Dating this year has been weird. After weeks in which the only possible rendezvous was a walk outside in glacial winds, the latest coronavirus restrictions mean that the majority of the country can now look forward to an outdoor pub date – as long as it comes with a “substantial meal.”
The difficulties of finding love during a pandemic hasn’t stopped some men from behaving questionably on dating apps. With a tiered lockdown system in place for the foreseeable future – and London now moving into Tier 3 –women report that men are harassing them to break the coronavirus restrictions and meet up indoors.
Alice*, 24, says that during the first lockdown, a man she was speaking to on Hinge repeatedly invited her to his house. He even attempted to book her an Uber against her will.
“I didn’t go, but it was a week two or three of the first lockdown, and he didn’t give a fuck,” she says. “I felt very conflicted at first because I was at home alone and really bored, but it was right when things were kicking off, so I was uncomfortable even walking near people on the street. He was fairly persistent, which started to get irritating and felt a bit like harassment.”
When 26-year-old Marissa refused to meet up with a guy she met on Hinge due to the lockdown rules, she was told that COVID-19 doesn’t exist.
“With public places like restaurants and bars closed, I am not comfortable meeting at someone’s house because of COVID,” she says. “In trying not to offend him, I just told him I am trying to stay home and stay healthy for my family with the upcoming holidays. After his replies, I knew I didn’t want to pursue anything with him, and I eventually reported him to the Hinge team after he sent me abusive messages about my politics.”
Online dating has enjoyed a huge rise during the pandemic. Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid, reported a jump in subscribers in the second quarter of 2020. On the 29th of March, when the whole world was under lockdown, Tinder users made 3 billion swipes – the most the app has ever recorded in a single day.
But with more people than ever using dating apps, it seems that the risk of encountering harassment from a pushy rule-breaker has risen too.
Asha, 23, says that a man she’s been speaking with on Bumble has sent repeated requests to meet up, despite her telling him that she doesn’t feel safe doing so during the pandemic. And he isn’t the only person to have ignored her boundaries.
“A lot of guys will claim that we can meet up while still being safe because we can wear masks, or that testing is a lot better now,” she says. “One guy responded with, ‘Well, I’m not waiting forever’ when I said I don’t want to meet up while cases are so rampant. Most haven’t been rude, but they seem to think that meeting up during a pandemic is something any normal person should be able to do.”
“The general feeling is that a lot of guys aren’t taking COVID seriously,” Asha continues. “They’ll make you feel completely crazy for being in quarantine while the pandemic is at its height.”
But the risks of meeting up with someone as coronavirus cases continue to rise could be life-threatening. Dee*, 24, moved back in with her parents during the first lockdown. They both fall into a high-risk category, meaning that she is extra careful about mixing with other households.
“I follow the government guidelines as much as I can, but it seems that not everyone has the same sentiment, and the number of propositions I get to break lockdown rules has been astonishing,” she says.
The most shocking example of this, Dee adds, was a man who invited her to a house party after just a day of conversation on a dating app. “Asking me to blatantly break the rules like this in such a stupid manner has been an instant turn-off,” she says. “Not only did I find it weird that he would ask a complete stranger to his party during a pandemic, but I also found it strange that he was insistent that it was the right thing to do. He clearly had no regard for me and the fact that I lived with my parents. Safe to say, I never spoke to him again.”
If COVID rule-breaking is such a turn-off, what makes men on dating apps proposition women in this way? Psychotherapist Katriona O’Connor suggests that it is due to a sense of entitlement.
“There is a sense of privilege here,” she says. “The majority of users are not used to hearing ‘no’ or ‘not now’, and are unwilling to put their love lives on hold for a virus. Our usual way of being is to seek each other out, to commune and to touch. A deadly virus may not dampen desire, and breaking the rules may add an extra frisson of excitement.”
Dating expert Jen Kaarlo, however, suggests that these men may just be lonely. “Single people are feeling more isolated than ever,” she says. “That, coupled with so many stories about partners choosing to move in together or getting engaged means there appear to be more people online than ever looking to balance out their own personal situation. The desire for intimate connection appears to be outweighing any other concerns.”
Whatever the reasons for their behaviour, with COVID restrictions expected to last until next spring, most dates will take place over outdoor meals and pub beer gardens for a while yet.
*Names have been changed.