In early August, she agreed to meet someone from a dating app for a drink, her first date since March.
But when they did finally meet, she says, "I just felt extremely hesitant". Later that day I sent him a text explaining how I felt, and he replied saying he had sensed that from my body language. Would people shy away from chasing romance if they were subconsciously aware of a potential health risk, or would the natural human desire to find a partner prevail?
The researchers had little idea that Covid was around the corner. Now, their work, combined with other psychological studies conducted during the pandemic, offers a fascinating and highly relevant window into how the crisis appears to be affecting our dating behaviour.
And, it points to ways in which we can date more effectively in the future as well as form deeper and stronger relationship bonds. Some may prefer to keep their distance from potential partners if they perceive a health threat Credit: Alamy. Pathogens have presented a threat to our survival throughout human history. So, evolutionary psychologists believe humans have evolved a set of subconscious responses that manifest when we are particularly concerned about the presence of an infectious disease.
The new rules of dating
These responses lead us to engage in behavioural patterns that reduce the likelihood of getting infected, such as being less open and making reduced eye contact when in social situations. The McGill team examined how this played out in a dating context.
They took several hundred heterosexual male and female singletons, aged 18 to 35, and had them complete a known psychometric test known as PVDS, or the perceived vulnerability to disease scale. Each of the participants then watched a video about hygiene and the abundance of bacteria in the everyday world. Intriguingly, the researchers found that those who had indicated they felt more vulnerable to disease consistently displayed much lower levels of interest in their prospective dates.
The rise of borderless dating
This was true even when they were highly attractive. Fear of disease made them less interested in romancing. May people who are more concerned about vulnerability to disease change their dating behaviour as a self-protection mechanism Credit: Alamy.
Of course, even if you could ignore survival messages from your subconscious, simply meeting a potential partner has not been easy during the pandemic. National lockdowns have seen individual freedoms curtailed in an unprecedented manner for months at a time, making it almost impossible to get out and date. But as work has moved online, so has romance.
Ben, a year-old actuary living in Bristol, was initially sceptical about the idea of video dates. But with few alternatives in early April, he soon began to embrace this new dating trend, and even find some advantages of it. Behavioural scientist Logan Ury, who currently works as director of relationship science at dating app Hinge, has also noticed a change in how people are approaching online dating. Pre-pandemic it was common for people to use the app to continually move from person to person. But as social restrictions came in, people have began spending longer getting to know each other in the virtual world before meeting.
This has meant that when they did finally get to meet in person, the encounter carried more importance in their minds. And that intentionality can show up in a of ways. In general, I think these are things which are really good for the dating community.
Although video dates may feel a bit unnatural, there may be positive knock-on effects from our shift to dating on our screens Credit: Alamy. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, social psychologist Paula Pietromonaco has been examining what makes some couples bond more even more despite the stresses of the crisis, while others are pushed apart.
While socioeconomic factors do play a critical, with couples more financially affected by the pandemic more likely to split up, Pietromonaco says that a lot comes down to how couples approach problems that come their way. Because the pandemic has been so life-changing for everyone, she predicts that the long-term prospects of many couples will be influenced by the patterns of behaviour established during this period.
Commentary: rise in online dating during pandemic may see more serious relationships, marriages in next few years
But if they get into patterns of conflict, that also can spiral. For some singles, the pandemic may have brought changes that are here to stay even as life returns to normal.
The Life Project. The Life Project Relationships. Coronavirus: Why dating feels so different now. Share using .
By David Cox 24th November This feature uses a computer-generated synthetic voice. There may be some errors, for example in pronunciation, sentiment and tone.
The new relationships that fizzled out in quarantine
Research shows that a potential health threat can transform the way we think about and approach romantic interactions. Researchers found that those who had indicated they felt more vulnerable to disease consistently displayed much lower levels of interest in their prospective dates. The pandemic has meant that every date becomes more precious — Logan Ury. Around the BBC.