If you’re worried the pandemic might leave you ‘left on the shelf’, you’re not alone
Dating is a minefield at the best of times, and dating with marriage in mind is even trickier. Add in a pandemic and its restrictions, and it all becomes a whole lot more difficult still. Here, Sabah Hussain explores young people’s experiences of dating during the pandemic when looking for a spouse.
Higher stakes when you’re looking for marriage
Dating for the purpose of marriage (within the next few years or less) brings the unique pressure of a deadline. You’re searching for a partner without the option of thinking, “Well, if this doesn’t go to plan, there’s always next time.”
For some, including in the South Asian diaspora and those within religious communities, parental involvement is another major factor to manage. Parents can bring a whole separate checklist that will also affect your search for a partner.
Dating apps can be useful, but within a pandemic, can you ever really leave the ‘talking stage’ if there isn’t an opportunity to meet up?
Dating can be a high risk activity for anyone. But unlike when you’re just window-shopping or looking for a more casual relationship, the pressures of dating are much higher when you’re in the market for marriage.
Here, young people in the UK explain their experiences of looking for a life partner during the pandemic.
More free time, but also no time at all
Over Zoom, Vidhi* explains her pandemic dating experiences. While we’ve been in and out of tiers and lockdowns, Vidhi has taken advantage of apps like Hinge and Dil Mil, a dating app for South Asians, and has found she’s had much more time for it.
“You have a lot more free time, and you’re not getting that interaction with colleagues and friends as much so you’re a lot more active on the apps,” she explains.
There’s a paradoxical nature to the pandemic’s isolation hours, she reckons: many of us have been given the gift of extra time, yet we also feel as if time has been stolen from us. This can add the pressure to feelings of needing to find someone, fast.
Stressful focus of family discussions
Despite reports that being single and childfree as a woman might actually mean that you’re happier, there’s often a thinly-veiled assumption in our society that there is something a little off about unmarried women. This can be exhausting.
“When you’re living with family at home, it can become stressful when marriage comes up as a topic,” says Vidhi. “With time ticking, there’s always that stereotype within the brown community that by a certain age girls will expire. The same goes for guys. You try not to let it get to you, but it can be difficult sometimes.”
Within Asian communities, there’s an enduring sentiment that people are perishable, like food. The idea that if you wait around too long unmarried, you can go off like spoiled milk. A person can be independent, successful, motivated and worthy in every respect, but will still be judged by their marital status. Parents will demandingly question, “When will you give me grandchildren?” or “When can I rest knowing I’ve done my duty?”
But “duty” can be a razor-sharp sword used, wittingly or not, to inflict deep feelings of guilt.
“Part of why I’m meeting people is to please my parents”, says Vidhi. At 28 and the oldest child within her Tamil family, the familial pressures of trying to find a spouse have built over the pandemic. “Being at home over lockdown and having to be reminded of that isn’t healthy.”
“It makes you feel like you have to go into ‘desperation mode’, and none of us should have to feel like that,” she says. “There are much more important things going on in the world.”
A focus on fertility and wanting to start a family at some point also adds pressure to the task of finding the right person.
Vidhi works for the NHS with children with complex needs, and understands that the risks of childbirth-related complications increase with the mother’s age. “It is something I think about,” she says.
Perfect excuse to avoid the pressure
I speak to Sonya* just as she’s finished a virtual date. Sonya is wearing lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, and the classic cute-top-and-joggers coronavirus combo. She’s just finished playing a game of online Scrabble with the guy she is speaking to – the height of ’rona romance.
For Sonya, the pandemic and covid restrictions have instead provided the perfect excuse to feel less pressure when dating, and for her parents to relax their demands. Even still, dating during Covid-19 hasn’t been easy.
“You’ll see that in dating profiles people will put something like ‘Baby, it’s covid outside’, or ‘I loved to travel, but then corona happened.’ Why are we letting this thing dominate our lives?” she says. “It can be mind-numbing.”
During the pandemic, Sonya has been on socially-distanced dates to Homebase and Starbucks drive-thrus. “How are you supposed to build attraction or chemistry like that, when you have to sanitise every five minutes?”
A rare chance to take it slowly
Sonya says that as a Muslim, dating for years before marriage isn’t usually an option, but building a strong emotional connection over a limited number of in-person meetings is a big ask.
The pandemic has offered a chance to slow things down, and maybe that’s a good thing. It might allow couples to get to know each other better than they would have been able to otherwise. As Sonya puts it: “You need to be able to build a life with that person, at the end of the day.”
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Discover Fumble’s pandemic support series
The pandemic has had a huge impact on all of our lives, and we’ve all struggled to adapt to the changes that continue to happen all around us.
If you need more support right now, here are some of our favourite places to start.
- 6 Places To Find Mental Health Support In The Pandemic
- LGBTQ+ counselling services
- Youth Access, to find local counselling for young people aged 12-25
- The Mix, get support via 1-to1 webchat, email or counselling
- NHS latest Coronavirus advice
- The government’s latest Coronavirus guidelines
- YoungMinds pandemic support
Last reviewed 1 February 2021
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