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Navigating the dating scene during the pandemic: a guide for students

Dating as a student? As if life is not hard enough already! With the pandemic adding pressure to all social interactions, meeting new people and going on dates has become quite tricky. During this unprecedented period, students are facing more challenges than ever, but how are they handling them?

Navigating the dating scene during the pandemic: a guide for students

When talking about dating during the pandemic as a university student, there are a few factors to consider: social distancing, of course, but also the rise of digital technology and dating apps to the point where they are now more popular than ever before. Although the use of technology can help meet people without actually meeting people, it can hinder the development of meaningful relationships, too. One-night stands and hookup culture are a pandemic of their own among students, and in combination with an actual virus spreading, the pressure is on. That being said, there are some good things that have come as a result. During the past two years, pretty much everyone has reevaluated their priorities and relationships, and shifted the focus towards what really matters. Where does that leave students’ dating lives? That is what we will find out.

The reality of dating as a university student

Dating in 2022 completely differs from the experience our parents had back in the day. While for them it was typical to meet and spend time together only in person, today everything is overtaken by technology. Young people, notably university students, are increasingly using dating applications. This means that the “organic” way of starting a relationship has been replaced by a long exchange of online messages and emojis, which could lead to meeting in real life, or it could not. Although every student’s personal experience is different, there are some uniting factors like the pandemic and online dating, which contribute to common situations.

  • Through the ups and downs of online dating

The magical world of dating apps: Just a few years ago, dating during a pandemic would have been far more difficult. However, with today's technology, students may choose whether or not to continue dating while in lockdown. They are easy to use and navigate: you match with someone and can start chatting right away. You do not have to leave the comfort and safety of your home and you can get to know someone before actually meeting them. If things go well, you set up a face-to-face meetup and see how things develop from there.

However, an interesting fact that surveys have discovered, is that although dating apps are enjoying an all-time high at the moment, only about a quarter of the surveyed users have admitted to going on an actual date as a result of using them. The fact that only a small fraction of users actually go on an in-person date shows that dating app satisfaction may be varied as well. On online dating platforms, for example, many women have experienced unfavorable encounters such as harassment and name-calling. Many men have stated that dating apps did not provide them with as many interactions as they desired. Hardly will anyone be shocked by these statistics though. If you have used such an application even once, you would know that most chats end just as fast as they start and they lead to no real-life interactions.

In addition to the low conversion rates of chats to in-person conversations, different expectations are also a common block to something meaningful developing.

  • Keeping expectations low

While dating in university may appear to be more liberated than dating in high school, most students find it to be a tedious experience. Some students may not be interested in dating; instead, they may prefer to use their newfound freedom to explore life. Others, though, may have never been in a relationship before university, so it may be exciting for them during this time.

The thing is that “hookup culture”, meaning casual relationships, is the most common among university students. Some of the factors that encourage it include dating apps. But while a meaningless encounter is exactly what some people might be looking for, others may be completely disappointed by the lack of reciprocity and interest from their “date”. Relationships need maturity and a positive outlook. College is rife with young people who want to break away from the confines of living at home and enjoy living independently. This newfound independence allows individuals to live their lives without fear of being judged by others. As a result, many university students have had hookups rather than serious partnerships. So, keeping expectations low may be a good strategy, but being clear with your intentions and direct from the onset, is the best you can do.

  • The catfishing phenomenon

The topic of “catfishing” is inevitable when talking about online dating. In general, the term relates to creating a partially or entirely fake online profile in a way that misleads people to lure them into a relationship. Cyberbullying, by definition, occurs when “when someone utilizes technology in a way that causes persistent harm to another person”. It is unethical to create a phony internet profile and communicate with someone with the intent of duping them into building a romantic connection, only to break up with or damage them afterwards. On university campuses, catfishing can easily occur either in a non-malicious manner or as a way of pranking someone. Whatever the case, it is something that anyone using dating applications should stay wary of.

What we need to take into account is the fact that the pandemic and lockdowns have increased such occurrences, but also provided a new outlook on life and dating as a university student.

How the pandemic has affected students’ dating lives

To state the obvious: everyone is spending more time at home and interacting with others less. This, naturally, has led to a rise in the use of dating apps for the better or for worse.

