COVID Cockblock: How The Global Pandemic Has Disrupted The Lives Of Single People

Tell us you love Punkee without telling us you love Punkee. Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter. It'll mean the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on everyone.

In the last 18 months our lives have been changed dramatically and as Australia deals with record cases in NSW and snap lockdowns in other states as the Delta strain surges through the country, it’s hard to picture what “normal” used to be and what it will look like moving forward.

With our social patterns disrupted, dating has become harder than ever for single people.

“It feels like time and potential have been stolen from us,” Vivienne, in her 30s, told Punkee. “You don’t know who you might have met at the park or pub. You don’t know who might have been at your friend’s party that you got chatting to. I could have had a boyfriend who turned into my husband who turned into the father of my children scenario. But you just don’t know.

And there’s this real sense that we’re paralysed, we’re stuck, and we don’t know when it’s going to end and we’re all going to be such different social beings by the time we emerge, it just feels like we’ve sort of entered a different trajectory.

And there was a sliding doors moment and now we’re living a different life that might sort of end very differently romantically for people.”

The Endless Dating App Cycle & Lockdown Fatigue

In her talk titled ‘Jagged Love: How Covid-19 Impacted Dating and Relationships‘ researcher Lisa Portolan said her research into dating apps led her to believe that people had developed more of a connection with the app itself than with the people on it.

“People get angry with dating apps,” she said, talking about users’ habitual routines of downloading and deleting the apps. “They develop a relationship with the app more so than they develop with an actual person. One person in my interview referred to it as going on a holiday, then returning to work and finding out your inbox was full and you had to go through all of the emails. So people go, ‘I’ve had it with the dating app, I’m going to go off’, so they delete it. And then about two weeks later they start experiencing FOMO, they start feeling like ‘I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life’, all these emotions, and they’d redownload.”

And a lot of single Australians share the same sentiments about the endless cycle of using dating apps.

“I keep going on this cycle every month, deleting them all, and then re-downloading them a month later, ” Brad, 29, told us. “I’ve gotten messages previously from guys and they’re like ‘Oh we’ve matched before, isn’t that funny, fourth time’s a charm!’ and I hate it.”

Being stuck in lockdown means the likelihood of actually meeting up with your matches is slim, and there’s only one thing people tend to talk about: their shared experiences of lockdown.

“Conversation is probably more stilted now, it’s just a repeat of all of those initial conversations,” Brad said. “The most frustrating part is probably not being able to meet anyone because you if you do start talking to people and then you’re just constantly texting, it sort of it feels like you’re getting to know this person because you’re talking to them so much. But you’re actually not. And then it creates this like we sort of relationship that’s not a relationship.

And then just by virtue of how long the lockdown is going on for, if you don’t ever meet them and you stop talking it’s not getting broken up with, but it’s weird, it almost feels as if you have been. It’s like what benefit have I gotten out of this? We didn’t have a relationship. I got nothing out of this. And now I have to deal with this weird sense of loss about it.”

Arjun, in his 30s, said it’s easier to form a basic connection with people during lockdown, but that things then naturally fizzle.

“It’s almost like you can form the connection easier because almost everyone has something in common to talk about, so it almost helps in that way. But then you get to the point where you would normally be like, OK, this is going well, I’d like to meet this person and that can’t happen. It kind of naturally fizzles at a certain point because there’s not really a next step of the process.  You’re almost opening these apps in the same way as other social media. It’s just another distraction.”

Single People Have Struggled In Lockdown, But They’ve Also Been Working On Themselves

Lexie, 29, was in a relationship during Melbourne’s lockdown in 2020 and is currently in the latest lockdown single. She’s been using the time to work out what she does and doesn’t want when it comes to future relationships.

“I definitely think lockdown had an effect on the boundaries that you put up in relationships,” she told Punkee. “If we’re in normal life, you don’t expect to be in someone’s pocket 24/7. When we went into lockdown [in 2020] I felt like we didn’t get a lot of our own time, so you do lose some of those boundaries.

