Photograph by Jacoblund/iStock/Getty
Tori, 21, was willing to go out, but can’t help but wonder at the pointlessness of it all.
The viral disaster which has smothered the planet in a shroud of uncertainty since March 2020 has driven a six-foot wedge between us. We millennials, born on the doorstep of the internet, are figuring out what do to next from the safety of our smart phones.
Online dating has become more popular than ever. It offers the emotional periscope many folks are looking for. I signed up for Tinder, Grindr, and Hinge in order to measure San Diego’s fears, principles, and loves, given the discouraging hand covid has dealt us.
Swiping right until I am forbidden from doing so for 24 hours yielded matches and conversations with young adults regarding their 2020 dating strategies.
Neil, 23 and from Ramona, described a sort of long con. He’s “looking for friends, dates, and partners” and “building connections for when [he] can eventually meet them.” He has faith in the dating apps to do the heavy lifting and facilitate that attachment, though he hasn’t given Hinge’s “Date from Home” video feature a shot yet.
Kaison, 20, had just clocked out of work when we spoke. He seemed to share the same hesitations about face-to-face interactions as Neil, but he’s actually elected to try a few dates out, less confident that a virtual-only experience will suffice. “I wouldn’t say [I’m] upset, but more like confused. It’s just, like – when I meet someone on dating apps, I want to meet them in person to get a sense of who they are,” he said. “I’m not mad that I can’t meet up with people. I just feel weird about getting attached to someone, since I won’t know the next time I can actually meet up with them.”
The fear of the unknown is an ever-present issue in online dating (go watch Catfish), and that anxiety is only augmented by the hazy due date for the covid vaccine. Despite the numerous verified accounts of World of Warcraft romances ending happily ever after, it is important to remember that not everyone is who they seem to be online, in either identity or personality. Tori, 21, is willing to go out, but can’t help but wonder at the pointlessness of it all. She had a date a little bit ago, and it reeked of coronavirus depression, and not just because the guy was “really weird.” She and Weirdo went out to a scenic viewpoint, a good distance from the masses, “We talked about how all our plans were canceled, and how we were sad,” she lamented.
While there is something to be said for going on a date solely for sanity’s sake, the unpredictable nature of the virus as it pertains to human responsibility clouds the minds of many 20-somethings and corrals them into a cell of loneliness. For every person doing their best to stay at home, there is another individual out there picking their battles a bit differently. Big has his own ideologies (he also labeled himself with an emoji I cannot express here), and is validated in his safety as an emergency room nurse with “proper PPE” — personal protective equipment — and frequent testing. This assurance has given him the peace of mind to hook up with online dates “on more than one or five or ten occasions” since the height of the outbreak. Despite the high-contact nature of his job, Big maintains that one is more likely to contract the virus at Vons or Starbucks, “where they don’t change gloves and come in[to] contact with hundred[s] of people and don’t change PPE.”
While there is something to be said for going on a date solely for sanity’s sake, the unpredictable nature of the virus as it pertains to human responsibility clouds the minds of many 20-somethings and corrals them into a cell of loneliness.
Photograph by Matthew Suárez
Many bolder Grindrers feel similarly when it comes to large groups vs. individuals: as an airborne threat, the risk of transmission is exponentially greater in populated spaces than it is during a house call. Big is hedging his bets accordingly; he knows the risk and warrants he will be fine if he “avoid[s] kissing.”
Richard entered the online dating scene as a total newbie in May, looking to get back on his game after some time out. “I used to ask girls out in bookstores,” he mused. He expressed uncertainty with the concept of semi-anonymous swiping, coupled with a dislike of the constant bombardment of updates the applications send: matches, messages, Secret Crushes, unmatches, even pointless advertisements. “It’s overwhelming; the messages and notifications,” he said of both Hinge and Bumble. Nevertheless, Rich was determined to meet some new folk, and he did, through a variety of methods. Coffee in Encinitas is nice, and Facetime dates are easy, but according to Rich, mucking out a few fetid horse stables took the ribbon for Most Interesting Date. For him, it was hard to say how many people with whom he had chatted with over a six-week endeavor, but he met up with four in person.
Until he got coronavirus in June.
