Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Dating during a pandemic

Dating has changed during the pandemic. Photo by @natabene via Twenty20

Single for more than four years, Alexa Dicken, 25, was determined live life outside her comfort zone. So, dressed in a classic 90’s look–red mesh skirt with a black tank—she nervously walked into a trendy bowling alley in Times Square for a meetup event. Alone.

She was assigned to a group with Sarah Weinflash, a 26-year-old production staff at a theatre company, and a few of her friends. Weinflash caught Dicken’s attention immediately.

“I thought she was kind of cute,” Dicken said. She began to make conversation with Weinflash and realized they had a lot in common. But their brief interaction was cut short when they were assigned to different bowling lanes for the rest of the night. Occasionally smiling and waving when they made eye contact, they never connected again because Weinflash had to leave early for work.

A week later, they met again at another event, “I was so excited because this girl who I thought was cute the week before was at this event too,” Dicken said. Once again, the girls were separated into different groups for games. “She left before we were able to like reconnect that night, and I was really bummed because two times in a row.” Dicken went home feeling miserable. However, Weinflsh got her number from a mutual acquaintance and texted Dicken. So it started: constant texts, coffee dates, dinner at their houses.

On the evening of March 7, after almost two months of romance, Dicken and Weinflash decided to make their relationship exclusive. A little over a week later, on March 20, New York City, the new epicentre of Covid-19, went into lockdown, and the couple has not seen each other since.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing some young couples in their  twenties to change their approach to dating and romance and to find new, creative ways to maintain their relationships. Covid-19 has modified romance for couples at every stage of romantic life from partners who have been together for a while, to couples starting relationships, to singles just getting to know each other.

In a time of crisis, relationships can bring couples closer if they are focused on “being fully present with the people that they love,” said Christine Wilke, a licensed marriage and family therapist. She says that the pandemic has allowed some couples to develop a deeper understanding of their partners.

As the pandemic began to spread in New York, both women moved in to be with their families. Dicken, an adjunct professor, and a Ph.D. student is now working from home in Long Island; Weinflash, who was furloughed from her theatre job, is with her parents in New Jersey.

The couple has replaced face-to-face interaction with regular video calls. Dicken says that she’s “very thankful for modern technology,” as it has allowed her “to like see her face and hear her voice and talk to her and everything which is really nice.” Despite the ease of texts and video chats, Dicken reverted to one of the oldest forms of romance, writing a love letter. “I got a little old-fashioned and romantic and sent her a letter,” she said. “She loved it.”

While there are downsides to long-distance romance, what matters the most, Dicken says, is that “We still have each other, even if from a distance. I’m so grateful for that.”

Even when couples are physically apart, they can sustain emotional connections through with some technology assistance says Miriam Bellamy, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Colorado. “Just a small thing, like watching TV together,” she says.

That’s the strategy used by Daniela Cantillo, 24, and Dylan McDonough, 25, a couple who have recently been separated due to the coronavirus. Cantillo and Mcdonough met as students at Florida International University in 2016. Cantillo is self-isolating back home in Florida and McDonough in New York City.

The couple has been watching movies and TV shows together through Facebook video chat, starting and pausing the film at the same time, and then discussing the shows afterward. One of their favorite movies so far have been CoCo and Moana. They are currently watching “The Office” together, “I never saw it before, but he insists that I needed to,” Cantillo said. They also play online trivia and drawing games through a new video calling app called Houseparty with a few of their friends.

Cantillo and McDonough stayed good friends throughout college, regularly texting and calling before they realized they had strong feelings for one another. When Cantillo moved to New York City, where McDonough was located, to work at an Arts Non-for-profit more than two years ago, they decided to make the relationship official. Since then, Cantillo has gone back to school, currently completing a Master’s degree in International Affairs at the New School, and McDonough is working as a manager in sales at a stock media company.

The couple lived in separate apartments in Brooklyn and went on dates three to four times a week, often trying out new restaurants and bars. “I’m a huge foodie,” said Cantillo. The restaurant exploring days are over for now and she misses that aspect of their dating. “We can’t go on dinners anymore, share appetizers, and get a little drunk.”

The separation is not without its stresses with what Cantillo calls “a real coronavirus couple fight,” caused by her not paying attention to a movie that they were supposedly watching together. Despite their small quarrels, Cantillo thinks that their relationship will survive through this virus. “I went to Egypt for a month. The time difference was hard, but we still made it work,” Cantillo said. “It feels kind of nostalgic, a little bit like, it’s cute. To be put back into our long-distance roots.”

For other couples, COVID 19 has forced them to make decisive moves, such as living together sooner than they planned.

Dating for about a year, Erin Meskers, 25, and her boyfriend, Kyle Hodge, 27, saw each other at least four times a week, often sleeping over at each other’s apartments. Initially, the couple had planned to move in together in August. Yet, once the pandemic hit, they decided it was best for them to live together and to keep each other company during the self-isolation period. Meskers packed her things and moved into Hodge’s spacious, modern-looking apartment in Bushwick, who he shares with two other roommates.

The arrangement hasn’t quite turned out as the couple had planned.

“In the beginning, living together was not bringing us closer,” Meskers said. “I thought we were driving each other insane.” Little things like eating annoyed her. “I’ve been picking on him for chewing too loud,” Meskers said. “We’re not screaming at each other; we’re just getting more annoyed at each other.”

She blames the short tempers on being together 24 hours a day as both are working from home, Meskers as a brand partnerships and events coordinator at a cosmetics company, and her Hodge, 27, a staff writer at an online media company,  “It’s definitely been like a little bit of a roller coaster throughout the whole thing,” she said.

Wilke says this is not unusual. Relationships and marriage are “hard work.” She recommends that couples who are now spending a lot more time together because of the pandemic should “sit down and just map out a schedule,” and make sure they “create some personal time to recharge.” With any relationship, listening and communicating is the key.

In the case of Meskers and Hodge, living together has allowed the couple to have more conversations and to work on their differences. “I feel like it’s actually been more positive than negative,” Meskers said. Both schedule blocks of time alone, the couple spends every morning working on their own tasks and organizes time to call and virtually hang out with their own friends. In the evening, the couple cooks meals together. “That’s kind of been our favorite part of it, we used to eat out a lot and not cook, so it’s been fun to order groceries and make meals and baking cookies.”

Ultimately, for partners, separate or together, Bellamy stresses that “There’s something much bigger going on here. You don’t have to learn a new language; you don’t have to write your book. Take it easy. Let yourself relax. Perspective is the key to everything.”


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