It bears repeating: the pandemic has changed the way we approach dating in more ways than one. Since the world has tentatively opened back up, we’ve thrown caution to the wind and embraced whim-taking alongside creative, fun and joyful spontaneity in our burgeoning relationships. This practice is so popular that it has even been given a very millennial moniker: 'spontani-dating'.
"When there were a few restrictions, you had to get more creative and find different common grounds other than going out and drinking cocktails," shares Amelia, 27, from the Lake District. Said restrictions forced her to take time getting to know her now-boyfriend before they could see each other in person.
She describes her first date with him in May this year, which happened on a bit of a whim. "We met up at the lake and paddled to the island where we had a coffee and watched the mountains. And then we paddled back and he set up a fire. He even brought chairs and picnic food! We were there for five hours and just laughed a lot."
Most of Amelia's dates with her boyfriend have channelled a spirit of "live in the moment while you have it", as she puts it. "Some of the nicest dates we’ve had have been random ones," she says. "We went bouldering at the climbing wall one time because it was raining and that was cool!"
Before lockdown, Amelia did not go on such spontaneous outdoor dates. She attributes it to the pandemic and how it has made her appreciate the present more. "Like I can’t waste a nice hot day or a nice sunset anymore," she explains.
Her first post-lockdown date was unprompted and unbidden – and unforgettable. "We went to a really bad Thai place because we hadn’t booked anywhere and everything was full, but it was funny! And then we went swimming in the lake, and I can’t really swim well so he taught me. Then we watched the sunset on the pier, eating brownies," she laughs, "and our first kiss was so bad because no one’s snogged anyone for so long."
Charlotte, 27, a content creator from Wirral, shares a similar experience. She started talking to her now-boyfriend on Tinder during the lockdown earlier this year. At first they could only go for a walk or grab a coffee and when shops opened again, they were excited to go to a restaurant or even stay at a hotel. That was how her boyfriend made an impression on her.
"We had a spontaneous date night in Liverpool. We stayed at a hotel and it had an amazing view of the riverfront. It was on the 16th floor and I was like, ‘Wow!’ We also had some drinks in the Sky Bar and that was good. It was a surprise for me," says Charlotte. It's a contrast to her dating life before the pandemic. "I have a lot of Tinder horror stories. Honestly, I could write a book because I’ve had that many."
Sometimes what we need most comes at the most unexpected time so stop stressing and allow yourself to attract good things.
It looks like building an emotional connection or friendship before love and sex while keeping an open mind has brought positive outcomes for many people looking for love since the pandemic. Allen*, 28, found himself unexpectedly in a relationship post-lockdown the moment he decided to stop looking and let his love life happen organically. He quit dating apps and met his now-girlfriend through a dance community.
After about a month of knowing each other, he invited her to a modern mansion to which he had access through work. It was for just the two of them on a Friday night. "That was pretty spontaneous because I didn't really know her that well then," he recalls. They spent a romantic evening and filmed a dance video together.
Chad Teixeira, a 26-year-old entrepreneur in London, has also observed a difference between dating before and after lockdown. "Personally, I’ve found people more warm and keen post-lockdown. I’ve been on quite a few wild dates and I find myself meeting people I wouldn’t consider my 'usual type' as post-pandemic I’ve found myself eager to try new things."
That was how he found his partner. "It was nerve-wracking but so exciting," says Chad. "I think we were both so sick of the pandemic that the minute we saw each other we couldn’t keep our hands off one another."
He advises daters to take it easy. "There’s so much pressure both within the LGBTQ community and from outside to conform to certain standards and act a certain way. But sometimes what we need most comes at the most unexpected time so stop stressing and allow yourself to attract good things."
Focusing on entertainment value instead of having an agenda on a date can help to reduce stress and fear of rejection. It also makes daters more conscious of what they’re getting out of a date. Many of us have become more in touch with ourselves and what we want thanks to the reflection time afforded by lockdowns. Put simply, we're not going to tolerate bad dates anymore.
Laura*, a single mother in her early 30s, agrees. "I have become more ruthless with my time because every time I go out, so much effort goes into it and it’s in human nature to ask whether a date is worth that effort."
In the past, Laura might have gone on a date as long as it was entertaining but now she’s quick to spot red flags and cut her losses. A recent date dazzled her by taking her to her favourite restaurant and prepared a romantic picnic with wine at sunset afterwards. But she didn’t let it cloud her judgment when she noticed that the relationship didn’t seem to progress. After a month, she was ready to move on even though she had feelings for him.
That said, Laura did enjoy the date, particularly when they spontaneously decided to continue the evening at his place. "We had some drinks, but it was literally just drinks and talking. What was really nice about it is that it wasn’t physical. I truly just enjoyed the conversation."
From this experience Laura noted that she wants to get to know a partner naturally and choose them for who they are. She doesn’t want a partner to morph into someone she needs or become an extension of her. In that regard, spontani-dating is useful in bringing out authenticity and playfulness in daters.
By building spontaneity and a sense of joy into your dating life, you have the opportunity to discover different sides of yourself and your partner, taking the pressure off finding the love of your life and (hopefully) having a good time along the way. After a stressful couple of years, who doesn't want that?
*Name changed to protect anonymity