As more of us get vaccinated, we are eager to get back into in-person dating. With this, we can enjoy the intimacy it entails. But after a year of lockdown and social distancing, is this really going to be a horny summer as many are saying?
Social epidemiologists have predicted a “roaring Twenties”-style post-pandemic period defined by “extensive social interactions” and a surge in “sexual licentiousness”.
“Hot vax summer is coming,” Insider proclaimed in March. “NYC singles ready for ‘slutty summer’ of casual sex,” screamed the New York Post.
Much has changed since March 2020, and this included the way we date. With many people reporting rusty social skills and higher levels of social anxiety, we think it will still take some time before we can comfortably date.
The summer of love is a big myth. The real trend emerging this summer is slow dating.
Slow dating would seem to make sense post-lockdown, with many of us still experiencing a heightened awareness of physical safety and the risks of illness.
“While many predicted this summer to be a roaring-Twenties style period of sex and parties, we are actually finding the opposite to be true. Recent research shows people are looking for a committed relationship and emotional connection. They are also reluctant to get close due to social anxiety fears.”
“This is a summer of slow dating. We are re-evaluating our priorities and relationships and seeking something more meaningful this summer. The pandemic has changed how we connect with each other and value relationships.”
88 percent of its users wanted to find a committed relationship within the year, while 84 percent said they would be seeking an emotional connection over a physical one this summer.
One-third of daters who were surveyed were apprehensive about kissing and hugging others, while a quarter was worried about catching coronavirus from potential dates.
It appears that many single people are aware of these barriers to intimacy, which won’t simply be magicked away as restrictions ease.
While many are eager to get back into in-person dating this summer, some have really embraced the slow courtship process that became necessary during the pandemic. By having calls and video chats before meeting up in person.
With the absence of physical contact, the pace at which people dated slowed right down, with dating app users making judgments on potential partners based on other forms of compatibility as opposed to just how much they wanted to jump into bed with someone.
“Having endured months of very limited social contact, single people are seeking intimacy, connection, and being able to share their experiences with other people.”
“Having an extended period without the opportunity to date properly definitely made me feel like I was falling behind in terms of finding love. So to go from that to a so-called ‘summer of love’ where I seemingly have plenty of options but potentially not actually make any connections definitely makes me concerned.”
“Dating often works best when you take things slowly. Having a date every night of the week can quickly become emotionally draining.”
Instead, Quinn advises maintaining all of the activities that have kept you on track over the past year. “Remember the valuable lessons you may have learned from this time of self-reflection. Focus on quality instead of quantity.”
According to psychologist Amanda Gesselman, associate director for research at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, the pandemic has motivated singles to look for partners rather than casual sex.
While “there will [certainly] be people having the time of their lives” when it’s safe to do so, Gesselman says, “We actually found that people are less interested in no-strings-attached sex than they used to be.”
The study surveyed 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 45):
“That was a bit lower than we expected, considering everyone’s locked up and has been for a year. That said, as most people have spent more than a year worrying about infection and thinking about how to protect themselves from germs, she reasons the mindset “might be extending to sex with unfamiliar partners.”
Ilana Dunn, co-host of the dating podcast Seeing Other People, says she’s been hearing similar feedback from listeners and friends:
“Everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, of course, I’m going to get really drunk and go wild for like, a week. Because we need to do that. But my goal is to find someone.’”
In an Instagram poll that received more than 1,000 responses:
Psychologist Amanda Gesselman believes the pandemic has pushed many people to be more introspective about what they want in their lives:
“When you’re in your mid-20s and you have your entire future ahead of you, and then you just sat through an entire year of social isolation and halted progress, it really makes you think about the things you want in your life. I think a lot of people are thinking more towards what would make their future the best rather than what would be good short-term gratification.”
What has pushed us towards the slow dating trend?
Many single people report feeling ambivalent about “going back to normal”, with fears of crowds and socializing has increased recently. Such anxieties have coalesced into what is being called a “fear of dating again” – a phenomenon that has even been given its own acronym, FODA.
This apprehensiveness about meeting others and having to be social again means the wild summer of hedonism and hook-ups is likely out of reach for many people, who are still recovering from a difficult year.
The knowledge that touch has the potential to spread disease has prompted a spike in so-called re-entry anxiety, with many questioning how comfortable they’ll be when in close proximity to strangers.
Syncd also found that, out of its user base, just 39 percent of people were excited by the prospect of a summer of love, while 61 percent said they were nervous.
As for the Roaring ’20s comparison often attributed to social epidemiologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis, the timeline he’s laid out doesn’t predict a pendulum swing away from the risk aversion of the present moment until 2024, when vaccines will have been distributed around the world and there’s been more of a recovery from some of the pandemic’s economic devastation.
He sees this summer as having the potential to offer “a taste of the past and a hope for the future,” Christakis recently told NPR.
Gesselman and Dunn also cite lingering pandemic-induced social anxiety as another obstacle to a bacchanal this summer:
“It seems like people’s biggest concern is when life opens back up and they’re finally able to pursue these connections, ‘What if I get rejected or things go wrong? What happens if disappointment strikes?’” Gesselman says.
During periods of lockdown, many singletons found new opportunities to introspect and learn about themselves, which can positively shape relationship formation. Outlooks and priorities have shifted, and the things we value most in others are also likely to have changed.
If you’re feeling anxious about dating again, remember it’s okay if you want to take things slow and it’s understandable to feel apprehensive about meeting others after a long period in social isolation. There’s really no reason to rush into things. And whatever you decide, you can take comfort from the fact that you are not alone in facing this strange new world.