Love is in the air but so is COVID-19: Young adults adjust to dating during the pandemic

By Courtney Alexander, Staff Reporter

Combined with possibly living on one’s own for the first time, taking college classes, working part- or full-time jobs and living through a pandemic, dating as a young adult can be a major challenge. 

While many individuals in their late teens and early 20s are undertaking these new responsibilities and navigating their freshly-beginning careers, many young adults are also exploring their own identity, sexuality and romantic interests. 

Topped with the various obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on individuals’ abilities to meet new people in person, travel and spend time indoors with crowds, dating as a young adult can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness, or even develop codependency for already-established relationships for couples who have been forced to spend more time at home together. 

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Communications expert Dr. Christine Bacon, Ph.D, said that young adults are at a stage in their lives where they are exploring what they like, who they are and they are setting standards to identify what they want out of a partner.

(See more: Dr. Christine Bacon)

“You guys are at the prime of your life, this is the time where you should be sampling, experimenting with men and women, to see if this person is for you,” Bacon said. 

Bacon said that the pandemic is affecting how young adults go out and interact with one another. With limited interactions, young adults can’t go to as many social spots and as a result, there’s been a decrease in hook-ups and an increase in online dating. 

“As you’ve noticed, there’s the maskers and the anti maskers, depending on who you are. So people who are afraid aren’t going out and hooking up with people like they would have before,” Bacon said. 

Before pursuing a relationship, Bacon recommends starting off slow and building a friendship first before taking the relationship to the next level. Starting with a friendship can help young adults bond emotionally before any sexual intimacy occurs, this can help create a strong bond first before moving forward. 

 “You’re at such a vulnerable time in your life where you should be enjoying life, and you have these imposed boundaries,” Bacon said. “I tell people, be cautious, don’t make out with a stranger on the street, but go and hold someone’s hand, and spend time at a restaurant with someone and talk to a person.”

Emily Lloyd, engagement manager at One Love Foundation, said One Love creates educational tools about relationships, and the foundation connects with young people in a language they can understand and identify with. 

The One Love Foundation is a non profit organization and they have educated millions of young people about relationships through workshops, in person classes, and the central focus is on identifying the signs of unhealthy and healthy relationships. The foundation was created to honor a young woman named Yeardley Love, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend. 

(See more: One Love Foundation)

“Recognizing that no relationship is going to be perfect, the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors can help,” Lloyd said. “So we hope that people learn how to practice healthy behaviors, there’s educational workshops that we create that teach how to communicate boundaries, help a friend who is in an unhealthy relationship, teach people how to navigate breakups, and access resources.”

Identifying an unhealthy relationship can be difficult for young adults, but recognizing the red flags in a relationship early on could help escape an unwanted situation before things escalate further. 

“Isolation, intensity, manipulation, guilting, and there’s more on that list of ten, but the key is to recognize that 100 percent of us will do unhealthy things, it’s how we respond to that unhealthy behavior is what really matters,” Lloyd said.

These behaviors during the pandemic may increase as a result of restrictions and less interactions, recognizing the signs can help young adults leave an unideal situation. 

Chris Wienke, professor of sociology at SIU, said dating standards for young adults is primarily the same for the majority of older adults, and relationships can vary for every individual. 

“I don’t know if I have a definition. I think that’s a varying construct that will depend on the individual,” Wienke said. “There’s characteristics that make up the individual, the status or stage in life, historic context, social context, culture context, all those sorts of things. What’s healthy, what’s unhealthy changed over time and varies from place to place.” 

Young adults typically have an idea of what relationships should be like since they are consumers of the media, the internet, socialization of parents, interacting with peers, and exposure to religion can provide insight on what’s healthy and what’s not. 

It’s also essential for young adults to identify their expectations so they can protect themselves and avoid unwanted exposure to unhealthy situations. 

“Having a clear set of expectations, understanding what is a healthy relationship is a starting place, what they define as a healthy relationship. If they can understand that, get a better grasp of that, it may take some time, maybe even counseling to identify what is healthy for them,” Weinke said. “It may take some experience, trial and error, what’s healthy to them, what’s unhealthy to them. But having general expectations is one way to avoid being in an unhealthy or toxic relationship.”

Courtney Alexander can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at ___Courtney_alex23______. 

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