Summer Of Love

The Return To Clubbing Has Thrown My Student Love Life Into Disarray

Illustrated by Katie Smith
Welcome to Summer Of Love: a weekly column about how people are getting back into the dating game and getting it on post-lockdown.
Prior to lockdown, my friends and I, all students in our early twenties, mainly met people in clubs. We liked the immediate advantage of knowing we found someone attractive over the hellish stories we’d heard about app-organised dates where the person looks totally different to their pictures. Navigating the impossibly awkward ritual of leaving while trying to reassure the other person that it definitely was not their fault was too stressful to think about.
But after a year or two of clubbing, I'd grown tired of hookup culture and in January 2020, I'd signed up for a dating app with dreams of something a little more serious. This gave me a blissful two months of chatting with and dating men who felt like they were in the same place as me — not ready for something big and intense, but over the one-night stands.
Then, the pandemic hit and everyone suddenly flocked to dating apps, many for the very first time. The entire eco-system of student dating was thrown into disarray. A year-and-a-half on, with clubs opening their doors once again, and we’ve lost track of how things are meant to be. In short, the student dating scene is a mess.
In my two months of pre-pandemic dating app use, I’d very much liked the fact that both participants were (probably) sober, something that’s rare in a club. I had lost count of the number of friends who have felt taken advantage of by the sober guy in a club preying on drunk women. However as app usage surged during lockdown and hookup culture moved online, I was soon forced to wade through a plethora of men looking for casual online hookups, whether that be phone sex or nudes. Making actual connections felt impossible. 
That’s not to say the relationship guys weren’t still on the apps. In fact, they seemed to have intensified, perhaps hoping to fend off the loneliness lockdown created. One date had not only read three chapters of The Great Gatsby because I said I liked it but had also crocheted me four coasters, something he was adamant had not taken him much time at all (although the evidence made this easy to dispute), an intensity I blame on lockdown. As someone who wasn’t necessarily looking for a long-term relationship, this felt stifling. For a year-and-a-half there was no middle-ground, I either chose between a casual one-night stand or guys looking for their wives, neither of which particularly appealed to me. 
Then, clubs reopened. Dating changed again. The morning of July 19th I received a Tinder message inviting me to the local club that evening. I declined because the thought of a sweaty, deafening club wasn’t appealing on that particular Monday, but I did return to the clubbing scene later that week, going out with a group of friends. While I didn’t notice an immediate difference upon entering, by the end of the night a clear shift had become apparent. Clubbing had gone from being a social event with hookups on the side to a tense, high-energy game of hookup speed-dating, a feeding ground where the only goal was to get with someone and it didn’t matter who. By the end of the night a mad rush was in play to make sure you found someone before it was too late. As a result, most people roamed the club in same-sex friendship packs, hunting out similarly-sized groups of the opposite sex. It felt like a scene from David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. A year without hookups had clearly created a lot of sexual frustration and clubbing, it seems, was the perfect way to vent. 
As a result of the influx of people on dating apps over lockdown, it was inevitable clubbing would now involve bumping into someone you've already spoken to online. Is this a blessing or a curse? I’m still not sure. On the one hand, it meant I was constantly on the lookout, terrified of seeing someone who might have a personal vendetta against me, but on the flipside, the next day it didn’t take long for me to find someone I had thought was attractive on Tinder, making lost connections on nights out way less creepy to rectify than by to scouring different clubs for nights on end.
Before lockdown, students used clubs for hookups and apps for something more serious. The pandemic destroyed this unspoken divide and it’s made me wonder if we took this delicate and unconsciously-followed social dynamic for granted.
When things do go ‘back to normal’, I’m hoping a middle ground somewhere between clubs and dating apps can emerge; I’m tired of putting effort into online dating only to find there is no connection when we meet in person, but also don’t want the lack of individuality that comes with clubbing hookups; especially the kind that stems from the frantic, post-lockdown energy which felt so indiscriminate it was almost insulting. For now, I’ll stick to both - although perhaps with a focus on clubbing. After a year-and-a-half inside, the idea of human connection feels pretty good right now. And I definitely don’t want to risk any more crocheted coasters. 

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