It was only day two of being quarantined alone in my Lower East Side apartment when I got a text from Ethan, a guy I had been on a couple of dates with. We had great conversation and mind-blowing sex, and conveniently lived within a two-block radius of one another. But between work and travel, a month went by without seeing each other, so I figured things just fizzled out. I was a little confused by this because we obviously clicked — but I wasn’t too concerned, because in all seriousness, I wasn’t looking for commitment.
As a content creator, I’ve built a brand as “The Queen of Confidence,” based around unapologetically loving yourself and not giving a f*ck what people think. I’m very vocal about being happily single and frequently remind my young female audience on Instagram that being alone doesn’t equate to being lonely.
We are indoctrinated from a very young age through the media we consume (what’s good Cinderella?) that in order to live happily ever after we must find our Prince Charming. I fell victim to that sentiment as a young girl and struggled a lot with my self-esteem through college. It took years of therapy to break the cycle, and to eventually learn to find happiness and validation from myself and no one else. Some might argue I took this to an extreme, but as a 26-year-old trying to secure the bag, a relationship is just not in the cards for me.
Until, that is, the coronavirus hit New York City. All of a sudden, people stopped shaking hands and hand sanitiser became a staple in my purse. The term "social distancing" entered the public consciousness. My roommate told me she would be spending time with her parents indefinitely, which left me alone in the apartment. At first this sounded fine. As an only child and now a freelancer, I love spending my days solo. But as the reality of the situation sunk it, I started to feel anxious... and I began craving a “corona boyfriend” to keep me company through quarantine.
My own desperation baffled me. Begging for a boyfriend? On camera? It was so not me.
To be clear, a boyfriend and a “corona boyfriend” are two different things. I define the latter as someone who you wouldn't date under normal circumstances, but who you like enough to hit up when you're feeling a fit of quarantine-induced loneliness — when you need to cuddle, watch “Tiger King” on Netflix, drink red wine and honestly, just pass the time.
But where would I find one? Reaching out to my ex boyfriends was absolutely not an option. And surely it was too late to find someone brand new. I approached the situation the same way I do when I want anything in life: I repeat it out loud for the world to hear. I vocalized my sudden desire for a “corona boyfriend’ on my new daily Instagram Live show Quarantinis with SFK and asked my followers to send me photos of their #coronaboyfriends.
I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling anxious about not having a partner with whom to weather this storm. My followers and friends commiserated with me, explaining how they found themselves reaching out to toxic exes, having phone sex with old flames, and engaging in FaceTime dates on Bumble. Many of my friends have been single for a long time without any panic, so why were they craving this intimacy now? My own desperation baffled me. Begging for a boyfriend? On camera? It was so not me. But as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.
I spoke with a clinical psychologist Helen Resnick, PhD, who explained that my anxiety was completely normal and expected. It comes down to the three C’s: control, connectedness, and competency. These are fundamental elements of mental health in humans, and the quarantine heavily impacts all three. The entire pandemic — its sudden descent, the way it’s changed our routines — shakes our sense of control. Social distancing takes away our connectedness. While technology and social media gives us the ability to connect verbally, we lose physical touch. And like primates, humans have an evolutionary need to connect. Finally, we can’t do what we usually do to feel competent, effective, and instrumental in our own lives: We can’t plan, focus, or manage our emotions.
All that means that being quarantined results in higher levels of stress hormones, adrenaline, and anxiety, Dr Resnick says. So it’s no surprise that we are finding creative ways to seek the three Cs in efforts to soothe our anxieties. We are rearranging our closets and DIY-ing our outgrown roots in an effort to regain control. We are attending virtual workout classes and meetings on Zoom to feel competent. And most of all, we are constantly on our phones, seeking intimacy to feel connected — or, in my case, a corona boyfriend.
Two days after my outcry, the universe heard me and I received the text from Ethan. He asked me to grab dinner, but restaurants had just closed, so I invited him over to my apartment for wine, a movie, and a snuggle session. I would consider this far too intimate to do with someone I’ve only been on a couple of dates with, but was left with no other option.
When he arrived, I flaunted my cosy set-up, my kitchen-turned-bodega, and the absence of my roommate as a way to lure him into what could be an amazing quarantine relationship. I even hinted at the fact that my birthday was rapidly approaching and I was anxious about spending it alone. When we had sex I found myself saying out loud, “Wow, it just feels so good to be touched." Not having hugged or touched anyone in days, I was unaware how much I was craving a physical connection. It felt euphoric (and not just because I orgasmed). The following morning Ethan went back to his apartment and there I was… all alone again. Who the fuck did I become? Since when did I become co-dependent and needy? Regardless, I was triumphant! I wished for a corona boyfriend and received one immediately.