I’ve done a lot of podcast listening and research on things like childhood trauma and all this stuff you can bring into your relationship that you don’t realise. You teach yourself these bad habits. But my biggest learning experience through being single in lockdown is definitely learning how to set boundaries and learning how to implement without offending other people.”

“I think there have been some positives to look at in terms of my own mental health. I would normally go out and try to forget about [a breakup] and suppress my issues but lockdown has forced me to do the work, which is tough. But coming out, I will definitely be better off for it and be in a better headspace to meet someone again.”

Owen, 30, currently living through Sydney’s latest lockdown agrees that lockdown has given him some time to reevaluate his wants and needs, and that dating apps don’t achieve their purpose in extended lockdowns.

“I just don’t want to be regretting this time,” he said. “Lockdown has just really made me focus on little things and that’s been healthy because obsessing over something that’s out of my control right now isn’t the way to be. That’s dating always, but right now when we lack so much control it’s important to be able to do things where you can control, which is why we’re all doing fucking jigsaws and baking cakes. It’s one tiny action that makes it feel like we’re in charge of our lives, and putting that energy into someone who could throw it away – or you know they could be amazing! – but it’s just the risk, and for me it’s just important to prioritise what I can control and I’m so focused on self-soothing right now. ”

Video Dating Is Out, Meeting People IRL Again Is In (Eventually)

When the people interviewed for this article were asked about the push dating apps are doing for video calls – a feature on apps that became popular during the first wave of lockdowns in 2020 – most scoffed at the idea, citing too much screen time teamed with life and app fatigue that made the thought of setting up a video call date seem too tiring.

“I would sooner rather walk into the ocean, I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” Brad said. “I did have someone suggest that we could do a FaceTime and watch a movie together but I was like, I’m sorry, no.”

“I just I find that too disturbing,” Arjun agreed. “Almost too depressing to even contemplate.”

Nick, in his 30s, isn’t a video call fan but isn’t against trying it. “I remember seeing the prompt a few times on Hinge, like, ‘would you like a video call?’ It would definitely be weird, but at the very least I’d be willing to try it. I would need a bit of a push or to know that perhaps I am really into that person.”

The Future Is Still Bright For Single People In A Post-Pandemic World

“I feel like I’ve grown up more than I intended to when it comes to dating,” Nick said. “There were times in the past that I wouldn’t be so selective. I guess I’m feeling the slow burn of time – you’ve only got so much and you don’t want to waste any, anymore.

“If anything, lockdown has taught me to appreciate human interaction more. I’ve found myself open to any experiences just being able to interact, whether it’s with family or friends, or just having a mutual smile with a stranger walking past.”

Vivienne agrees that the pandemic has taught her some valuable lessons as a single woman.

“I’ve just learned that it’s really important to make sure that you make yourself happy,” she said.  “I think you can’t take happiness for granted in a lockdown whether you’re single or you have a partner. In a way, it would be really great probably to have a partner to vent and have that shared experience with, and to have that connection and intimacy weeks on those days that you’re really down. But then you also risk relying on them to make sure that you’re not sad rather than being accountable to yourself and making sure that you are making yourself happy. So I think I’ve really learned how to do that and how to take control when I’m not doing that.

For Arjun, it’s been learning that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

“I don’t think I’m having a worse time than people that are coupled up, “Arjun said. “I think the pandemic has really been placing a magnifying glass [on those in relationships] and whatever cracks were there became chasms pretty quickly. A lesson I’ve learned is that being single is not a problem, to be honest. It’s fine to want a relationship, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.”

And Owen summed it all up beautifully for single people out there.

“As Whoopi Goldberg once said, ‘I complete me no one else completes me, I complete me’. I feel so good. It took me a long time to get to that point. I used to look for meaning in life, like sex or drugs or drink and all that stuff… and I just I’ve lost all interest in it.”

“I really do want a connection and meaning, but I’m not looking for someone to come in and fix me.”

“A relationship, it’s not the be-all and end-all and it never should have been in the first place. I’ve got amazing friends and an amazing life.”

It’s Back On The Apps week at Punkee! We’re digging into the good, the bad, and the highly questionable when it comes to using dating apps. Find more of our content here.