared with before the pandemic hit.


“I used Tinder for a short period of time before my current relationship, but never seriously or for an extended period of time,” Olivia C. B. said. “I much prefer meeting someone in a different, in-person way first.”

Before seeing his current partner, Sambrook also said he used Tinder.

“I think I maybe got one actual date from Tinder and it was a bust,” Sambrook said. “I find that I used it as more of a means of entertainment.”

Other College students have never downloaded a dating app, though they considered doing so during quarantine.

“I have not ever used any of those online dating apps though, during quarantine, I was considering getting Tinder just for fun,” Park said. “In the end, I didn’t end up getting it.”

In Match Group’s most recent Singles in America survey, there was an observed shift towards more ‘intentional dating,’ with findings showing a higher prioritization of meaningful conversation and political alignment.

 “I want to date more intentionally,” Park said.

Sambrook acknowledged technology’s role in keeping people connected, as he already has experience with doing long-distance. He noted that he uses Netflix Party and FaceTime to stay connected with his girlfriend.

“Long distance became an unavoidable element of our relationship early on,” Sambrook said. “We made it work. I do appreciate that our technology allows for people who love each other to connect.”

Olivia C. B. and her boyfriend have tried to stay in touch in similar ways.

“Over the summer, we did video dates and made sure to facetime a lot,” Olivia said. Match Group reported that half of Generation Z singles tried video dating during the pandemic.

At the College specifically, students are facing the additional stress of a condensed semester, with only thirteen weeks of classes and no fall break. Some feel as though dating is not feasible right now, as these students simply don’t have the time or the energy for it. For seniors, entering a serious relationship may seem unworthy of the effort, since pursuing job offers and graduate school applications take up a vast portion of mental space.

 “I feel like all of my attention is going into what I’m going to be doing post-grad and trying to finish up my classes strong for my last year,” Park said.

For others, especially those who have been with their current partners since early 2020 or 2019, dating has tended to relieve stress rather than create it.

“Dating my current boyfriend has definitely helped my mental health during the pandemic,” Olivia said.

Being in a relationship can no doubt relieve tension during an otherwise tumultuous time. Sambrook said he has experienced a lack of motivation during the pandemic and is grateful for his partner for supporting him.

Despite the potential risks, many college students continue to date and engage in hook-ups. Knowing this, Vox: Planned Parenthood Generation Action, an on-campus organization that promotes reproductive rights, held a virtual information session on Love During COVID Oct. 5 to discuss possible precautions to take.

Along with following the CDC guidelines such as wearing masks and washing hands frequently, Vox suggested getting tested for COVID-19, minimizing the number of partners, showering frequently, using contraceptives and dating virtually. Most importantly, they advised everyone to have a conversation with their partner about COVID-19 and consent.

Recognizing the risks associated with COVID, some students have gotten creative to minimize exposure and see their significant others.

“We are both adhering to the rules of small groups and social distancing, so that we can see each other,” Olivia said.

Exposing roommates, housemates, or family members to COVID is a concern, especially when on campus or before leaving for break. Sambrook said he and his girlfriend get tested to ensure safety of those in their close contacts.

“Before we met most recently, we both got tested,” Sambrook said. “Upon returning to our homes, we got tested again for the safety of those living around us.”

Dating provides an outlet for increasing both mental and sexual health, if done responsibly. Online dating is one option and opting for someone in your existing circle, or continuing with your current partner, is another.

But for the many students in Williamsburg who wish to establish a genuine, face-to-face connection without taking any pandemic-related risks, the only option may be to simply to wait.