Easy there, tiger. He texted me to invite himself over later in the week saying, “We could have dinner and quarantine together.” It sounded like the commitment I wanted, but after hearing New York City would be forced to “Shelter In Place,” I began to second-guess my big idea. Did this mean we just went from a handful of dates to full-blown living together? Would I have to share a bathroom with him? Practice my TikTok dances in front of him? When all of this ends, will the relationship dissolve, or am I expected to date him post-pandemic? All of a sudden, this became way too serious, way too fast.
As the days passed by, though, my fear of commitment subsided and I couldn’t wait to see him. I spent the day fantasizing about all the indoor activities we could do together. And then the worst possible thing imaginable happened: He cancelled because he started to feel flu-like symptoms. Oh my god. Did my corona boyfriend get corona? I sat there in my apartment and I couldn’t help but cry — out of fear for his well-being, but also because I didn’t recognise myself. I felt so isolated and lonely. I had I become so attached to someone I had only been on two dates with. Where was the fierce independence I had fostered?
And yet... The following morning, when someone asked me if I wanted to go on a blind date on Instagram Live, I said yes. Seven hundred of my followers and friends tuned in to watch me cover my eyes with a blindfold and go virtual date a stranger. (Think: "Love Is Blind" without the pods.) The experience was electrifying... But the date was horrible. When I expressed I didn’t want to move forward, the guy blew up at me, screaming, “I’m a doctor! You don’t want to be with a doctor?” I kept my cool and laughed off the toxic masculinity jumping through the screen. I couldn’t believe I signed up for a pseudo-reality dating show, but we're living in a crazy time.
There will be many more divorces and many more marriages. A catastrophe wakes people up and forces them to move to the next stage of their life.
Helen Fisher, PhD
I’m not the only one who's embracing the feeling that we have nothing to lose. Take John, 32, a Senior Director of development at MTV, who is single and currently quarantined with his family in New York. During a recent conversation, he told me a touch of corona-loneliness inspired him to agree to appear on Love Is Quarantine, an Instagram “dating service” that tries to imitate the Netflix show. John was set up on five 10-minute phone dates. He matched with a man who lives in Oregon and they’ve been texting ever since. John says that although he’s not sure he’ll ever meet his match after quarantine ends, dating someone virtually keeps things exciting and fun. “Just the act of texting and flirting is a really nice distraction from the craziness and the anxiety,” he admits.
Despite the fact that panic levels are at an all time high, Helen Fisher, PhD, a cultural anthropologist, believes that this is actually a very positive time to start dating. That’s because during a catastrophe, people assess what they want and what they don’t have. “There will be many more divorces and many more marriages,” she predicts. “A catastrophe wakes people up and forces them to move to the next stage of their life. This is a result of the dopamine system, which rises with loneliness, anxiety, and fear, enabling you to focus on what you need now.” She said it’s a very good time to be single, because everyone is on the internet and more people than ever are using dating apps.
Fisher firmly believes that dating during quarantine can lead to really successful relationships. For one, everyone has more time. Even if you are working at home, the logistics of picking a place to meet, travelling and scheduling are non-existent.
Moreover, sex and money are off the table. The anxiety about splitting the bill or asking someone back to your apartment is absent. The date is stripped down to the most fundamental part of a relationship: communication. Making conversation is easier too. The novelty of the pandemic immediately gives you something to talk about, and you’re more likely to have a strong and intimate dialogue from the beginning.
“No one has experienced something like this before, and everyone is impacted by it. This allows you to immediately empathise with someone and overlook things that may have been important to you in the past,” Fisher says. What's more, the novelty of the current situation drives up the dopamine system in the brain. That same system what drives feelings of romantic love. “It’s a good time for love,” Fisher notes.
But finding love with a romantic partner isn’t the only way to ease the quarantine jitters. In fact, Resnick says the best antidote is completely free. “Laughter is a connection to boosting the immune system, it increases the level of antibody producing cells in our body," she says. Think about it: When you’re upset, you suck your breath in, when you laugh you exhale. Air comes out, which is much healthier.
As my anxiety began to subside, I got to work and shifted my focus from myself to my audience, asking myself how I could connect to them during this scary time. I noticed that the more I leaned into my comedic side, the more receptive my audience was, and the happier I became.
I created a daily live show on Instagram, a spin-off dating show on Fridays called “Let’s F*cking Date!” I committed to learning TikToks my teenage self would be enormously proud of and produced video content that spun a negative situation into a comedic story. I realized that my quarantine content not only provided my audience entertainment, but fulfilled my own need to connect and laugh as well.
The truth is, life without a corona boyfriend gave me the opportunity to connect at a much larger scale and to shift my focus into creating and taking risks in a way I hadn’t before. While we are not physically together, this rare time has accelerated intimacy, because these limitations have pushed us to connect, create and reassess what is important to us. Perhaps being single is what I needed. I do have a vibrator after all.