Isolated and disappointed: the negative side

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted college students in ways no one could have predicted. The pandemic's aftermath has left its imprint on many areas of what should have been a remarkable university experience, from virtual learning to canceled graduations and a world on lockdown. COVID-19 has taken on the role of third wheel, since dating and emotionally bonding with people has fallen to the wayside. Some students have been forced to go back home to live with their parents which has taken away from (?) the traditional university life and the potential to meet new people. Bars, restaurants and movie theatres have closed, and student dating has gotten more challenging during this time of isolation. Many students are turning to the beauty of social media dating and apps to discover and maintain those flirty relationships.

However, more general changes have also occurred: during this time, many have had a shift in priorities or have found themselves totally discouraged and reluctant to date at all. With so many complications, such as social distancing measures and most places closing their doors, even the act of planning a date has become a chore. It has been a challenging period for everyone attempting to form or maintain connections, and it can be a lonely and isolated experience. Some argue that online dating is a last choice because they need attention and affection, while others declare that they have given up hope of ever finding love.

Others, who have been fortunate enough to find what they were looking for, have been stuck in different types of difficult situations. For example, there are stories of people meeting in university and starting a relationship, but being forced to separate or go long-distance, because of the sudden implications of the pandemic. All in all, it can be quite discouraging and burdensome to navigate dating and relationships as a university student, and the pandemic has definitely provided additional pressure.

On the bright side, it is not all negative. It is true that new issues have been caused by the pandemic, but it has also put things into perspective in a rather sweet way for some people.

Looking at things from another perspective

For some, the pandemic has interrupted the meeting of new people, with fears stopping interaction. Others have found ways to safely create a love story. The lockdowns were a difficult time for many students to overcome, as feelings of isolation continued to grow, testing long-term relationships in its tracks. From virtual zoom dates to socially-distanced dates with face coverings, it has been a challenge for students to connect emotionally. That being said, romance is hardly dead. On the contrary, young people are finding ways to push past the challenges and create a safe space for relationships to form and grow.

Another point is that social isolation has left most of us deprived of interaction and starving for connection. Some surveys even show that the number of new relationships being started since the pandemic is higher than those ending. According to a recent study, 91% of college students surveyed said they were using dating apps for more than just flings. It has even been reported that there has been a “dating boom” recently – with singles appearing to be less obsessed with casual sex and more interested in dating with the intention of finding a monogamous relationship. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that after a year and a half of fear and uncertainty, commitment is now extremely attractive. This trend toward intentional dating in the aftermath of COVID-19, according to Michael J. Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Stanford University who has analyzed online dating for more than 10 years, is building on a shift that can be clearly seen in online dating patterns in recent years, where more people have been using dating apps to search for committed relationships rather than hookups.

After not having the option to date casually, or in any way, for a while, many people have begun considering monogamy and partnership more seriously now than before. As a student, the serious business has perhaps started earlier in life than expected, with the pandemic forcing you to grow up quickly and reassess priorities, but it has also helped clear the mind and pay attention to what is really important.

While the pandemic has pushed some people to think more deeply about what they want out of their relationships and their lives, it has also prompted others to think more widely about what they want out of their lives. This shift in priorities and outlooks on life is not unexpected, but it is definitely a change for the better. This difficult period has taught everyone to focus on the things that truly matter and to actively work towards maintaining the most important relationships in our lives.

Has dating life changed forever?

Because our lives have altered dramatically in a year, it is tough to predict what the future holds for dating. Putting on masks and being tested has become the norm, which just serves to show that anything can change extremely quickly.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, college students have had to change their everyday routines. They have learned to engage with one another in a more secure manner. While this is beneficial to our physical health, it has resulted in an increase in lonely university students. To compensate for the lack of in-person connections, many have switched to a new realm of technology. And while the digital world and dating apps help to temporarily bring comfort and fill the void created by the many lockdowns, they cannot replace genuine real-life interactions. The future promises to continue developing the digital and transforming our lives even more. But perhaps, the answer is in the balance: online dating is a great way to “meet” new people, but the actual meeting should continue to be in person.