“I’ve been going on two or three dates a week. Everyone’s feeling claustrophobic and horny”: Toronto singles on the ins and outs of dating during Covid
As Covid restrictions loosen, more Torontonians are re-entering the dating world. Some are sticking to virtual romance while others are approaching in-person dates with caution. The pandemic has inspired some creative ways to meet new people, with online speed-dating and Facebook Live dating shows. Here’s how nine single Torontonians are faring.
Blaize Thomas, 34
Flight attendant and photographer
“Early on in Covid-19, I was talking with my sister about how we’d both noticed an uptick in online dating activity—more matches and quicker responses to messages. I’d sent out a message in January, and got a response in April. Exes reached back out to say, ‘Hey, you’re on my mind, I hope you’re okay.’ My sister said she wouldn’t be dating because people just wanted to hook up or they were bored. I agreed with her, but I went the other way—I decided I wasn’t going to put my life on pause. I wanted to keep looking for the love of my life.
“I don’t suppose anything has changed about how I’m approaching dating. I’m keeping myself open to possibilities. Because casual sex is off the table and first dates are far more regularly video chats rather than at a bar or restaurant, I think maybe there’s an opportunity to get right to the heart of something deeper. Under normal circumstances, there’s no real way to know somebody’s motives. If potential partners know that I’m not just a dude looking to hook up, maybe it will be easier to find something real.
“I’ve been single for seven months. Before that I was in a relationship for a year and a half. I’ve been using OkCupid, Hinge, Tinder and Facebook to connect with people. The conversations I’m having with people online are a little different these days. Before, it was safe to assume most of us were working our day jobs or careers. Now, we’re all over the place. Some people I’m chatting with are busier than ever, and others are enjoying a change of pace. I’m a flight attendant and haven’t been able to work for four months. I’ve kept busy writing novels.
“I’ve only connected with one person since Covid. I met her on Tinder in June, and we talked on the phone for three hours. A few days later we had a Netflix Party date and watched Roma, then we talked about the movie on the phone. We’re still in touch, but I’m uncertain if something more will come of it. When you’re virtual dating, you have to rely on your words, which is challenging for some people. You’re missing the opportunity to explore in-person chemistry.
“I haven’t been on any in-person dates yet. I feel like dating is risky, but I feel like going to the grocery store is risky too. It’s difficult. I won’t be casual about how I engage with people. I won’t be going to restaurants for dates. Before Covid, if a date went well, an end-of-date kiss was often a possibility. But I don’t think I’ll be kissing a different person every day of the week these days.”
Jessica Tree, 26
Customer service coordinator and actor
“I’ve been single for about a year, and I’m looking for a serious relationship. I’ve tried all the dating apps but I’m just on Bumble now because I like having the power to be the first to message someone. Before Covid, I usually agreed to go out with anyone who actually wanted to have a date, since I often find people aren’t very good at making plans and sticking to them. But now I have to be more selective. I live at home, and my mom is immunocompromised, so I have to be extra cautious now.
“I’ve been on one virtual date. It was a video call through the Bumble app. It was pretty quick, about 20 or 30 minutes. We talked a bit about work and what we’ve been up to during quarantine. But he wasn’t looking for anything serious, and I was. So we didn’t keep in touch after that. I was supposed to go on a real, in-person date a few weeks ago. We were going to go for ice cream in my neighbourhood. I felt comfortable with it because he worked from home and my neighbourhood is pretty quiet. But he ended up bailing on me because it rained that day and we never planned anything after that.
“I do think dating is risky during this time. With my mom at home, I have to take into account who I’m meeting and where I’m meeting up with them. I think, deep down, one day I’ll find love. And I’m willing to wait patiently for the right person.”
Prasanna Mondal, 22
“I’ve never been in a relationship, so right now I’m looking for something casual. It seems like men are putting more of an effort into conversations than before. Because social pickup spaces like bars and clubs have closed down, I guess we have to put a bit more work into meeting people online. It seems like people are craving more meaningful conversations right off the bat because the options for meeting people are limited.
