Over the last 11 months, a few of my more conservative friends have confessed to me that they think we're in the "End Times." I don't buy it. But I have noticed this mentality creeping into my dating life amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel an unexpected new pressure to lock down "the one." Like, ASAP.
Because of that, I've ignored red flags, made up excuses when someone consistently forgets to text me back, and chalked up any weird communication issues to coronavirus-related stress. I want any budding relationship to last forever — even if it's hanging on by a string — because, hell, who knows what the future holds? And just think of all the work it takes to meet someone new and slowly add them to your COVID pod.
Turns out, this pattern is surprisingly common amid the pandemic. Case in point: A new trend called "apocalypsing" is on the rise, according to dating service Plenty of Fish, which polled more than 2,000 singles. Apocalypsing, according to POF, consists of treating every relationship like it’s your last. You meet someone you're infatuated with and then — bada bing, bada boom — suddenly you’re super serious, firmly established in each others' COVID bubbles, and ready to plan your life together. One-third of singles POF polled said they know someone who’s done this. Gen Z is particularly prone to it, with nearly a third admitting to the trend.
It's an easy trap to fall into. One minute you're meeting for socially distanced drinks and then the next you're imagining all the cute activities you could do in quarantine together. The jigsaw puzzles! The sourdough starters! From there, would they be a good parent? What will we name our kids? Some call it daydreaming, others have dubbed it emotionally masturbating — however you refer to it, we have more time for it thanks to our new 2020 schedules. And it can lead some to catching feelings sooner than might be healthy.
But even though we have trendy new names for it, getting attached to a partner prematurely was common even pre-COVID, says Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, LCSW, a psychologist and marriage therapist. Only now, the propensity to quickly latch onto a potential partner as though they're your last chance for happiness can be even stronger, thanks to the lack of human contact we’re all experiencing right now.
“Because of COVID, we’re in a scenario where we’re being told to not have human contact and physical touch, and that takes away our ability to have the emotional and physical connections that we as humans require,” Dr. Forshee says. When it's been months since our last juicy make out or snuggle sesh, many of us begin to crave it — sometimes on an unconscious level. This can cause us to feel an affinity for someone more quickly than we typically would, or even to settle for someone we might have otherwise written off. It can also make us rush the semi-serious act of letting someone into our COVID-19 bubble, just for the company.
“You find someone you could be okay with, and it feels nice to have that connection” Dr. Forshee says. “When we touch each other for 15 seconds or more, whether we’re hugging each other, kissing, putting our hand on someone’s shoulder or leg, it releases oxytocin, the hormone our body releases that makes us feel attached and gives us connected, loving feelings.”
Known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is a hell of a drug, and if you're suddenly getting it after months of isolation and solo banana bread making, it can feel euphoric. “It may increase that attachment at the onset,” says Dr. Forshee. “That may be what’s leading people to think: Oh this feels really good, I don’t want to let this go. Let me just stay here.”
Of course, not all apocalypsing is settling — especially if you believe in love at first sight. There’s a chance you’re really into someone right away because they’re truly a wonderful match for you. Maybe they really are the Sue Bird to your Megan Rapinoe or the Harry Burns to your Sally Albright. But even if that’s the case, a gut check is warranted to make sure you’re not hitching your wagon to someone just because you’re lonely, experiencing skin hunger, or freaked out because COVID-19 has pushed your dating timeline back a year.
Although it’s certainly a good thing to be open and to treat every date as though it has the potential for long-term happiness, it’s also a good idea to have a discerning eye and to get to know someone before you start picking out curtains for your future child’s nursery. But that’s easier said than done, especially now.
If you tend towards apocalypsing, Forshee has a few suggestions. One way to avoid it is to make sure you're bolstering your support system. “The more socially isolated we are, the more likely we are to get attached to somebody,” Dr. Forshee says. “If we’re feeling lonely and we want emotional connection, we should lean on our social supports in our quarantine pod, rather than someone who’s new or just for now." If you don't have a physical bubble, build out your virtual one. Schedule extra Zooms, Netflix Parties, or phone calls with your loved ones.
When you lean on friends and family, you don't need to get emotional support from someone you've only been on a few dates with, so you're less likely to apocalypse in a relationship that isn't right. You can also get advice from your bubble on whether your new potential partner is worth your time and attention. Plus, your friends can help you decide whether your potential lover seems to be reciprocating your initially strong feelings.
Another way to avoid apocalypsing: Set your standards, especially regarding how you want to be treated and what core values you’d like to share with your future S.O. If it helps, make a list of things you’re looking for in a mate. Write down your deal breakers. Then, if you’re starting to feel the butterflies stirring after a date or so with someone new, come back to the list and see how they rank up. Of course, they don’t have to check all the boxes, but this will keep you on track and slow down any proclivity to give your love to someone you’re not aligned with before getting to know them.
Dr Forshee's last tip? Sharpen your eye for bullshit. Amid the pandemic, our first few dates with someone are often over text or Facetime. “When we talk to people on FaceTime and text a lot, that creates a very false sense of knowing who this person is,” Dr. Forshee says. “We can show the parts we want to show at a distance. And you might feel really attached quickly if you’re having long, deep conversations with someone you don’t know.”
This can be exacerbated by the fact that there are a lot of natural commonalities among us all right now. “When we know we have things in common with someone, we as humans think: ‘Oh they’re similar to us, we can trust them,’” Dr. Forshee says. But that’s not always the case.
Just because someone also watches The Bachelorette (a show where apocalypsing is the name of the game) doesn’t mean that your values are the same. Just as the shared trauma of living through the novel coronavirus isn't enough to hold a relationship together. Falling fast can be fun, but be sure you have a foundation built on communication, trust, and true connection — and not the fact that you're both rooting for Zac C. to win Tayshia's heart.