When Kelvin Bivins and Nicole* first met on a dating app in August 2020, neither of them thought it was a perfect match. Bivins, who goes by KB, introduced himself with a non-traditional line: “I’m just sitting here eating candy with my niece.”
“I thought, That’s weird,” Nicole says now, laughing. “But let me just see where this goes. I asked him, ‘What kind of candy?’ It was something fruity.” Meanwhile, KB initially pegged Nicole as a “bad texter.” But once they met up they hit it off. On their first date, they ended up talking for hours. By the end of October, they were dating exclusively. Soon, they were spending weeks at a time at each others’ homes in Georgia. They’d make breakfast together (KB would whip up omelets and Nicole, admittedly less skilled in the kitchen, would cook oatmeal), work in nearby rooms, and then snuggle in to watch sitcoms or Marvel movies in the evenings.
It was a classic pandemic romance, heavy on the nesting and short on in-public dates, meet-ups with each others’ friend groups, and time spent apart. And now, with more people getting vaccinated by the day and an end to the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in sight, both KB and Nicole are feeling excited — and nervous.
“As we return to another state of normal, people are going to start realizing that they were in Covidships,” says KB, the host of the upcoming Dating, Explained podcast launching in May. “The glue of a Covidship is COVID — you were only in that situationship to survive the pandemic.”
He doesn’t think that describes himself and Nicole, “because that’s not what brings us together: It’s the laughs and great conversations,” he tells Refinery29. “But I’m honestly not sure from her perspective, and when I brought it up, her tone and her whole body language changed.”
“He asked me if we were in a COVID relationship, and I was honestly offended,” Nicole says with a laugh. “Like, how dare you ask me that? I don’t think so, but do you think we are?” Still, she admits she’s worried their lifestyles won’t align as well as they have in lockdown as things open up.
“I don’t expect any post-vaccination break-ups,” KB told me. “But she’s one shot in too, so we’ll see what happens.”
The Great Uncuffing
Most of us have thought at least a little about what life will be like as more people get vaccinated and the world begins to return to some semblance of normalcy. Maybe you’re anticipating a sense of renewal, like after a heavy rain. Or a sparkling rainbow of sweaty bodies, debauchery, and breakout dance parties. But this next phase of the pandemic may also become “a season of breakups,” says Damona Hoffman, OkCupid Dating Expert and Host of The Dates & Mates Podcast.
“Dating was operating on hyper-speed throughout the pandemic,” she notes. “Once people found a suitable partner, things moved very quickly as people preferred to bubble together for safety, rather than date around casually. Yet, in my 15 years of coaching singles, I've seen that when relationships move forward too quickly and skip building a foundation of slow love, they can often burn out fast.” She says state reopenings will only compound this sort of flame-out. “As things open up more, people are likely to be eager to get out, and some of these deep bonds that have been established while being isolated together are likely to be challenged,” she notes.
For some quarantine couples, the Great Uncuffing is already underway. David Baratta broke up with James*, his across-the-street-neighbor whom he'd been seeing since before the pandemic, in mid-March, two days after getting his second shot of the Moderna vaccine. James had begun hinting at the two of them moving in together, but as soon as Baratta got his first shot, he started to rethink their relationship. Yes, they had fun. They were both into film, with James schooling Baratta on the appeal of dark movies like Midsommar and Baratta introducing James to the joys of “really delicious, mindless but well-crafted” flicks such as Love Actually. But it wasn’t enough for Baratta.
“We never fought but we also never were so enamored,” he says. “We stuck together to have something at a time when there was nothing. And now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, we don’t really need that.” After giving it some thought between his two shots, and getting over an initial pang of guilt, he was sure it was the best thing for both of them to end things. “I was starting to get resentful of having to be someone’s quarantine crutch — I knew if he didn’t have me, he probably wouldn’t have ever eaten a vegetable for all of lockdown,” he says. “But this needed to be done.”
