Valentine’s Day won’t be the same for many people this year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But that’s nothing new for college students who have spent the last year changing how they meet new people due to mandatory lockdowns, restaurant and bar closures, and physical-distancing precautions.

How people have been handling their romantic relationships during pandemic times is being explored by researchers, and two Illinois State professors shared their thoughts about how students have been adapting to this new world and what it might mean for the future of dating.

Dr. Aimee Miller-Ott
Dr. Aimee Miller-Ott

“It’s a really challenging time to build and maintain relationships right now, but I do think that technology is affording us more opportunities to keep those relationships going,” said Dr. Aimee Miller-Ott, an interpersonal communication expert and an associate professor in the School of Communication. “For instance, traditionally Tinder has been more of a hookup app, but now people don’t want to get together with people they don’t know, so we might see the function of dating apps moving more in the direction of relationship establishment, and it will be less taboo to use them.”

Just like technology has come to the forefront in education due to remote learning, it is also revolutionizing the dating scene as well. Miller-Ott referred to work by communication scholar Dr. Jeffrey Hall that suggests that people are opting for “virtual first dates” now, which enable individuals to screen potential partners over video chat. She said virtual platforms and dating apps have replaced bars and restaurants as the typical meeting places for college students.

“I think people in general are going to continue to be incredibly hesitant and protective when choosing to spend physical time with somebody,” said Miller-Ott. “Because of that, I think we will continue to see a huge reliance on technology and questioning whether we trust others to be around us, and not just romantic partners but friends and family members too.”

Another, possibly more unexpected, change in the dating scene is that many people are reconnecting with their former partners.

Dr. Susan Sprecher
Dr. Susan Sprecher

“The Kinsey Institute has done a survey recently where they asked people how their relationships have been affected by COVID, and they found that people have been increasingly reaching out to ex-partners,” said Dr. Susan Sprecher, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “Maybe because they want to check up on them, but also because they don’t want to put the time in or have difficulty starting a new relationship.”

Other factors presented by the pandemic are complicating partner compatibility, such as individuals’ divergent views on masks, vaccines, and physical distancing. Many people feel more obligated to talk to each other about their health choices now.

“The conversations about dating and the conversations you would have with a potential dating partner seem to be changing,” said Miller-Ott. “People are more serious about discussing if they are going to only date each other because of concerns about the risk of exposure to COVID.”

While there have been many negative effects of the pandemic on relationships, this unprecedented situation may have some benefits for couples.

“If people are getting to know each other better online before taking the risk of meeting in-person during the pandemic, that’s a good thing because they’re able to connect at a deeper level,” said Sprecher. “Those who have already been in relationships but not living together or are long distance can learn more about how to use technology to maintain their relationship moving forward.”

It is impossible to predict what the post-pandemic dating scene will look like. Maybe college students will be leaving their homes in droves to spend time together again, or perhaps technology will be the new go-to for making romantic connections. No matter what the future holds, people will always find ways to fall in love.