How the Pandemic Shaped Jewish Dating
Everyone seems to be getting engaged these days. Photos of marriage proposals, replete with young, smiling couples standing in front of heart-shaped bouquets of roses, heart-shaped photo collages and heart-shaped rows of candles, are practically exploding social media feeds. To those stuck in their childhood bedrooms –– perhaps studying remotely while perpetually scrolling through social media as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on –– these engagement photos seem rather bizarre. The contrast between those whose dating lives have flourished during the pandemic, and those who have not been meeting anyone at all in the last few months seemingly could not be greater.
Prompted by this curious disparity, I took a closer look at how the pandemic has shaped Jewish students’ dating lives. To gain insights into student sentiment regarding dating during the pandemic, I sent a survey to current students and recent graduates who are currently single, in a relationship, engaged or married. Survey responses were submitted from all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Israel, Austria, Germany and Australia, though most came from the United States. The majority of respondents (55.6%) indicated that they were single, and 26.7% reported that they have not been meeting anyone during the pandemic.
Regardless of their dating status, many respondents have been using Zoom or other video conferencing tools to meet people, with varying results. While some felt that dating via Zoom was a “waste of time,” others have become more open to long-distance dating now that people are more comfortable with Zoom dates as a long-term dating solution. Despite Zoom’s flexibility, many agreed that Zoom was only useful in the short-term (some respondents initially met their current partners via Zoom, and then started dating in-person once the relationship progressed), with the exception of couples who had established a relationship prior to transitioning to remote dating. “We had to focus on making that time very meaningful from the beginning,” said one student who began dating her partner prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, “because we were lacking the in-person aspect which often makes dates enjoyable.” Numerous respondents in a relationship shared that they put significant effort into scheduling video calls with their partners and coming up with creative ways to date virtually in order to prevent “just talking for hours on end, which, while nice, can get monotonous,” as one married student put it.
Sentiment among single students, particularly those who live “out-of-town,” was considerably gloomier. “I feel more single than ever, and there is very little I can do about it,” shared a student who lives outside of the Tri-state area. Others reported feeling “sucky,” “dead,” “overwhelmed,” “blocked,” “unmotivated” and “lonely” (although it is unclear whether these feelings are correlated with geographical location). Numerous respondents had to “put a pause on dating” due to the lack of opportunities in their hometown. “Most people,” speculated one student who lives out-of-town and has been in contact with a Shadchan, “only want to date people in the same location as them even more than usual until this blows over.”
Despite its more traditional nature, Shidduch dating, too, has drastically evolved in the wake of the pandemic. In Europe or more remote locations in the United States, where it is customary to fly out to meet someone in a different country, many matchmakers now set people up via Zoom in order to determine compatibility before they are ready to board a plane. Nevertheless, many potential matches remain “on hold” until borders open and public health mandates are relaxed. One out-of-town student who has felt pressured by the Shidduch process in the past shared that, “It’s easier to tell people that you are not interested in dating right now, which is kind of nice ... [However,] there is a complete lack of privacy [on Zoom]. Your entire family can hear everything you are saying.” Nevertheless, she has been on numerous Zoom dates –– all organized by matchmakers –– though she did not enjoy them.
Many couples terminated their relationship due to pandemic-related challenges. One respondent shared, “We started dating in person before the pandemic, switched to virtual because of the pandemic, and then broke up for a little bit because I had to leave New York and the distance was too much,” though he and his partner have resumed their relationship now that he is back in New York. Another respondent, who reported that her engagement had been broken off, felt that the pandemic was largely to blame. A student who met someone prior to the pandemic and attempted to maintain her relationship via Zoom said that she believes that “the only way distance can work is if there is a strong connection before adding distance into the equation.” In the future, she will place an emphasis “on creating a connection in person before even thinking about putting distance between us.”
While social media and dating apps have become more important in a world of primarily virtual interaction, respondents did not feel that they are a proper substitute for in-person social events. “I have not been dating because of [the] corona[virus]. I usually meet people at events but there hasn't been anything going on,” said one respondent. Another respondent, a self-described “outgoing” man who began using dating apps during the pandemic, said, “It’s very hard for me to get my personality across when I don’t meet someone in person.” However, some respondents do believe that dating apps can compensate for a lack of interaction, albeit virtually. “A stranger just made me laugh, which is such a crazy thing because I am alone in my house,“ a friend who is active on JSwipe and Hinge recently told me. She too emphasized that it is challenging to properly express one’s personality without cues such as body language and tone, though she has had “some meaningful interactions” on dating apps. Overall, “it’s a fast, fun way to communicate,” she concluded.
Those who successfully transitioned from virtual dates to in-person dates faced a new set of challenges, particularly when figuring out how, and where, to date. Many respondents reported being health-conscious while planning in-person dates. “We were so careful to make sure we wouldn’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19, even if that meant not having in-person dates,” shared one student. “It was very frustrating to see others around us disregard those guidelines because [they claim that] ‘it’s just too hard and not feasible,’” she added. “The overwhelming fear of going out in person even with masks and being mostly outside still leaves me with concerns of whether or not I will infect my date or the opposite,” shared another student, though she and her date settled on health precautions before scheduling their first in-person date.
Health precautions have completely changed how wedding ceremonies are conducted. The pandemic required couples to “shift their mindset for both the engagement and wedding,” one recently-engaged student expressed. Many respondents shared that the pandemic has taught them to focus on the “simpler things” in life. All recently married respondents reported having a significantly smaller ceremony, and while many admitted that they missed the presence of their friends and family who were unable to attend due to health precautions, most felt that the wedding was beautiful nonetheless. “It was a much smaller ceremony than normal, but everyone there was so happy to be there and it was a beautiful experience,” shared one respondent currently in her senior year at college. “We were considering pushing the wedding off, but realized that we both just wanted to get married already and the actual wedding and the rest were just details,” she added. A recently married international respondent pointed to the financial benefits of downscaling his wedding celebration in light of the pandemic.
Though some reported “feeling great about the timing of the marriage,” –– many sharing that they had long planned on getting engaged or married during this time –– others admitted that the pandemic had sped up the dating process. One engaged senior at YU claimed that the pandemic “made things more serious more quickly.” Another engaged respondent, also a senior at YU, did not plan on getting engaged until 2022. Now, just a few days before his wedding, he feels that the pandemic had “expedited” the dating timeline, but “in a good way.”
Despite the aforementioned drawbacks of dating during the pandemic, many respondents shed light on some of its beneficial aspects. “One positive that has come out of the trials of the pandemic, “ said one international student, is the “Zoom dating phenomenon: people who would otherwise never have considered Zoom dating, or dating long-distance, due to there being so many options available to them in-person, now both have expanded their dating pool to out-of-towners, and have a better understanding of their experience.” Indeed, unusual dating experiences led nearly all respondents to reimagine the way they will date in the future. Some shared that dating during the pandemic has allowed them to reflect on what truly matters in a healthy relationship. Various single respondents said they will be more “assertive” and “upfront” when asking people out in the future. One student said that he will “definitely take more risks and not be afraid to ask somebody out … life is short and you only live once.”
Photo Caption: Most dating interactions have taken place online in the wake of the pandemic
Photo Credit: Pixabay