Thanks To Coronavirus, I’ve Lost A Crucial Year Of Dating

Illustrated by Assa Ariyoshi.
Dating and coronavirus – these two things really don’t vibe together, do they? Pre-pandemic, for me, going on a date meant nervously sitting on a London train while repeatedly checking my lipstick and hair in the mirror before drinking gin and tonics with a stranger in a dark, busy bar, hoping, hoping, hoping that we’d click. Sometimes we did, mostly we didn’t. Afterwards, always, I would sit in an Uber home and voice note a friend to tell them how it went. This all feels like a million years ago now. 
When the UK entered lockdown on March 23, the last thing on my mind was how it would affect my love life. Three months on, the world has changed and it’s slowly dawned on me that as a single, straight, 32-year-old woman who wants kids, I’ve lost a year in dating at a crucial time in my life.
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I went into my 30s feeling confident. These, I thought, were the years in which I would smash everything. I knew I couldn’t control when it would happen but I didn’t doubt that I would meet a partner and start a family. 
I’ve never been much of a planner; never one of those girls who sends out Doodle polls to people. Organized fun gives me anxiety. I was just inexplicably sure that it would all work out organically. 

Ideally I would want to know this hypothetical person for a few years before getting married and starting a family. There's a creeping pressure that comes with this – no wonder I had been trying to ignore it. 

However — and I really, really hate to use this expression — like all cis women I absolutely knew that my biological clock was ticking faintly in the background. This is the sword of Damocles we are forced to live under if we want children. No matter how far society progresses towards equality, there are still physical limitations imposed upon us and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. It’s not fair but it’s just the way it is. 
Before COVID-19 spread through the world I had focused all of my energies on work, friendships and getting my shit together. I decided that it was time to take saving a deposit to buy a flat seriously and moved back in with my parents to make it happen. While there, I dipped in and out of dating apps when I felt like it. I met some brilliant men, some awful men and a couple of men who broke my heart, and put any thoughts about how much time I might have to the back of my mind.
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And then, when lockdown hit, every time I left the house I came back filled with fear that I would be bringing the virus home to my parents. I had nightmares about them on ventilators. Meeting friends seemed risky enough, let alone park walks with randoms from Hinge. Even worse would be realizing that I wanted to kiss them and trying to stop myself. 
With so much time to think I also started to seriously consider my age for the first time. I’m 32. Having never taken dating seriously — and perhaps even for granted — I couldn’t escape the fact that months were passing by. I was losing a year of searching for someone to build a life with at a really vital time. Ideally I would want to know this hypothetical person for a few years before getting married and starting a family. There’s a creeping pressure that comes with this — no wonder I had been trying to ignore it. 
You only have to glance at the ways dating has been discussed throughout lockdown to see how the current situation has reinforced that pressure. From the outset, much has been written about the benefits of video dating. Worse still, a narrative has been peddled that single people like me should use lockdown wisely, as the perfect time to cast our nets wide and line up a ton of potential dates for when things "get back to normal."
I felt that pressure, I bowed to it. I went back on dating apps. I had a couple of long, slightly weird phone calls with a guy who I think, in hindsight, was very drunk. I also had some lengthy, quite good chats with a couple of other guys, which fizzled out. And then there was another guy who begged me to break the rules and go over to his place. I politely explained that I just couldn’t do that as I have to put my family’s health first and he proceeded to send me threatening messages. It was traumatic but, sadly, nothing new in the world of dating apps. 
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Eight million people live alone in the UK, and new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that working-age adults living on their own are twice as likely to feel lonely as those aged 55-69. 

It’s now clear that we might never return to "normal." It doesn’t exist anymore. There is a new normal and it’s socially distant. When The New York Times asked 511 epidemiologists when they thought we might be able to greet people with a handshake or a hug again, 42% stated that they thought this could be over a year away. Until a vaccine comes along, there’s quite literally no end date in sight for social distancing
I’m not the only one who will have seen their future affected by this. Eight million people live alone in the UK, and new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that working-age adults living on their own are twice as likely to feel lonely as those aged 55-69. 
Thirty-four-year-old Claudia told me: "I want to have children and being in lockdown has increased my anxiety about it. Overnight I feel like I have become very aware of my age. I live alone and I have started swiping on Tinder like my life depends on it, though right now I could only go and meet someone at the park for a date. The double whammy of being single and not surrounded by family has been really hard, and last week I cried so hard to my mum on the phone about it that I ended up having a nosebleed." 
The so-called coronavirus "sex ban" came to an end in the UK last week when Boris Johnson announced that single people living on their own in lockdown were allowed to form support bubbles with another household. While Twitter crowed about how much sex it was going to have, in reality the bubble thing totally depends on your living situation. There are many single people out there who want to bubble up with their family or friends rather than random strangers on dating apps. And there are many single people, like myself, who are living with others — be they family or housemates — whose health they don't dare risk for the sake of a date while the infection rate is still so high.
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As lockdown eased and real-life socially distant dates were allowed, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t want to go on dates where you can’t touch someone to feel out whether or not there's a spark. Yet life goes on around me. All the weddings that were cancelled this summer are being rebooked for 2021. People are starting families: no fewer than seven of my friends are pregnant right now. 
If your 20s are about being reckless then your 30s are about the realization that other people are settling down and making commitments. The pressure that accompanies this realization is overwhelming and claustrophobic. 
Whether or not you want to try video dating or line up socially distanced dates in the park is a matter of personal preference. For me, though, taking time out seems to be the only way forward. 

I want to have children and being in lockdown has increased my anxiety about it. Overnight I feel like I have become very aware of my age. I have started swiping on Tinder like my life depends on it. 

Claudia, 34
I asked relationship psychologist Jo Hemmings what she thought. She said that using this time to solidify what you really do want when things go back to normal is smart. 
"If there’s any good takeaway from the situation we’re in, it’s the chance to prepare for the future and think about what you expect and desire in a future relationship," she said. "You might reconsider the type of person you’d like to be with, where you might want to live or [what you might want to] do for a living. If you want a baby, you might start thinking about possibilities for the future you’d not considered before, such as becoming a solo mum or adopting. You can’t change the current situation we’re in, but you can think about changing the way you might do things in the future."
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Of course, not every woman wants to have kids but in the back of my mind I’d always thought it would happen for me at around 35. 
But now coronavirus has barged its way into my life like an overbearing aunt and drawn attention to the fact that 35 isn’t actually so far away. Three years, to be precise. I am starting to worry that this virus is going to leave an indelible mark on my life in a way that didn't occur to me back in March.
While we hope for a vaccine and thank our lucky stars that our families and friends are safe and well, it’s clear that coronavirus is here to stay for now. If I saw dating as a drag in the past, I’m now actually looking forward to that first post-virus date, including the nervous train journey there. And I never thought I’d say that. 

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