Dating After Lockdown Is Making Me Anxious—Help!
Friends who seem to personify the exact spirit of Shot Girl Summer are excited by the prospect of crowded bars, meet-cutes, and the return of casual sex—but none of that feels completely or unapologetically in alignment with my authentic self. I was 28 and single entering the pandemic, I’m 30 and single leaving it, and this vibe just isn’t what I’ve been waiting for.
From the outset of the pandemic, I made a karmic bargain that if I spent this time working on myself, I’d reap the benefits of a post-WWII-type return to romance. I didn’t engage in Zoom dating, hop into a turbo relationship, or have any risky mask sex. Instead, I religiously spent evenings watching The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and every time Colbert fawned over his wife, I’d think “I want that”—a forever, great love filled with laughter, fidelity, and unfailing reverence.
And I get the sense that Colbert’s romantic vibe is hardly the ethos of Shot Girl Summer, which is more likely to present as coded language for an intensified hook-up culture renaissance marked by a renewed glorification of the the swipe-right style of dating that leaves so many feeling drained. The thought of that alone fills me with dread. I didn’t bring my sex and dating life with me into lockdown just to be ghosted by someone I’ve had three perfect dates with, or ask “What are we?” to a 32-year-old who doesn’t own a bed frame. I just want to find my Colbert and opt out of this Shot Girl Summer business, thank you very much.
So, how can I get a handle on my anxiety about dating after the pandemic—these next few months and beyond? Because, Shot Girl Summer or not, if I’m going to find my romance, I am going to have to get out there, in some way. Below, experts confirm it’s both totally normal to have anticipatory worries and that there are also certainly safe ways for spooked folks like myself to move forth into the new new normal.
Why some folks are prone to anxiety about dating after lockdown
ICYMI, we’ve been navigating a global health crisis that’s reduced our levels of touch to elbow bumps and the occasional one-armed hugs for over a year. One survey of 1,100 participants revealed that 55 percent of singles actively chose celibacy in quarantine. This lack of physical touch alone could be enough to increase anxiety levels about the prospect of its eventual return.
“For the single pandemic navigator, going without sexual or affectionate touch for a year may result in a big drain on the reserves of resilience and sense of well-being.” —Nan Wise, PhD, neuroscientist
“Touch releases so many important, calming neuropeptides in our brains,” says Nan Wise, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of Why Good Sex Matters. “[These chemicals] offer tremendous benefits, including inducing feelings of calm, resourcefulness, and well-being. So, for the single pandemic navigator, going without sexual or affectionate touch for a year may result in a big drain on the reserves of resilience and sense of well-being.”
While it’s natural to be a bit skittish about going back into the world, that intensifies when you add in the vulnerability that’s required in order to date. And for those without a full resilience reservoir, it can be even harder—especially when you factor in the issue of sex. While plenty of people up-leveled their solo sex play during quarantine, masturbation is very different from a multi-player game. This can surface genuine levels of concern about being out of practice, sexually speaking, and also feelings of anxiety about new conversations required to have safe sex.
“The desire to be physically close to someone while wanting to protect yourself and loved ones from COVID will be a real conversation,” says Donna Oriowo, PhD, a sex therapist in SimplePractice’s telehealth network. “For some, it may simply extend the kind of conversation they had regarding sexual practices. For others, it will be a new conversation to regularly introduce into their dating situations.”
Perhaps the most intense component of anxiety associated with dating after lockdown, though, is a recurring theme of the pandemic: fear of the unknown. “We’re not currently post-pandemic and have no idea what that would actually look like,” says Dr. Oriowo. “There’s the anxiety of what life in general looks like, and then what life looks like for dating, specifically.” With those two strains of anxiety coexisting, it may be helpful to introspect so you can be mindful about which is actually at play at a given moment. Because, for example, if you can pinpoint that it’s not a date at a restaurant that worries you so much as just being at a restaurant, you can feel more empowered to shift your plans and feel confident.
How to approach a Shot Girl Summer if you’re single
Despite my fears about Shot Girl Summer, we’re not necessarily in for a shallow dating experience—just a lively one. The truth is that many singles are simply excited to meet people outside of their bubble, flirt, and hook up with something other than their vibrator. According to K.S. Lewis, relationship expert at text-free dating app Chekmate, that also means a return to grooming and glamming up. “[Singles] have started working out and buying clothes other than sweats and leisurewear,” she says. “[They are] ready to show off, feel refreshed, and have fun—safely, of course.”
She predicts that we’ll see a flirtatious summer where people have the freedom to pursue the sexual desires that have been simmering during the pandemic. This excitement will fuel all sorts of connections: casual sex, yes, but also going on actual dates. (Yay!) Unfortunately, though, one trend is likely here to stay: “At the end of the summer, there will undoubtedly be some singles who choose to fall back and either commit to one person or take the fall and winter months to ‘clear their summer slate’ and recharge,” says Lewis. “In that instance, ghosting will return.” Blergh.
So how does one deal with anxiety about dating after lockdown when venturing into our newly vaccinated love jungle? Beyond knowing that overwhelm is a perfectly natural feeling to experience, don’t be afraid to communicate to your romantic prospects how you’re feeling. Be open, honest, and specific about what might be unnerving you. “Setting clear expectations and boundaries, and making sure there is a full outlining of consent can go a long way in quelling anxiety,” says Dr. Oriowo. “It’s a great practice to name the anxiety you’re feeling, either with a romantic partner or with friends.”
Above all, Lewis recommends that you take dating after the pandemic slowly, if that’s what feels best to you. “As your comfort level grows, a heightened desire for in-person interaction and pleasure will follow,” she says. “Stay authentic and proceed at your own pace.”
Whatever the dating landscape turns out to look like during this Shot Girl Summer, I know I’m not the same woman I was entering the pandemic: I have higher expectations, different priorities, and the courage to stand by them. And in acting in alignment, unapologetically, with that self-awareness, I believe there’s hope I can have a great sunny season ahead, whatever folks want to nickname it.
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