What We’ve Learned About Dating & Relationships During the Pandemic

We’re revisiting this Autostraddle piece on queer dating as we get back to dating basics in partnership with HER’s Queer Dating 101, a series of live edutainment events that brings in concrete how-tos, insights, experts and some of your favorite Autostraddle personalities to help you find love (or whatever you’re looking for) in the time of corona. Check out the event on Sex and Relationships During COVID TONIGHT,1/21/2021 at 6pm PT | 9pm ET!

Some of us entered quarantine single; some of us entered it with partners we’re living with; some are in long-distance relationships, and some were just starting new connections that could have been anything — and then a pandemic happened. Although everyone’s situation has been different and had different challenges (isn’t that the truth, love life or not) it feels safe to say that all of us have been forced to have some ~personal growth experiences~ in this area, whether we wanted to or not. Here’s what we feel like we’ve taken away from the pandemic so far in terms of dating, sex and partnership, even if begrudgingly — what insights do you have to share? Tell us in the comments!

Archie Bongiovanni, Cartoonist

My partner and I are HARD social distancing, due to being high-risk we haven’t had any in-person hangouts. At the start of quarantine, a close friend talked about how important it’d be to create new memories right now, to focus on new and inventive ways of connection. That resonated and is something I’ve strived to do with all of my partnerships (romantic or otherwise) during this time. So that is what I’ve learned: it’s totally worth it to put the energy in creating new fun memories with the people you love, even in the hell of 2020. In some ways, it reminds me of being long-distance with my partner years ago. We found so many fun and goofy ways to connect even while thousand of miles away. Beyond the fear and anger that 2020 has brought up, it’s also brought up a lot of creativity, imagination and drive and the importance of scheduling intentional time with others. And I can’t deny how hard it’s been (fuckin’ hard!) but cooking with friends over Facetime, a drunk dance party over Zoom, the new ways my partner and I have connected during this time, and the creative ways we’re able to show up for our community will mean when I look back at this time it won’t be all doom and gloom.

Bailey , Writer

Being long distance before this has magnified how far apart we are right now, especially with the uncertainty of when we might see each other. One of my love languages is quality time and I learned it’s possible to have that met and to provide that over video.

danijanae , Writer

Quarantine has really taught me that, much to my dismay, I’m ready to be back in a committed relationship. I still love the idea of sleeping around and being a hoe but I know that my heart kind wants to have a partner/girlfriend that I can talk about my frustrations of the day, someone I can laugh with and be vulnerable with on a daily basis. I am incredibly busy all the time so its not high on my list of priorities but I’ve definitely been having girlfriend fantasies lately more than sexy ones.

I’ve also learned what I don’t have time for, mainly someone that demands a lot of my time and attention in a selfish way. I’m on tinder and using that good old passport feature to travel around to different cities and I feel like I CAN do long distance, and it might actually be my preferred method of dating. I like the idea of living separate lives then coming together every once in awhile to do things together.

Drew Burnett Gregory, Senior Editor

Quarantine has taught me that I actually am really horny. It’s not just for my brand.

Also I think it’s clarified how much I value actual intimacy. I like talking to people! And getting to know them! Before having sex with them! Even if that all happens in the span of an evening! So while I’m frustrated with the all-consuming feeling that I may never have sex again, I also like the fact that I can just get to know people as people right now and flirt, sure, but not necessarily decide what I want that person to be to me.

Heather Hogan, Senior Writer + Editor

My very specific answer to this question is: I learned the true strength of mine and Stacy’s relationship, the depth of our commitment, and that there is absolutely nothing we cannot overcome together. I got sick seven days into lockdown and haven’t yet gotten better. I had two weeks of COVID that seemed to clear up, and then I had a relapse, and then I developed autonomic nervous system dysfunction which has only just been diagnosed. I have been basically bed-bound for three months, unable, most days, to get food for myself or even stand up in the shower. I can’t go to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. I can’t go to the grocery store. I need a wheelchair at doctor’s visits, which are the only things I leave my house for. My diagnosis has been a huge relief. There’s no cure for dysautonomia, but there are lots of ways to try to manage it to improve quality of life. I’m able to get out of bed more now! I got a shower stool so I can shower as long as I want! I can sit in the kitchen and make my own breakfast! It’s slow going, but I’m getting there. I’ve also learned that Stacy thinks I’m adorable no matter what. I have to wear specific compression gear on my lower body right now; I kind of look like I’m wearing a baseball uniform all the time. She’s always complimenting me on it, sincerely. And I’ve learned our bits never die. “Has anyone seen my new red hat?” I say when I shuffle slowly down the stairs in my baseball-looking pants and socks. Stacy says, “Piss on your red hat!”

