Cupid is in the air, but so is Covid. How has the pandemic changed Singapore's dating scene? Singles give us the lowdown.
Dating is tough, period. But add Covid-19 to the mix, and single people now have more factors to consider, like “Will I catch a virus from this date?” and “Could this romantic hangout be a potential cluster?” on top of the usual “Is he/she the one?”.
Pandemic dating is like navigating through a laser maze in a museum, and there’s always a chance the prized artefact you’re looking for might just be a replica. Since Covid-19 has completely changed life as we know it, social distancing, donning face masks in public, WFH and the closure of nightclubs are all norms now. All that inevitably changes the way we socialise with each other.
More than a year into the pandemic, the dating scene – like many aspects of life – has adapted and evolved. Heck, even Dua Lipa has released a remix of ‘New Rules’ for Covid dating.
“Meet[ing] people organically has become practically impossible,” says 29-year-old programme manager Cynthia. Throwing shapes on the dance floor while you’re five cocktails deep and meeting Mr Right (or Mr Right Now) is a memory that only plays out in books or cheesy rom-coms.
“None of that is happening anymore. Even if we dine out, people don’t mingle among groups,” she sighs.
Hello Tinder, it’s me again
Dating apps have always been around, but now they’re the only avenue to make new connections. Are these apps really as great as they’re cracked up to be? Or are they just leading us towards doom scrolling through a catalogue of individuals on a Friday night with a glass of vino?
Having been in the dating scene for three years, Nesh uses apps to meet new people and mentions Bumble as his favourite.
“I pay extra attention to things like their purpose, their star sign, their views on politics, their interests and so on,” the 32-year-old says. He likes that Bumble gives you 24 hours to respond to the first text or it’ll unmatch you automatically.
And of course, Tinder’s been around for ages. Its cool passport feature allows you to connect with people overseas for anyone missing that international element.
For people like Sam, it offers a sliver of pre-Covid life. “I used to travel a lot and met people from all over the world at pub crawls, city tours and just about everywhere. I love bumping into strangers at random places and just clicking with them instantly.” The 30-year-old program executive has kept in touch with guys she’s met online, hoping there’ll be a chance to meet in real life – in the not so distant future.
Don’t tell me your fave colour, tell me your vaccination status
Everyone’s affected by the pandemic, and like it or not, conversations surrounding Covid-19 tend to pop up when you’re getting to know one another.
Bumble allows its users to share their pandemic dating preferences where they can express their views on face masks, social distancing and whether or not they’re comfortable meeting in person.
This helps to filter out people who may have different opinions on the pandemic and its safety measures. We’re talking about things that can potentially save you from Covid-19. No date is worth taking that kind of risk! (Alexa, play “thank u, next.”)
Soon, dating apps will roll out vaccine badges indicating the individual’s vaccination status. It’s a timely response since Singapore has opened up its vaccination programme slots for those aged 12 to 39. This could be a serious game-changer in helping people dodge a bullet and not get stuck on a date with, y’know, an anti-vaxxer.
However, Cynthia believes the “intention to get vaccinated is more important” since people are still waiting for their vaccination slots. Such sentiments are also expressed by others in the dating game – they say it matters if someone isn’t vaccinated when the majority of the population is.
Their responses chime with a recently published AsiaOne survey in Singapore, where 69% of over 650 respondents said they’d feel safer going out with someone who is vaccinated. Meanwhile, 72% expressed a preference in dating someone with similar views of Covid-19 and its vaccines.
As for Nesh, who’s been vaccinated, he’s not concerned if the other person isn’t, “as long as they play their part in being socially responsible for themselves and our community.” They might have their reasons for it, he says, such as worry over side effects and efficacy.
Who would’ve thought being vaccinated would be a prerequisite in a potential partner? This is just one example of how people have reevaluated their dating choices.
Where art thou, Romeo (or Juliet)?
