When Laura, a 26-year-old from Brooklyn, made a vaccine appointment in March, the visions of a post-pandemic life began to materialize. Daydreams of safe celebrations with immunized friends weren’t so far off in the distance anymore. The only person who didn’t fit within her post-vax paradise was the guy she had been seeing.
They’d met on Hinge a few months prior when the allure of cuffing season made partnering up for a pandemic winter all the more enticing. Now, with the looming potential for a summer of in-person mingling, Laura was ready to face the New York City dating scene head on. Rather than get serious with her guy, she cut him loose.
“You can already feel it,” Laura told VICE. “New York is hornier than it’s ever been.”
The pandemic has, unsurprisingly, put relationships of all stages to the test. From the all-encompassing togetherness of cohabiting couples to new pairs abridging the getting-to-know-you phase and hunkering down, many lovers were forced to adjust to new ways of dating.
Despite early predictions of widespread breakups and anecdotes contending the pandemic drove a wedge between couples, divorce rates were down in 2020. Richard Slatcher, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia who’s been studying relationships during the pandemic, told VICE that couples may have grown closer… or simply stayed together because financial realities made leaving difficult, and because meeting someone new was nearly impossible.
An August poll by market research firm Ipsos found that over a quarter of respondents reported knowing someone likely to break up when the pandemic ends. A Dating.com survey from September found that 67 percent of their users had gone through a breakup during 2020. On Reddit, some users suspected the exhaustion of the pandemic was to blame for their breakups. Even the rich and famous are splitting up for presumably greener pastures. As vaccinations climb, so does temptation: Little by little, all the hotties are re-emerging for a season of safer socializing. But is the draw of partaking in horny revelry worth ending your existing relationship?
Well… maybe. Slatcher said the people most likely to break up post-pandemic are the ones already questioning the partnership. While it’s normal to have romantic or sexual fantasies that don’t involve your partner, he said, those who are constantly and unproductively arguing or are simply hanging onto the relationship because they haven’t been able to safely date (or move out) might not survive re-entry.
External temptations have always existed, pandemic or not—consider the frequency of pandemic trysts—but dreading being around your partner or procrastinating returning their calls are red flags you shouldn’t ignore. If you feel your energy dipping when your partner comes over, consider what you’re getting from other people that you’re not getting from your partner, therapist and sex educator Lexx Brown-James told VICE: Excitement? Flirtation? Compliments? Many people tend to stay in unfulfilling relationships falsely assuming they won’t find anyone better, but if the relationship has turned into one of convenience, if you’re arguing over the same topics without any resolution or compromise, if you feel like your needs are coming in second to your partner’s, or if you feel genuine contempt toward them may mean it’s time to pull the plug.
However, simply feeling like the spark has dulled between the two of you may not be the death knell you think it is, Peter Pearson, a therapist and founder of The Couples Institute, told VICE. The routine of lockdown has the ability to make the liveliest of relationships feel humdrum.
As a step toward rebuilding your chemistry, Pearson suggested talking to your partner about exciting things the two of you can do together. It might sound basic, but “it’s another way of taking what could be a negative—Oh my god what does this say about my relationship if I'm attracted to someone else?—but you keep working at it deeper,” Pearson said. “You keep talking about what makes you [feel] alive and what you can do with your partner.”
But you shouldn’t let your elation at having been vaccinated alone fuel your decision to break up. “The two worst times in your life to make an important decision are when you’re feeling really, really bad and really, really good,” Pearson said. While the world may feel like your oyster, post-vaccine relief and excitement could cloud your judgment and contribute to impulsive, emotion-driven decision-making—say, ending your relationship after making eyes with the first hot person who crosses your path.
Don’t freak out if you’re feeling horny or tempted by people who aren’t your partner. After a year of staring at few faces beyond your partner’s, the novelty of seeing new people will be exciting and potentially titillating. “If somebody has lived for a year without going to a restaurant and just eating their own cooking, when they start going out to restaurants again, all of a sudden, restaurants are going to be really, really good,” Pearson said.
Be kind with yourself if you do spot or interact with a striking stranger. Avoid self-shame or guilt; you’ve done nothing wrong by thinking someone’s hot. “Humans get aroused and humans find people attractive,” Brown-James said. “It has been a lie of monogamy and colonization that one person is supposed to be your end-all-be-all for every little thing. It’s not sustainable.” Instead, use the attraction as an opportunity to discover what you might be missing from your relationship. Then discuss these bigger picture issues with your partner, like missing the rush of excitement or feeling bored or stagnant.
Ultimately, the potential for post-pandemic debauchery won’t be enough to rattle partnerships with strong foundations. Rather than guilt-tripping yourself (or your partner) over a little bit of lust, remember everyone is in the same boat: Gorging on fine dining after a year of frozen vegetables. Just don’t let your impulsive side allow you to make shortsighted decisions.
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