Donna Maclean is 56 and, and despite two divorces, she hasn’t given up on love.
The Toronto resident says the coronavirus pandemic has changed her go-to ways of meeting people – usually through friends-of-friends – shifting in-person meet ups to logging into online dating sites more frequently. Online dating she says was working fine a few months ago, but as the pandemic rolls on, she is seeing fewer responses, turning her dating site ‘Plenty of Fish’ to no fish at all, when it comes to potentially meeting a new partner.
“I think people have backed away,” she says. “I haven’t heard from anyone. [Before] I’ve had a few private messages, I’d actually answered a couple of them. I’ve been out once or twice with people I’ve met.”
“My feeling is short-term it’s going to be very hard to meet someone …I’m afraid that I’ll be single.”
Research from Statistics Canada shows the number of people living alone in Canada more than doubled over the last 35 years. And now with social distancing and quarantine measures the new normal, people that are single or living alone may be feeling even more isolated during these times which can affect their mental health greatly.
Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health tells CityNews while “these are normal and common responses to unexpected or stressful situations,” it’s advised that “individuals avoid gatherings or get-togethers with non-household members.”
Something Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto says is a pretty tall order for most people, especially given that it’s now been a few months.
“If you extend the thinking, [that current public health guidelines say that you should stay more than six feet away from people who are not in the same household], it suggests that if you’re single now then you need to stay celibate,” Furness says unless you’re willing to “merge households” so to speak.
“I’m never going to advise people to break that rule, because it’s an important one, but I’m going to recognize that people are going to have needs and that’s going to tend to happen.”
Taking that risk and going that extra step in a new relationship is what single dater Brent Pollard says he is not willing to take.
Pollard, 35, has been on the dating scene since he separated 15-months ago. Even though he is making connections during this pandemic, he says his main source of personal interactions have been through video chats – which are not the greatest way to strike up a new relationship.
“I guess one option to date is to meet somebody, maybe at a Tim Hortons and you stagger your vehicles across a couple parking lines,” he says. “But it’s difficult because unless you’re in close proximity with somebody, it’s hard to sort of pick up on them.”
Virtual dating through in-app video chats, calls and live streaming are certainly seeing an uptick.
eHarmony started rolling out video chat features just a few months ago, now citing a 27 per cent increase in video messages in April compared to March. According to technology blog TechCrunch, Facebook announced that it’s launching a virtual dating feature over Messenger for it’s dating app users in the near future. Dating site Match.com launched a video chat feature last month that allows users who have already matched to connect over video calls.
But people like Maclean say that type of face-time is not what they’re after.
“I’m still that person that needs to have a little more info before I even want to video chat with you,” she says. “I feel like I would like to text somebody a little more. I need that little bit of, get to know you on the phone, kind of anonymously before we’re actually face-to-face.”
Deborah Mecklinger with Walk the Talk Coaching is a personal coach and relationship expert in Toronto. She says for people like Maclean who might crave that in-person meeting, for now, virtual meetings can serve as an opportunity to be more creative and think outside the box.
“I think, in part, there will be a massive adaptation and new ways of engaging with one another,” she says. “Once you start to do the face-to-face, and video chat …it’s one of those things that you learn how to read [someone]. And you do pick up the vibe and develop different ways of reading people, and it does add up.”
She adds to try and get as comfortable as you can by text and then “maybe making the first call a really short one.”
Getting more comfortable whether online or in-person is something that comes with knowing your potential partner. And if you’ve been dating a while and have not seen your partner, Furness has this advice.
“The frame of thinking is, are you prepared to essentially do what’s called combining households, become – functionally speaking – one household,” he says. “That means a lot of exclusivity, it means a lot of trust. And I think one reason why people are really wrestling with this is very simple. You can look at that person you’ve been dating and think, ‘you know, the world is not going to end if we get together’ and you’re probably right. But if everyone in the country did that, then we would have an outbreak that look like New York City.”
Mecklinger says what needs to be employed in new relationships is a kind of old-school mentality where you actually have to get to know each other.
“All of our parents and grandparents would be having a good laugh,” she says. “Isn’t this how they did it? So, that’s a little bit of the playbook dynamics that we’re encountering now.”
Something Pollard thinks is a positive even during these uncertain times.
“The only thing that really changes with the dating and this pandemic is that you’re talking a lot more, you’re either texting or you’re calling people,” says Pollard. “You have a lot more time to talk to that person and get to know them and actually decide if it’s going to even be worth your while to to meet up with them. I think that’s a plus.”
Tips from Deborah Mecklinger about making the most of dating during COVID-19
Single and ready to meet someone?
For virtual options, she recommends:
- Join a cooking class or gym class on Zoom or other platforms that offer it
- Join an online learning class with video option so you can see participants
- Take a chance and video chat if available
For social distancing, outdoor options, she recommends:
- Talking to someone in a grocery store line-up
- Striking up a conversation at the dog park
- Just getting outdoors and learning to read and smile with your eyes (since we’re most likely covered with a face mask)
For virtual dates, she recommends:
- Set a time limit for video chats and calls while just starting to get to know someone until you’re more comfortable (for example, plan a 5-10 minute date and then increase the time as you’d like)
For social distancing, outdoor dates, she recommends:
- Planning a picnic in the park
Toronto Public Health has information on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and still enjoy dating and safer sex. It’s available here.