Another reason he felt empowered to cut the cord: Baratta was ready to move on to the next chapter in his life after “a garbage year.”
“It wasn’t just me breaking up with him, it was me breaking up with the past year,” he says. “2020 really sucked, and this is a new time period. I just moved to a different apartment, and I’m ready to meet a new, different person.”
This isn’t uncommon, says Danielle Forshee, PsyD, LCSW, a psychologist and marriage therapist. She notes that many people will associate their quarantine hobbies and pod-mates with the COVID-19 pandemic. And, since it was a difficult time for so many people, that may not always feel like a good thing. So, subconsciously or not, many folks may try to rid themselves of these reminders.
That’s not the case for everyone, though. Eve*, a New Yorker who’s considering breaking up with her pandemic partner, says that she likes that they remind her of this time in her life. “There were so many hardships this past year with the deaths and the Black Lives Matter movement,” Eve says. “But for me, this was a time of serious personal growth and development, and he helped me with that. This was not the worst year of my life, and I really credit him for that. He’ll remind me of pandemic times, but it’ll be a blessing because, without him, I would have felt much unhappier.”
Her motivations for uncoupling are much more run-of-the-mill: She’s worried their lifestyles will be too different post-COVID. She likes to go out with friends multiple nights a week, while he’s more of a homebody. Eve has a suspicion they won’t be compatible in the long run, but she plans to wait it out, and see how the summer goes before pulling the trigger on a breakup.
“There’s a part of me that thinks I might be settling for a partner who doesn’t want the same things,” Eve says. “But I love him and I don't really know what to do about that.”
Turn Up The Heat
Even pre-pandemic, early summer brought a spike in breakups, according to Facebook Data Science. Thanks to nice weather, people’s social lives are much more active. They want to go out and mingle and have new flirtations. They’re also busier, potentially making less time for snuggling their SO and more for showing off their sundresses to new hotties.
Summer 2021 — which has already earned the moniker “ho girl summer” — just turns up the heat on all those factors. OkCupid predicts Sunday, July 4, will be the single biggest dating day of 2021, based on the progress of the vaccine roll out in the U.S., Hoffman told Refinery29 exclusively. “We predict there will be a sizable increase in conversations and matches on the app — and an overall surge in online activity that day before people move to dating offline,” Hoffman says. This is big news, because historically the first Sunday in January is the biggest dating day of the year. “While this winter was huge for online activity, people still had reservations about dating in person at that time,” Hoffman says. “Once people are vaccinated, they're going to want to date IRL again.”
Baratta agrees that it’ll be a wild summer. “I’m nervous about what the dating world is going to be like out there now,” he admits. “I feel like gay men are going to want to fuck everything and nobody’s going to want to date anybody in the city.” Still, he says he’s optimistic that some people will be looking for more serious matches, and Hoffman agrees. She says the pandemic has forced people to reevaluate their priorities. In fact, people are 12 times more likely to be looking for that special someone after the pandemic, versus date around, according to OkCupid data.
How To Stay Cuffed
The end of the pandemic doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your relationship, but for newer couples especially, staying together will likely require some intention and honest communication. Talk about your lifestyle differences and any compromises you may have to start making, Dr. Forshee suggests. “The best advice I can give is to play it out and see if you guys grow together on the same track in the post-lockdown world,” she says. “If you notice over time that you’re not, then it’s time to reevaluate and talk about it.”
KB and Nicole plan to implement such a strategy, while remaining realistic. They have different values, Nicole says. KB likes to spend his leisure time playing video games and experimenting with technology, while Nicole loves to travel and have new experiences. Since I first spoke to them, they’ve talked about where their relationship is headed post-vaccine.
“We didn’t come to a real consensus other than that we’ll have to talk about things as they come up,” Nicole says. “Right now, I know what I need to know. And that’s that I like him — and it’s not just because of the pandemic.”
*Names have been changed.