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Let’s talk about sex: We haven’t met — but I love you

The difficulties of dating online when it's illegal to meet in-person
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TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY
TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY

Yes, I know about their childhood trauma and their parents’ deteriorating relationship. No, I haven’t seen their legs. What about it?

Online dating has always been a viable option for young people who found they had trouble meeting potential partners in public places. However, it wasn’t until COVID-19 that Tinder and Hinge became the main dating options for many people.

When times were normal, online dating came with the expectation that there would be an eventual in-person meeting, provided that first impressions went well. In a world altered beyond recognition by the pandemic, quarantine has rendered in-person dating and meet-ups against the law at best, life-threatening at worst.

Of course, there are safe ways for you to meet your match in person — I’m told park walks are a favourite. But this is not a privilege shared by everyone. What if you don’t live within walking distance of the same park? What if neither of you has a car?

Public transport isn’t always an option, especially considering social distancing laws. A distance of 100 km might as well be a world away if you and your match are confined to Zoom and Instagram. It isn’t uncommon to run out of matches in your area, even if that area is as wide as the distance slider allows you to search.

The risk of this online dating phenomenon is the same risk that online daters are always warned about, only intensified — you never know who’s actually behind the screen. If you rely on Bumble and Grindr to meet ‘the one’ during this pandemic, you could be left crossing your fingers that the person you see on FaceTime is indeed who they are in person. If they exaggerated personal details on their dating profile, you might not realize it until a lot of your time has already been wasted.

For LGBTQ+ individuals, online dating can be even more taxing. Most popular dating apps aren’t catered towards LGBTQ+ users; Tinder only added a sexual orientation feature in 2019. So, there are significantly fewer options aside from traditionally problematic apps such as Grindr, which infamously preys on people’s insecurities and promotes superficial connections. 

Loss of privacy must also be factored in. All people — no matter their sexuality — may be uncomfortable speaking to an online partner in close proximity to their family. However, closeted LGBTQ+ folks face the added pressure of their family listening in on their conversations and learning information that wasn’t ready — or safe — to be shared.

A friend of mine, who identifies as queer, admitted that it was a constant stressor that their parents would find their dating apps or eavesdrop on a phone call they weren’t meant to hear. With their parents home all day due to quarantine, my friend’s conversations with their partner had to be limited to brief midnight phone calls under their covers — not the ideal relationship.

While the ability to meet people outside of the home becomes less and less possible with the growing number of COVID-19 cases, LGBTQ+ folks, who live with less-than-accepting families, have to balance online dating with family pressures; a precarious task that can be mentally exhausting.

Regardless of sexuality, online dating can be draining when it’s your only way of talking to people. Meeting people has changed in so many ways; there’s a chance you might enter a serious relationship with someone, enjoy several months together, and break up without ever seeing them in person.

You could know emotional details about someone’s past, but you will still have a lot more questions. How does this person behave with their friends? How do they treat service workers? What do they smell like? COVID-19 has left us with these questions and others as we venture into the realm of strictly online relationships. 

While we are keeping safe in our homes and dating virtually, it’s important to keep in mind what doesn’t fit into people’s profile pictures — yes, including their legs.