“I mainly use Grindr to meet people, but I’m also on Tinder and Bumble. I haven’t been on any phone or video dates. I’d rather meet the guy face to face and connect viscerally. I love the nervous energy and curiosity of a first date. I’ve been on four or five in-person dates since Covid, and I try to meet guys who have interacted with just a few people in the previous two weeks. I’ve been going on park dates and biking around the city. If we both really connect well throughout the day, they’ll win a pass to my bedroom.
“When I leave the house for the date, I think about how I should be cautious by keeping my distance. But the minute I see a guy, my instinct is to hug him. Once, my date stepped back to maintain distance and I felt so embarrassed. I’m trying to adopt a new way of thinking, and I’m getting better at maintaining the distance now. Recently, I was chatting with a cute guy on Grindr and I asked him on a date a few days later. We met up at the park and talked for a few hours. It was a really nice time. I liked that he had a sense of humour. We talked about life, our ambitions and what we’re curious about. We lost track of time, actually, and as the evening came I suggested that we go back to my place. And we did.
“When quarantine started, I didn’t think of dating at all. But now that the numbers are consistently decreasing, I don’t think dating is as dangerous, as long as we’re both actively taking precautions and are honest about our symptoms. But if we do agree to go on a date, my assumption will be that you’re not showing symptoms of Covid.”
Jessie Olsen, 33
Client success coach for Parkbench.com
“I’m non-monogamous, which means I’m open to having multiple romantic connections at once. I practise what’s called hierarchical polyamory, which means I like to have a primary partner who’s involved in most aspects of my life and secondary partners who I see on a more casual basis.
“I had to cut ties with a couple of casual partners once the pandemic hit. When we were all sheltering in place, I couldn’t continue to date multiple people. I didn’t feel that my bedroom needs were essential. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it felt necessary. Now I’ve been on an involuntary celibacy streak for about four months.
“Right now, I’m looking for a primary partner but I’m open to secondary and tertiary relationships. I’m super-committed to finding love, so I gave a hard go at connecting with new people remotely. During the lockdown, I was going one or two dates a week, all virtual—either video chats, watching movies together, playing games or eating meals together. But the connection just wasn’t the same. In person, a date usually has a natural ending, either after you’ve had a couple of drinks, or conversation is slowing, or maybe you have somewhere else you need to be. On virtual dates, none of us have anywhere to go so it can be awkward if someone suggests ending the date sooner than the other. And without physical contact, it’s tougher to judge chemistry. I believe that chemistry starts from the energy exchange between two people, and that just doesn’t translate across a screen.
“When you’re virtually dating, you can’t just live off your looks. You actually have to put in some effort. I had a video phone date with a very attractive guy who was open to non-monogamy and looking for something serious. But he had the personality of a piece of toast. He was so boring and had his dog on the video to keep me interested. I definitely didn’t bother with a follow-up date. I think virtual dating helps weed out some of the potential matches who say they’re looking for something serious but aren’t really. It was extremely frustrating having men message me in the middle of a global pandemic asking me to come over to ‘Netflix and chill’ and then getting upset when I turned them down.
“I met one guy on Tinder and we clicked right away. We started having virtual dates a couple of times a week and messaged every day. We cooked meals together over Zoom, watched movies together and stayed up until 3 a.m. drinking whisky. On his birthday, I had cake delivered to his place. One time I mentioned I was crushing on him a bit. The next day he got super-distant and said he felt weird that I had a crush on him because he wasn’t looking for something serious. He freaked out and cut ties. That sucked. At the end of the day we had a really fun two months together, but dating virtually definitely has its communication problems.
“Once the city began opening up, I started going on in-person dates. I’ve done a park date, a patio date and a walking date. We stayed close to six feet apart, but I was definitely the one to enforce the rule. All the men made jokes about the distance and gave me the impression that it wasn’t important to them. I miss the excitement of the possibility of physical touch on a first date and that electric transfer of energy if we’re clicking. I haven’t felt a strong connection on the dates I’ve had so far, though I don’t know how much of that is just taking things slower because of distance. It’s tempting to be physical with someone right away, as us single folks are aching for that contact and connection, but I understand we need to be smart about who we bring into our space.
“Dating is still risky, especially as things open back up. If I’m talking about meeting someone new, we’ll have a pre-conversation about how many people they are in contact with. My bubble is pretty small, just five people. So this gives me some wiggle room to allow for other connections. But I’m not moving someone into our bubble until I know there’s real potential there.
