You’re reading our series Summer’s Not Cancelled, celebrating summer in this new normal. From rediscovering nature and time with friends and family, to virtual festivals and unforgettable staycations – summer’s still here, it’s just different.
During the height of lockdown, we waved goodbye to one-night-stands, late-night drinks and hookups. Some flouted the rules for some sneaky sex in the park and not-so-socially-distanced dates. But with limited physical connection, most sought out ways to engage virtually instead. For the better part of 2020, dating has been restricted to online only – with phone and video calls more important than ever before. There was even a period when we were asking whether we’d ever get our physical sex lives back.
Then came Boris Johnson’s social bubbles in June, unexpected respite for single people and non-cohabiting couples across England – even if calling it “bubbling up” could not sound less appealing, sexually speaking.
From early July, the government eased lockdown in earnest. Now we’re allowed to meet up (unless you’re unlucky enough to live in an area that’s been locked down again, please keep up). So how has the dating landscape changed?
Some suggest that ‘cuffing season’ – when people couple up for winter to get some cosy, centrally-heated ‘comforts’ – is no longer reserved for the cold months, especially with people back on dating apps and interested to make the most of summer meetups before any rumoured second wave.
But, according to a survey conducted by dating app Bumble, more than half of its users (55%) are seeking more meaningful relationships online after the loneliness of lockdown.
“Social distancing has drastically changed the way we are dating,” says Naomi Walkland, the app’s associate director of marketing. “Over the past two months, we’ve seen a big increase in video calls.” This activity has been aided, she says, by the ‘virtual dating’ badge users can add to their profile – as well as newly launched in-app audio notes for the more camera-shy.
There’s been talk of lockdown enabling ‘slow love’, with extra time to nurture a budding romance before you hit the bedroom; to build trust and connection; and to lay the foundations for a relationship that can flourish in the long term.
This is how it played out for Rory O’Moore, 20, from Wigan who matched with his now-girlfriend on Tinder in late February, but without meeting until late July.
“It’s a weird experience meeting someone in person after months of already knowing them.”
“We spoke every day in lockdown through Instagram and FaceTime. We finally managed to meet each other in person a couple weeks ago as pubs and bars were opening back up,” he explains.
“It’s a weird experience meeting someone in person after months of already knowing them. A lot of the questions you would ask on a first date were already answered. We’ve met each other a lot since the relaxing of lockdown, even meeting each others’ parents, and made it official last week.”
Some relationships went into “turbo” mode at the start of lockdown after the encouragement from senior health officials for couples to “test their relationship” by moving in together. Other more recent couplings, formed since lockdown easing, are also on fast forward.
But is the fresh wave of dating activity this summer driven by people looking for genuine commitment or by the desire – or panic – not to go it alone if a second wave hits, especially after the sex drought of spring?
“Normally, cuffing season is about winter hibernation and hunkering down with someone for the cold period, but there’s so much uncertainty on the future or how long things will last, this has changed people’s mindsets,” says Charly Lester, relationship expert at online dating app, The Inner Circle.
“Summer is the one time of year when you can safely date outside. We’ve seen a real rise in socially-distanced dates and traditional dating methods like going for a walk in the park or a bike ride.
“If you’d have asked someone six months ago if they were planning on doing those things on a date, they would’ve laughed at you.”
As if dating wasn’t hard enough for singletons looking for love in the short summer timeframe, recent controversial guidance from the Terrence Higgins Trust argues for face coverings and against face-to-face contact during sex.
“It’s very naive to think that the public will wear masks during sex. No one is going to do this,” O’Moore reasons.
“The government is fine with groups going into bars and restaurants, so why can’t two people kiss if they’ve been safe and not showing symptoms? Even if you’re not in a face-to-face or missionary position – you’re both heavily breathing. I don’t think the position you’re in is going to have much effect unless you’re gifted with a 5 ft penis to be able to have socially-distanced safe sex.”
“I live with my vulnerable grandparents and I can’t kill them for a snog.”
Isabella Silvers, 27, from Hounslow, is in the early stages of dating a guy who lives in the next street over from hers and is debating whether or not to take things further.
“We started talking at the end of July on Bumble – the 28th July at 22.26pm to be precise,” she says. “We knew we both lived in Hounslow, but the less than 60 second distance only became apparent when we went home together (to our separate houses) after our first date.”
So far, they’ve only hugged with faces turned away. She’s in two minds about kissing because Silvers has family members still shielding and is worried about the recent spike in cases in her area.
“I live with my vulnerable grandparents and I can’t kill them for a snog, so I’m not sure what to do,” she explains.
“We’ve sat closer than 2m together, but not shared drinks or anything. We’ve only been on two dates, it’s too soon to say. However, I’m enjoying how things are going right now and I’d love to go ‘official’ if things carry on going well.”