Love, actually: dating in 2020

'The way online dating offers up prospective partners like sweets in a candy shop has got to have an effect on us; on our perception of love, romance, and sex.' Trudy Ross explores what 'dating' in the modern day in really entails.

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Flirting couple in the park texting on smartphones

I can’t lie, when I heard the news that we’d probably all be holed up in our rooms for the next few months, without a glorious summer term with our friends to look forward to, without the prospect of seeing college crushes or indulging in a Trinity romance, the question might have crossed my mind. I’m bored after all, so what’s the harm in Tinder?

It didn’t take me too long to scrap the idea altogether – not that I’m against Tinder or Bumble or any of the rest of them, but because any online flirting would, in the current climate, be pretty futile. The pubs won’t even be open for us to go and get that drink.

There are much bigger issues going on in the world than the dwindling dating lives of bored uni students, and I was well aware of this. But still, for some reason, I couldn’t help feeling filled with frustration, even disappointment. What was I meant to do? Put any prospect of a love life on hold for months on end? It wasn’t really that I’d thought I’d meet the love of my life this term, on a dating app or otherwise; in fact, that definitely wasn’t something I was planning on any time in the foreseeable future. But some swiping here and there would be something to do, wouldn’t it? Waiting around for the slightest spark of romance was a depressing thought.

Patience. I wouldn’t say it’s my strong point. But I wasn’t alone; my friends lamented the fact that they’d be separated from boyfriends, prevented from getting to know that guy they’d got with in 8th week, the list went on. But why are we always so reluctant to wait? Why is it we feel the need for something to be going on all the time? Some bit of goss for us to spill to friends when they ask what’s going on in our lives? I decided it maybe had something to do with the form modern dating tends to take these days, and by extension modern love and romance. We are bombarded with options; I know it’s cliche to talk about the never-ending stream of choices us millennials and Gen Z-ers face, but surely the way online dating offers up prospective partners like sweets in a candy shop has got to have an effect on us, on our perception of love, romance, and sex. I think there’s a sense of freedom around, a feeling that there’s no need to stay stuck in a particular relationship; if it isn’t working for us we can easily find something or someone else. And while obviously that’s a great thing which can allow us to set our standards high, to ensure we really click with the person we’re committing to, it can also lead to a fear of even suggesting the idea of commitment to a partner. There’s a whole lot of ‘situationships’ these days, a whole lot of floating about, acting like a couple but not wanting to actually say the binding words, a whole lot of wavering between the comforting feeling of being with someone and the comfort blanket that our fast-paced, dating app culture provides. As long as you avoid any official labels, you’re safe in the knowledge that you can get out whenever you want, and a whole host of shiny Tinder matches will be ready and waiting for you.

I’m not trying to advocate commitment when it isn’t right, and I’m not against situationships in general; if that’s what works for you, go for it. My main concern is that some people find that the seemingly endless supply of options around them relieves them of the responsibility of figuring out what it is they want from any particular romantic situation. Not knowing whether or not you want to commit to someone is fine, because you can have them there without putting a label on it, without giving up your dating app rights. But I think understanding what you want and need is actually pretty important when it comes to having a healthy love life. Or any kind of life.

I’m definitely not innocent of this ‘floating around’ phenomenon, dating people when I’m not sure what it means, seeing people when I have no idea where I want it to go. Dating is fun, after all, and working out what you actually want and need can be tricky. It’s easy to push that part of things aside and just focus on the fun in today’s romantic arena. But where does that leave you? After the fun, I mean. Sometimes it works out fine, because things seem to naturally go the way you wanted, ending up staying casual or slowly blossoming into something more serious. But more often than not somebody ends up in a situation they’d rather not be in, whether that’s in a situationship with someone they’d rather commit to, or a relationship they aren’t sure they wanted. Telling someone what you want can be scary. It leaves you vulnerable, it puts them in the position of power; they can either reject or accept you, and nobody wants to face rejection. But I don’t think avoiding the whole ‘what are we’ conversation is really the answer, despite the fact that it can be fun when you’re always open to new things and new people, never committing to the one thing you actually want, whether that’s casual hookups or the love of your life. It means there’s always something going on, right? And as we’ve already established, this generation isn’t the biggest fan of waiting.

I think intentionality needs to be brought back into modern dating. I’m not saying that everyone is guilty of an inability to wait around, or of avoiding listening to their own needs and voicing those. But I know I can be, and I know more than just a few others who are. I believe that these next few weeks or months of social distancing and uncertainty might be the perfect time for those people to take a break from romance and figure out what they’re looking for. It can be hard to find time to think amidst all this noise and activity – but we’ve just been handed a big portion of peace and quiet. So use it.