It left him bedridden for a few days and chapped his throat. But the symptoms were enough to settle him into Lockdown Mode. “[I] had to quarantine for three weeks in my bedroom. I couldn’t go into my kitchen for ten days.”
Richard had a generous roommate who “would cook for him three times a day,” and a certain Lexie to make a prompt chicken soup delivery a couples times a week. “Lexie and I started to be together when I tested positive for covid-19,” he recalled. “Her mom accused me of making out with too many people.”
Rich decided he had a good thing going there, and, as I write this, is still happily kicking it with Lexie. His self-diagnosis of “being naively healthy” when it came to the virus turned out relatively accurate.
Some I spoke to value their own safety or feel a certain responsibility to society that’s keeping them from dating in person. Others put their lives on the line for — dare we say — the instinctual urge to mate and produce offspring. Recall Big, who said, “There’s a risk, but I’m staying away from my folks.”
Alternatively, the want for physical love doesn’t pull at Neil as strongly. He was just out there looking for some great banter. “I’ve also come to realize that genuine conversations are few and far between,” he said. “I don’t find many people who enjoy just talking. Not about sex 100 percent.”
Libido is a critically defining variable in one’s online dating principles. And sometimes, one just needs excellent company. As Tori put it, “It would be nice to find someone to have next to you when it feels like the world is ending. I guess it’s all about wanting to feel safe.”
When nature (and mankind, admittedly) turbulently upsets the status quo, will online dating be sophisticated enough to act as a virtual, temporary replacement for a strictly physical concept? Based on what I’ve seen, I have to say, I am impressed. My age occupies the same timeline as most of the fine people I questioned, so I’m not quite old enough to have been active on websites such Match.com and eHarmony in their “prime” during the late 90s-early 00s (PSA: Wikipedia claims Kiss.com was the first dating site, but I’m 98 percent certain my computer received a shiny new virus upon typing that in the search bar). However, I remember being old enough to laugh at the absurdity of the concept, and harbored some of that contempt until smartphones became a borderline necessity and dating apps grabbed the baton in 2010. I had mixed success with Tinder in college, so I stopped hating. During my time on the apps over these past few months, what surprised me the most was the frankness and openness. Everyone is on there, they all have their extraordinarily specific needs that must be met, and they’re flaunting it like a three-minute-30-second movie trailer that spoils the plot. The Stranger Danger instilled in our generation has taken a different, more abstract form, with new variables to consider. Yet some are still desperate for someone new. Anything but more isolation.
It’s got to be said: I might be the only person on Tinder trying to interview people. I’ve been in a committed relationship since before the outbreak, long enough to go on a few spectacular dates that I can remember. The weekends almost always involved finding new places to eat and appreciate the atmosphere, and if we didn’t have particular plans, it was perfectly acceptable to wander around some busy street in hopes of discovering a new thrift store. As we judge it, now, these activities overstep the boundaries we are comfortable with. The Stay At Home orders instituted over this summer kept date night at home as well, and strike me pink if it doesn’t feel like a glimpse into a discouraging future of a lethargic couple resigning themselves to whatever’s on Netflix, snoring by 9:00. Falling into this pit is the easy route, all it takes is a little giving up.
So we did our best not to: my girlfriend and I realized no good food arrives in a Postmates bag; instead, we take on the task of doing it ourselves. “Congratulations,” we hear you say, “you’ve joined the rest of the world that doesn’t eat out every weekend.” It isn’t about not wanting to cook, it’s about chef-ing up dishes you figured only the restaurant had the recipe for. The exchange of delighted eyes upon the first bite of honey-pomegranate glazed chicken — knowing that your time spent in the kitchen was beyond worth it — may even surpass the simple pleasure of having a restaurant take care of it for you.
And we hiked. For a few weekends in a row, we explored San Diego’s arid wilderness. We completed a quest to find a pond in Mission Trails, dove from the rocks of Cedar Creek Falls against our better judgment, and came up short on wildlife spotting at Daley Ranch (but it was gorgeous day, so it didn’t matter). A few miles inland, and we can be more-or-less alone in places where we can close our eyes, breathe deeply, and know that the air hasn’t been recycled ten times over. We’ve discovered places that normally we wouldn’t have checked out in the days when we were preoccupied with coastal San Diego, like everyone else.