“I’d be interested in setting up a study on the impact of coronavirus on dating life and relationships,” communications scientist Elisabeth Timmermans said on twitter in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic. “So, relationship researchers, who’s in?”
Timmermans had conducted research on singles before. In that previous study, she examined what she called the ‘Bridget Jones Effect’: women who watch a lot of romantic TV shows or films are more afraid of remaining single than women who don’t. “So what we’re talking about here is the fact that the context may have an impact on your fear of being single. If certain types of content make you feel more afraid of being single, how might the experience of a global pandemic impact your fear of being single?“
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So this is how five American researchers, two British researchers and one Swiss researcher joined hands with Timmermans, who hails from Flanders. Yes, says Timmermans, it sounds like the opening line of a three-guys-walk-into-a-pub joke, but the resulting study is serious, and by now the first article has been published online. The international academics who joined the ‘coronavirus and love’ project are conducting research on how the pandemic is impacting single people’s perceptions of their single status. And for those who are looking for their better half, has the global crisis affected their ideas on what kind of partner they are hoping to find?
The perfect partner (in times of corona)
What the researchers did not see coming was that people who are very concerned about the virus are pickier when it comes to choosing a romantic partner. Those respondents who were most concerned about the virus indicated that they set a higher bar with regard to their partners, even in terms of social and physical attractiveness. Respondents who indicated that they weren’t all that concerned about the virus were less picky, the study showed.
“How we look for our partners is a topic that is the subject of a great deal of research. We know that stressful events affect our choice of a partner. Before the study, we assumed that attractiveness would not be a very important factor in these uncertain and stressful times, but we found that the group who were most concerned about the virus were actually more demanding in every respect, including attractiveness. We haven’t figured out yet why this is. One of our lines of thinking is that people value having a healthy partner, which is to say, someone who looks healthy. So maybe they think that the fitter and more attractive a person is, the healthier he or she is?”
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Those respondents who indicated that they weren’t afraid of being infected with the coronavirus put a greater premium on ‘stability’ and ‘family commitment’ and a smaller premium on ‘physical and/or social attractiveness’. They were less likely to insist on the latter. Timmermans understands this. “Now that we’re all spending a lot of time at home, we hope that our partner doesn’t expect us to do all the chores and family stuff on our own. Crises get us to think about matters like that.”
The researchers also looked into the correlation between the coronavirus and ‘the fear of being single’. This is an official term, which describes ‘the concern, anxiety or distress regarding the current or prospective experience of being without a romantic partner’. It has previously been linked to mental health issues such as loneliness, and to people entering into relationships with less attractive or suitable partners.
The study results also showed that people who are concerned about the virus also tend to be more anxious about being single. The study does not present an explanation as to why this is the case, but Timmermans does have a theory. “Dating app figures have shown that dating app use has increased tremendously. Before the virus, many people didn’t mind being single, as they had busy social lives. But you can’t meet your partner in real life if you’re not allowed to go outside.”
Tips for people with dating anxiety
Elisabeth Timmermans also works as a dating coach. She left Erasmus University last summer. In addition to working as a coach, she now studies clinical psychology. Timmermans has a few dating tips for singles who fear (or don’t fear) remaining single.
- “Tip No. 1 is very basic, but it’s also the most important tip: go out there and do something. Worrying will only cause you to feel somewhat paralysed. So start dating.”
- “Actively use the apps, even if it takes you half an hour per day. Take some time to swipe on people’s profiles and chat with them.”
- “For online daters: be aware that there is more than one platform out there. Most people get started on Tinder, but there are so many other options. Get on your computer and look into other platforms.”
- “Don’t be too focused on whether or not a date is successful. Your date does not have to be a potential romantic partner. Think of dating as a way to make new friends who are also single. They may know some other fun singles.”
- “New couples quickly start resembling couples who have been together for a long time in these times of coronavirus. You can’t go out and do much, but do make sure you remain creative. Don’t slip into a state where you are together but don’t do anything too soon. This is the phase where you’re supposed to have fun and be playful.”