To swipe right or swab? In the age of casual sex and hookup culture, how can you know that your f**k buddy won’t give you ‘rona? After all, we know the only six feet most college kids care about is the lie on their dating profile.
We’ve all pictured it: That rom-com movie moment. You walk into Shalala, hair blowing in the wind behind you, when BAM! You slip on the freshly sanitized floors. As you scramble to pick up your things, a handsome stranger comes to your aid. Your hands touch when you reach for the same bottle of Purell, you lock eyes and the rest is miraculously COVID-safe history. Unfortunately, college is not an episode of a TV drama.
Enter the apps: Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr. Swipe right or left and find a dating buffet: those seeking serious relationships (Hinge) or one night stands (Tinder) or anything in between. But how do you trust someone not to give you a communicable disease? These days, safe sex has a double meaning. For one anonymous UM student, meeting up with a Tinder match last semester ended in a positive test result, a 10-day quarantine and the end to their Snapchat streak.
But not all Tinder tales are epic fails. “I never expected to find real love on Tinder—nor did I expect to find someone I want to do long distance with who comes to visit me every two weeks,” said an anonymous student. “I just got really lucky that we were both on Tinder playing around.”
The student, who has immunocompromised family members, made sure their match got tested before they met up, and that every date for the first month was outdoors.
But what happens when you catch COVID instead of feelings? For those who’ve chosen to quarantine with a FWB or new relationship, the odds aren’t always in their favor.
“Quarantine kind of forced us into a stage in our relationship that we were not ready for,” said an anonymous male student who got COVID from his significant other last semester. “You basically agree to live with someone and suddenly you’re with them 24/7 and that presents a lot of challenges.”
But despite the illusion that some college students’ social media might be presenting—that despite the pandemic, the party rages on and so do subsequent love lives—that is not the case. For many UM students, particularly those who are very COVID-cautious and therefore much more isolated, quarantine has provided a new sense of clarity. After all, you can’t exactly ride out months-long statewide shutdowns with someone who only wants to talk after 2 a.m.
“The pandemic makes me realize that what I want is someone by my side, and at the same time, it makes it much harder to do so,” said an anonymous junior. “I never was the hookup kind, and the pandemic makes me want to stray even further away from it—to be safe and also because keeping to myself made me realize that I’d rather spend my valuable time with myself or someone I care about.
”Wherever your urges lead you, be it staying at home or sleeping with someone, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be poking through. And what’s coming (in more ways than one) is a “sex-crazed” Roaring 20s, according to Yale professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a social epidemiologist researching the impacts of COVID-19. The psychological effects of social distancing, isolation and, frankly, the past year in its entirety will be studied for years to come. In some ways, the research has already begun.
Richard Slatcher, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, is one of the researchers behind the Love in the Time of COVID project. He agrees that many people will have a ton of “pent up sexual energy,” but that there’s a lot of geographic variability to this. Since many businesses in Florida have remained open, UM students have a very different pandemic experience—both socially and romantically—compared to students at schools in states with harsher regulations.
“I’m not that worried about the long-term [psychological] effects. I’m optimistic because humans are incredibly resilient,” Slatcher said. “We even see in our samples that people’s anxiety has gone down less and less and less over time, even as risks of COVID have gone up. I don’t want to minimize the effects that this is having. Especially for those people who are prone to depressive symptoms.”
For some people, the current dating climate is less stressful than in non-pandemic times. “In some ways Tinder can cut out a lot of the awkwardness,” he said. One person from Tinder can also appear to pose less of a risk than being around hundreds of people at a party.
At the end of the day, this all comes down to personal choices. If you find someone worth risking COVID for, Mazel Tov. If not, remember that you’re not alone. When we do finally get through this, the right one might just be waiting for you in a mask-less world.
Where do you stand?
We wanted to know how Distraction readers felt about pandemic hookups, so we asked on our Instagram story.
13% of 211 respondents said they would risk COVID for their crush.
3% of the sample said they got COVID-19 from a hookup.
40% confessed that they broke social distancing rules with their newfound flame.
Let’s hope Julio Frenk doesn’t find out! It is a good thing that at Distraction, we never kiss and tell.
words_scarlett diaz. photo_sydney burnett. design_giselle spicer.
This article was published in Distraction’s spring 2021 print issue.