“I connect with people best over food and drinks,” Cynthia says. Eating and dating go hand in hand, and Singapore has a vibrant dining culture — so what happens when restaurants and cafes are closed for dining in? Well, Cynthia has turned to outdoor dates, from cycling and working out to hikes and picnics.
“My first picnic date was impromptu. It was post-workout (yes, very sweaty) and I felt like getting takeaway at a cute French place close by. We got a bottle of wine, an amazing cheese platter, and some desserts. It was glorious. We both like the outdoors and it was our first time having a picnic in so long,” she shares.
In addition, personal hygiene is now on top of everyone’s list – and the lack of it is a total dealbreaker.
“I went on a date right before the circuit breaker. My date wouldn’t stop picking his nose and staring at his finger the whole time,” Sam recalls. “That was our first and last date.”
For Nesh, the uncertainty of Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief the importance of finding someone reliable. “[It isn’t] the sexiest trait”, he muses. “But personally, for me, consistency is what sustains the connectivity.”
Meanwhile, Cynthia says she needs someone positive and easy-going. If he whines and complains about the pandemic throughout the date, that’s a hard no for her. And she’s looking for someone flexible with changing plans amidst the ever-changing Covid measures — which phase are we in again?
We’re all in this together
On the surface, it might seem like Covid-19 has created a gap in the dating scene. But take a closer look and you’ll realise everyone has one thing in common: we’re all living out the same pandemic. This shared experience can help bridge said gap and compensate for date ideas that might be considered unusual pre-Covid. However, with quarantine and semi-lockdown, the experience can be isolating, bringing about heightened emotions and feelings.
During the circuit breaker last year, 29-year-old Patricia, who is in education management, matched with a guy on Tinder, and they hit it off. They’d video call and play games every night. But the next thing she knew, he confessed his feelings to her. “I saw this as purely casual and he didn’t take my response very well. I think that scared me for a bit,” she explains.
“We just want to converse with someone who’s not family or part of our immediate social circle,’ Sam shares. “This pandemic has made most of the singles feel really lonely.”
Do you really think Jack and Rose from Titanic would’ve had that torrid love affair if the ship wasn’t sinking? Not that we’re about to drown, but we’ve no inkling of how long the pandemic will last. Paddling into the unknown can be an unnerving feeling, and having that special someone makes the journey a little easier.
What does the future hold?
Phase 3 brought us hope – a semblance of normality that we could soon pull through the pandemic. But within months, we were held hostage by the second wave of Covid clusters and now it feels like we’ve taken a couple of steps back.
But there’ll always be a silver lining. The pandemic has provided fertile ground for introspection, for us to rethink what really matters.
“[I’m] more careful with who I meet and who I swipe [right on]. Before, I did it without much thought and would just swipe endlessly,” Patricia reflects. The pandemic has given her clarity on what she’s looking for, and she doesn’t take dating apps as seriously these days. “It’s meant to be an enjoyable process, so don’t stress out – find what works for you!”
Cynthia doesn’t see the Covid restrictions as a hurdle but instead an opportunity to be creative and learn new things. “I never really liked cycling, so saying yes to [the date] was sort of an achievement in itself. It’s all [about] perspective!”
“It’s been an exciting journey so far,” Nesh shares. He’s met a few people from dating apps and forged friendships with them. He’s also taken the time to explore Singapore and what the city has to offer.
It turns out dating during a pandemic is possible, but it isn’t easy peasy lemon squeezy. It never was. The pandemic can fan the flames of loneliness, especially in a society where singlehood isn’t necessarily celebrated. So if dating helps to ease that feeling, then go for it.
But if you find the dating process draining, it’s okay to sit it out. Surviving the pandemic is work enough. Instead, now’s the perfect time to discover your passion – and embark on a journey of self-discovery. As Sam succinctly puts it: “I’ve come to realise singlehood isn’t the pandemic that society has made it out to be.”
(Note: Names have been changed to protect their privacy.)