“I’m not giving up. I’m a hopeless romantic, and I’m blessed that I’ve had some amazing love in my past. I know I’m going to meet a wonderful partner, and I’m not letting a global pandemic stop me. If you really want something, you find creative ways to make it work.”
Matt Cutrara, 25
Health care professional
“I’m extremely active on dating sites. I’m on all the platforms: Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Hinge, Plenty of Fish and Facebook Dating. I would like to find something more serious, but I’m open to casual relationships as well. For the first month or two, I was doing mostly virtual dates and only went on one in-person date. But lately I’ve been going on two or three in-person dates per week. I think people are feeling so trapped and claustrophobic and horny that they’re craving new people and new experiences. Everyone’s going a little stir crazy.
“The options are pretty limited for in-person public meetings nowadays, so I’ve been opting for walks around my neighbourhood. I’m up for letting people into my home early on to get to know them further. There’s a weird amount of pressure now to get to know someone fast, because to spend time with anyone you don’t know is a ‘high-risk’ activity. It’s weird, but not insurmountable. Most of the distanced dates I’ve had ended up with some level of physicality involved, whether it was just holding hands, a kiss or something more. Just a few days ago, I met a girl on Bumble and we texted for a couple of days. We had a phone date and made plans for the following day. We hung out in the park for a while, talking about our fears and philosophies about life. She was honest, witty and kind. Eventually, we held hands and then ended up kissing at the end of our date as we were saying goodbye.
“Not long ago, I had a two-week fling with a girl and things were getting super serious but she wanted to be sexually exclusive before we’d even slept together. She said Covid was the reason, but it didn’t feel right to me, and things fell apart. We’re still friends, though.”
Jessica Chin King, 29
Actor and producer
“Dating during Covid has been fun and interesting. I’m having a lot of conversations on Tinder. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of guys who wanted to meet up in person. That was a turnoff. During that time, I felt like it was important to stay home, and in-person dating wasn’t a priority.
“I’ve gone on a few FaceTime dates so far, and I’m a huge fan. There’s less pressure because you don’t have to leave your house and you don’t have to get ready to go into town. You can just throw your hair in a bun and not leave your bed. Most of the FaceTime dates have been pretty short, under an hour. But I really vibed with one guy, and we spoke for hours. After that, we did an online paint night where we both got art supplies and did the same painting of a rose. It was pretty fun, but there wasn’t much of a spark. Virtual dating feels natural to me, but I do have to work harder to keep things interesting, like asking more questions during the date.
Since the pandemic started, I haven’t done any in-person dates. I would consider it if I met the right person. I don’t believe in living in fear, but I don’t mind waiting a few more months to start in-person dates.”
Marny Florence, 26
Choreographer, Zumba instructor and dancer
“Dating during Covid has been a whole new experience. From dating apps to socially distanced walks to online dating events, I’ve been doing it all. I miss meeting new people in person. That’s the best way to feel out someone’s personality. It’s hard to really connect and get to know a guy just by texting or video chatting. I’m eventually looking for something serious, but for now I’m just going with the flow.
“I’m using dating apps like Hinge and Bumble. The first message nowadays is usually, How is quarantine going for you? It’s an easy conversation starter. I’ve also tried online speed-dating through a company called Isodate. It was fun: within an hour, I was able to video chat with 10 guys, and each date was three minutes long. It was enough time to make a good first impression and feel out their vibe, and short enough to exit if the date wasn’t going so well. It’s definitely more comfortable to go on a date from your own room, but harder to get a feel for the other person’s personality. Some of the dates were great and some were awkward. If it was a good-looking guy who was outgoing and funny, the dates felt super-fast; when the guy was awkward and boring, they seemed to last forever.
“I’ve been on three in-person dates with people I’ve met through apps. Each time it was a socially distanced walk. Before going on a date, I’ll ask who they’ve been seeing, if they live alone or with their family or roommates, if they’ve been going out or going into work. It’s a refreshing experience to get to know the other person just through talking, with no technology and no time limit. We got to enjoy the weather and didn’t have to have the awkward conversation of who’s paying the bill. I think as long as we’re keeping our physical distance and not hugging each other hello and goodbye, it’s safe. I’d definitely consider bringing someone into my bubble if they were the right person.
