Two years ago I wrote a column about why my love life has thrived under the newly imposed lockdown. I wondered if I should be offended when my editors asked me to write a follow-up about why I’m still single.
I suspect it might have something to do with dogs.
In 2020, online dating offered some respite from the isolation of early lockdowns and participation in apps like Hinge, Bumble and Grindr flooded. But despite the record number of weddings backed into 2022, more Americans got dogs as life partners during the pandemic.
In general, I view dog ownership as a pro – proof that a potential mate can keep alive something more complex than a houseplant. If a dog is well behaved, I can tell about the owner’s strength of character. The reverse is true for villains.
But many dogs aren’t very good at dating. They have little understanding of personal space or boundaries. Recently a date tried to kiss me while his dog started licking my ear. No one but me seemed to think this was too much.
Date a dog owner and there is no “your home or mine”. It will always, always be her place. A lone friend discovers that park meetings are also doomed to fail. Two dog owners mean twice the logistical effort. Spontaneity is dead. Someone always rushes home to walk the dog.
There are the dogs who won’t let dates through the door. Some people who adopted emotional support dogs have become emotional supporters for anxious pets with Prozac prescriptions. Dog trainers in New York can charge up to $400 an hour to let your dog date you.
A very informal survey confirmed my suspicions: numerous pandemic puppies are used to sleeping in their owners’ beds. company for two. But three, if one of them is a 90-pound working breed used to stretching out on a king-size bed, is a crowd. Report Friends Not: How Many Dates Before You Can Say “Me or the Dog”?
For many, a pandemic puppy is their most serious relationship in two years. It is the architecture around which they have built their new normal. Our sanity is tied to our strange new balances and safe routines. I know I’m not the only one who feels mine is a bit precarious.
Things may look as ordinary now as they did before the change, but they are not. Everyone is trying to recover. But I suspect that many of us re-enter the world with a lot more band-aids on our hearts than we care to admit.
These patches can take the form of a dog or something else entirely.
In April 2020 the pandemic felt like a chapter in a book that I would one day give a before but also an after. With attendees dressed in what I would liberally call athleisure, the first dates were rescheduled online and for a moment we forgot the rules. I briefly considered in this article that Zoom First Dates could remain in place to streamline the chemistry check process.
Now most of us would rather jump in front of an Amazon delivery truck than spend more time online. But we didn’t have the effusive collision of personal contacts we once imagined. A feeling of discomfort has set in. Turns out life doesn’t work in neatly booked segments. It is cumulative.
“People burn out, seek relationships and burn out in relationships,” says New York-based relationship therapist Jane Hammerslough.
I’ve gotten so used to uncertainty that it can feel silly to be excited about the possibility of something new. Or anyone.
Dogs were a grasp for security in an uncertain time. So does the growing trend to return to old flames. An ex might be a narcissist, but at least he’s a narcissist, you know. This helps explain why every man I’ve dated since I was 13 has asked me out for drinks in the last 12 months. They are all unchanged, an odd consolation. I will notice – most of them have dogs now.
Part of what makes familiar people, even familiar fake people, so appealing is what I’m beginning to understand is a common fatigue with online dating.
Dating apps started out as a fun tool to complement a dating life, but they’ve since shifted the burden of finding a soulmate to singles entirely. Forget luck and timing. You have an app with every single person in your town in the palm of your hand, so why not find someone to love you?
At the start of the pandemic, dating apps offered some respite from the loneliness of early lockdowns. They were also the only option. Although absolutely no one wants this, their monopoly seems to have stalled. The apps have impoverished the long tradition of set-ups and bad blind dates. That was good for venture capitalists, bad for romance. Trying to find dates offline while our groups of friends are making deals “is like scraping the barrel of your existing social network,” one said.
The dating pool of the established apps is huge, the algorithms are poor. It’s not like meeting someone in a bar. It’s like trying to find her in a stadium.
Hinge has adopted a particularly charming innovation. It extracts the people it identifies as the most attractive and compatible with you and holds them hostage behind an additional paywall. After a while of sifting through a sea of frogs, these people will look like princes. Hinge users are already paying $30 per month for a subscription. But if you only want to take your shot with one of these people, it costs $3.99 per person.
But what is the alternative?
Friends tell me they are lonely that the pandemic highlighted the value of partnership. But the thought of sifting through a puddle of two-dimensional profiles makes her want to lay down and give up.
Dating apps “don’t work that effectively for anyone,” says Hammerslough. No one wants to double down on online searches like life should deviate from.
Relationship experts say the tonic for dating fatigue, paradoxically, is to rush into face-to-face interactions with wild abandon. And maybe stop mopping for a while.
Face-to-face dating has returned, which is a lot more fun (physical attraction is a balm for all sorts of intolerances). But we’re entering the dating world a little more vulnerable and precarious than before. Small disappointments sting a little more when, after two years, you do your best to trust that things can turn out well. Like being dumped via text message, with a little croissant emoji. He was sorry he was scaly, but he was too busy with his dog.
Dating now requires resilience. A friend of mine used to have an annual New Year’s resolution to “be more of a dog”. It’s about being bold, enthusiastic, eating anything, embracing the good, and bouncing like a rubber band.
I try to be more of a dog.
The key to jumping forward, Hammerslough says, is to be curious. Everyone was turned upside down and put together as best they could. A date’s dog might not be your favorite. It must not be. But if you’re curious and compassionate about what that dog — or sourdough, or loud banjo music — means to that person, then you might find what we all want most: real connection.
The dog could also sleep in his bed, but that’s a conversation you can have later.
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