Dating After COVID: Why Social Anxiety Is Surging

The lifting of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions can only mean one thing, right? A summer of love.
2 September 2021

By Vanessa B 

The lifting of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions can only mean one thing, right? A summer of love. Scientists have even predicted a social phenomenon similar to the roaring 20s, where parties, socializing, and love are on the top of everyone’s list of priorities. For some people, however, jumping headfirst into the dating pool doesn’t sound quite so simple. 

What’s holding people back?

After over a year of online dating, video calls, endless messaging, or, in some cases, a total dating hiatus, it stands to reason that many will be keen to meet new people in person again. However, after so long without dating, a lot of people feel pretty out of practice. During the pandemic, we’ve seen a stark increase in social anxiety coupled with rusty social skills. Between re-learning how to date and lingering nervousness about COVID-19, social anxiety is affecting many would-be daters. 

“I gave up on online dating pretty early on in the pandemic,” says Ellen, 24. “The constant messaging with no real aim just felt tiring. So, I figured I’d wait until I could meet people in person again. Now I’ve got the chance though, I feel like I need to learn how to date all over again. I actually feel way more nervous [to go on a date] than I did before the pandemic. I’m definitely out of practice!”

Many people feel the same way, and this sentiment is reflected in search data gathered by diamond ring company Angelic Diamonds. Their Love Dilemmas data shows that Google searches featuring dating queries have surged over the course of the pandemic. For example, between April 2020 and March 2021, the term “What do you talk about on a first date?” increased by 600 percent, “What questions to ask on the first date” increased by 75 percent, and “Why is dating so hard?” increased by 57 percent. Clearly, anxiety surrounding dating is on the rise, and this could put a serious spanner in the works for the predicted “summer of love”. This anxiety has even led to brand-new terms like “FOMU” (fear of meeting up) and “FODA” (fear of dating again).

Keeping dating slow and steady 

From re-learning how to date to navigating COVID-related health concerns, it looks like it could be a while before our dating lives are back on track. However, experts are encouraging people to take their time. In conversation with Cosmopolitan, sex therapist Mia Sabar explained: “One of the biggest challenges we’ll face with dating as lockdown begins to ease will likely stem from re-entry anxiety. These emotions are completely normal, and there is no shame in feeling apprehensive about being around numerous people, or about meeting in person after months of communicating via a screen.”

In contrast to rushing back into dating in the spirit of the roaring 20s, some experts believe that we’re likely to see a continuation of ‘slow dating’. One study found that online daters were more likely to be looking for a deep emotional connection with a partner before a physical one. Judging by this, slow dating might be the perfect post-lockdown solution for many, especially those who are feeling anxious about jumping in at the deep end. For vulnerable people with health conditions or those who feel nervous about the lifting of restrictions, slow dating is a good option. Perhaps the end of COVID-19 restrictions won’t mean the end of pre-date video calls and a lot of messaging back and forth after all. 

How to tackle dating anxiety

If you’re feeling anxious about getting stuck back into the world of dating, there’s probably one big question on your lips: how can you tackle dating anxiety? If you’re feeling hesitant about dating, it’ll probably take you a while to feel completely comfortable again. So, take your time and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Taking it slow is more than okay. Remember, the person you’re talking to on a dating app is likely to feel the exact same way you do. Also, if they aren’t understanding of your anxiety, then they’re probably not the right person for you anyway. Communicate clearly with them before meeting up and don’t be afraid to be crystal clear about your boundaries. Some people might feel comfortable with physical intimacy, for example, whereas others might still feel hesitant about touching due to health concerns. Expressing your boundaries and respecting theirs is the only way to successfully navigate the post-pandemic dating world. 

What’s more, just because you don’t have to stick to social distancing-style dates doesn’t mean you can’t choose to. There’s no reason to rush back to meeting up in busy bars if you don’t feel ready for that kind of social interaction. Plan dates outside, or even choose dates based on activities as an ice-breaker. That way, you won’t have to worry about awkward silences. 

Getting back into dating might feel stressful, but remember, it’s also meant to be fun! Don’t rush yourself into anything. Take your time, and when you are truly ready to get back into dating, try to enjoy each moment without putting too much pressure on yourself.