“In June, I went on an online Facebook Live matchmaking date through a Jewish organization called the House. It’s for a series called ‘Mish’ Match-Maker. It’s almost like a dating show. There were two hosts who led us through fun games to get to know each other, like asking us if we’d rather date someone who frequently uses the word ‘moist’ or ‘totes.’ I also had to try to teach the guy a TikTok dance. It was fun! We went for a two-hour walk a few days later, but we didn’t click romantically. I got so many messages afterwards wondering if anything happened between us because people wanted to continue keeping up with our dating lives.”
David Pinard, 31
Actor and singer
“I’ve been single for a while and I’m enjoying the bachelor lifestyle—I’m looking for something casual right now. Covid definitely changed dating in the beginning. I self-isolated for the first month and didn’t see anyone. After that, I felt okay meeting up with people as long as we both used precautions. I mostly use Hinge and Bumble, but I’ve also tried video speed-dating, which is a bit awkward because it’s so new. But I’m pretty talkative, which helps fill in any awkward silences. I’ve had a lot of laughs with the people I’ve met through it. I’ve had a few in-person dates with people I met through video speed-dating and online dating. All of them have gone very well. They’re usually hangouts at the park or by the water. Just simple things away from crowded areas.
“I’m pretty young and I don’t live with elderly people, so I don’t see in-person dating as a huge risk. I usually chat with the other person about what they’d be comfortable doing, whether that means a park date or cooking dinner at my place. I love cooking, and I’m happy to do it on a first date. I don’t make anyone wear masks in my home and I’m okay with the level of risk it brings. Most people I’ve come across have been okay with it too. If we have different views on safety, then usually there is no meet-up. That can be frustrating, but life goes on.
Brenna Griffin, 27
Tech sales representative
“I’ve been single for about three years and ultimately, I’m looking for a partner. Dating during Covid has definitely been different. Because everyone’s limited to text, phone or video chat, if the connection isn’t immediate, the conversation ends quickly. I find that you run out of things to talk about fast.
“I’ve been using the usual dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. The conversations are pretty dull. Most people ask you the same things: ‘How’s quarantine treating you?’ ‘Are you still working?’ ‘What have you been doing to pass the time?’ I find that most people are just looking for a hookup, which to me is a turnoff. Sadly, this isn’t much of a change from before Covid. If a guy is overtly sexual with their responses, I tend not to engage. If they tell me outright they want a hookup, I’ll wish them luck on their search and thank them for being honest with me. My bios on dating apps are pretty blunt as well, so I think that makes men be a bit more honest upfront.
“I’ve also tried online speed-dating. I came across Flare Events online, and I like their style. We played a few fun games to make everyone feel comfortable, then moved into an ice-breaker where we shared some interests and hobbies before getting into the speed-dating portion. Speed-dating was an overall improvement from dating apps. We talked about general life stuff like work, hobbies, music tastes and what we were watching on Netflix. We had eight minutes before they would switch out. It was definitely nice to talk to someone face-to-face rather than just texting, even if it was through a screen. It felt more real and I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of being catfished.
“I connected with two people during the event. I texted with one guy for a couple of days, but he was really into fitness and proposed a date at the gym, which wasn’t necessarily for me. The other I’m still talking to. We had a call the other day to recap our weekends.
“Since restrictions are being lifted, I’ve been on one in-person date with someone I met on Tinder. We just had some drinks in the park and got to know each other. He was super friendly and the conversations were very easy. I’m used to making conversation on a first date, so I like to ask a lot of questions. The date went well and we’re planning to see each other again.
I’m willing to hold hands with a date but that’s it. I’d rather be cautious. Also, it gives me and the person more time to get to know each other before becoming intimate. I like to take things slow, and funnily enough, Covid has actually given me freedom to do that. Keeping distance from people helps you develop more meaningful connections and have better conversations.
“I make sure to stay around the same people in my regular life, wear a mask when I go out in public and wash my hands as frequently as I can. I do everything I can to keep myself safe. When I did go on an in-person date, it was after some restrictions had been lifted. I made sure to ask questions about their daily life and their safety precautions so I could judge if it was safe to meet up.”