Kamala Puligandla, Former Editor-in-Chief

I feel like I’ve learned what rhythm and stability can feel like in a totally new way! I’m an Aries so I like new energy, but I also love deep, intense connection and I think quarantine has showed me a lot of new depth with people I already knew I cared about. I’ve been working on a relationship with my last girlfriend and it’s flourished with our regular availability and limited options for what we can do in quarantine — also with the structure of working on intense art projects about our relationship — but it’s felt really nice to see how many things we’re able to talk about and build upon, when we have a tight routine. I also have found, like I’m sure many people have, that casual “fun” dating with strangers feels like a weird chore now. I did a queer blind speed dating game for several weeks, and while I was entertained by a couple of people at first, trying to hold on to info about them, when they had no physical space in my life, felt like a lot of work. I ultimately decided I don’t need to talk to any new people 😬

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Managing Editor

My girlfriend and I went from being long-distance for the entirety of our relationship to all of a sudden being quarantined together. I’m really lucky though, because it’s going really well. We were already so excited to live with each other and no longer have to deal with the highs and lows of long distance, but quarantine definitely intensified the situation. We’ve learned a lot about how we each cope with anxiety and stress, but again, because of our specific scenario, I feel like we’d be learning all these things about each other right now since it’s our first time living together—regardless of pandemic. Pandemic just made us learn them a bit faster, which has ultimately been a good thing.

Ro White, Sex & Dating Editor

Getting to know someone before having sex is actually pretty great (and I NEVER thought I’d say that). My girlfriend and I started dating in March while quarantined separately, and now we see each other (and ONLY each other while practicing strict social distancing in other areas of life) in person. Getting to know her via phone calls and video chatting for a few months affirmed that this was a relationship I wanted to pursue. We certainly discussed our sexual interests up front, but we built a strong foundation that wasn’t muddled by actually fucking (I think that’s how I’ve ended up in relationships that weren’t right for me). Now I get emotional security AND incredible sex.

Rachel Kincaid, Former Managing Editor

One thing I can’t stop thinking about is how explicit and literal the pandemic has made so many tacit, implicit parts of our relationships. We’ve all had to talk about the boundaries of our intimate relationships in extreme detail to figure out our quarantine structure; in some cases we’ve had to literally prioritize relationships because we can’t safely see everyone in our lives. Trust and open communication are now literal life-or-death issues. Many of us, maybe all of us, bring into relationships the underlying question “Are you going to prioritize my needs and my wellness? Would you ever harm me or put me at risk for the sake of your own wants and needs?” That question is now… extremely literal! It makes sense that a lot of relationships are under strain right now, and may not survive this; if I found out someone I live with or considered a close intimate was willing to put my life at risk to get a haircut or get laid, I would… not continue to be in relationship with that person.

I live with my best friend, and I am lucky in that it’s a relationship with good communication and trust; I generally have felt very secure and supported throughout this. There’s also the difficult reality, though, that sometimes people’s needs are genuinely and intractably at odds with each other. I joke frequently that queers live under the shared illusion that all problems are communication problems, when in fact sometimes you can communicate super well about something and what becomes clear is… your needs don’t line up, full stop! In this case, my best friend and I are in many ways really different people, and also we physically cannot leave this house; a lot of the things that make me feel best & most secure during all this make him feel objectively terrible, and vice versa. There is no fixing this, it’s just how it is, and we have to somehow make that work day to day in the confines of a two-bedroom apartment! So it’s a practice of trying to find compromise with a person you love and figure out how much both of you can adjust, and commit to not resenting the other person for what they need or trying to convince them out of it, or feel guilty for what you need. It’s a good relationship muscle for me to exercise!

On a different note, supply chain interruptions during the pandemic meant that I briefly wasn’t able to get my antidepressant and had withdrawal symptoms for a few days that include ‘nightmares’ and ‘vivid dreams,’ which really brought me into a new awareness of how weird my sex dreams are capable of getting.

Shelli Nicole, Culture Editor

Mostly that I am fine spending time with myself just as I always have been. Through quarantine I got into some spats with a few homies who wanted me to be more affected by being solo than I was. I have always been able to enjoy time with myself and also with others. I learned that in the future I need to make sure that my partners aren’t just aware of that but ok with it.

I’m a true double Taurus, I guess.

Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor

I’ve had a lot of time to myself as my roommate left the apartment months ago and I’ve been completely alone for what feels like decades. As a broody, miserable bastard, I’ve obviously spent some of that time pondering past relationship failures and wondering what a functional relationship would look like for myself in the future. One thing I’ve gotten out of this is that I’m fine on my own, and capable of taking medium-OK care of myself. It’s been good to reinforce to myself that while it’d be nice to have some love in my life, it’s not something I absolutely need to survive.

Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor

I’ve learned that it’s very important to me that the person I’m dating, even if we’re casual, is good in a crisis. Sex remains extremely important to me even during a pandemic. Not to brag, but I’m incredible at FaceTime sex. Also: no more Geminis.

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    • haha oh I KNOW, i LOVE geminis, that is the literal whole problem! just trying to preemptively protect my heart moving forward 🙃

  1. “I joke frequently that queers live under the shared illusion that all problems are communication problems, when in fact sometimes you can communicate super well about something and what becomes clear is… your needs don’t line up, full stop!”

    OOF this is very good advice!

  2. Heather, I don’t know you or Stacy personally but from this description and following you on Twitter (I’m not a stalker I promise), your and Stacy’s relationship is truly couple goals. <3

  3. “I kind of look like I’m wearing a baseball uniform all the time” Heather, I truly comment your dedication to the tomboy lesbian aesthetic no matter what life throws your way

    Anyway, <3 <3 <3 to all of this

  4. My love life’s on hold right now. While I identify as bi-poly, most of my life I did hetero-mono because my circumstances made finding or having any relationship at all rather difficult. My current (long-distance) boyfriend and I opened our relationship back in 2018. This year I finally get a maybe-girlfriend, and we had 3 dates… but then the coronavirus lockdown orders came, and she said she’s no longer interested in pursuing a relationship with anyone at this time. Meanwhile I’ve had no contact with my boyfriend since early May, and not for lack of trying. No idea whether to be worried or pissed. 😰 😠 🤷🏻‍♀️

  5. As someone who lives alone, doesn’t have many friends, and doesn’t like social media, I’m convinced that dating and relationships during the pandemic are a lie and I don’t want to believe otherwise. No I’m not crying you’re crying!

  6. Heather – this really resonated as someone with autonomic disreflexia (and a bunch of other stuff). I’ve spent years figuring out how to cope and ration my spoons, but now I’m living with someone and trying to process how they can find me attractive and worth staying with when sometimes my big activity for the day is making it from the bed to the couch.

  7. I really appreciate hearing how different everyone’s experiences are in terms of where you’re at and what you’re learning.

    Heather, I’m so glad you were able to find a diagnosis! I have chronic health issues too, and I know what a big difference it can make to have words for what’s happening and a direction for next steps to manage symptoms. Also, knowing how precious energy can be in the midst of health challenges, I feel so grateful for the stories you choose to put energy towards sharing with us <3

  8. Rachel, I loved this: “Many of us, maybe all of us, bring into relationships the underlying question “Are you going to prioritize my needs and my wellness? Would you ever harm me or put me at risk for the sake of your own wants and needs?” That question is now… extremely literal!”

    It’s felt very forefront of my mind, including with friends and family. I guess it’s a good thing to have to put things out there literally, but wow is it hard.

  9. wow i learned the hard way this quarantine that i also can’t w/ geminis anymore, vanessa!

    speaking of which, i’ve gotten rid of that troublesome gemini so if yr still looking for a long distance girlfriend i’m in canada Dani ;)

  10. I found a great Gemini! And there are so many opportunities to make fun—from that Lizzo song to half the terrible people we meet turning out to be Geminis 😃.

    (I’m a Scorpio so she has plenty of ammunition, too)

  11. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from the pandemic in regards to relationships is about my relationship with myself! I learned that I CAN live by myself – I just really do prefer to live with a partner. I lived alone from March – June because I’m an essential in-person worker but couldn’t live with my husband because he was getting chemo (he is very healthy now!!! thank god), and truly I have never actually lived by myself – it was really nice to learn that I COULD be alone with myself, and I COULD fully run my life.

    I’ve struggled a lot with depression over the last few years, to the point where I wasn’t actually sure I COULD take care of myself by myself – and truth be told, I am still not 100% sure I could depending on how severe the depression is.
    But I do feel a lot more confident now that I am *choosing* to live with my partner because I want to – not just because I *need* another adult involved to take care of myself.

  12. My boyfriend is an essential worker so I’ve been without close contact with him since the beginning of lockdown. Since lockdown has begun to lift we’ve managed to go on a few dates by making sure that we stay outside and with our masks on. However, many singles are using dating apps in lockdown, they may meet one question – how to use it safely? I find this page by chance http://thedatingring.com/safe-to-use-dating-apps.html, donot know whether it works for u.

  13. The Archie Bongiovanni one is kinda fucked up reading it after the fact of why they broke up with their partner. From what i could put together it was at least partially because Archie stopped doing Covid precautions to go party at clubs and their partner being immunocompromised was devastated. That plus Archie stole their dog.

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