• How we date is just one of the many things that Covid-19 changed

  • Dr Audrey Tang shares her five dating tips for love post-lockdown

  • Wanting healthier relationships is a common reason for seeking therapy – find your therapist or counsellor here

Dating used to be so much more straightforward – you met, you chatted, you continued by text, you went out a few times and you decided yay or nay. Covid changed all of that into questioning whether to wear masks on your dating profile to deciding to take the relationship into a “bubble” rather than a third date, and the phrase “have you been tested” took on a whole new meaning!

There are a number of understandable concerns we might have, so here are my five tips for navigating dating now that lockdown restrictions are easing:

1. It’s OK to talk about the pandemic

“What do you like to do?” pre-pandemic could be answered with a number of hobbies and experiences, and this now seems a little reduced to “what have you watched?”

It’s worth remembering that while not in the same boat, we’ve faced the same storm, and so asking what someone enjoyed doing pre-Covid is a perfectly reasonable way to start. Further, as a self-development bonus, thinking about this now might help you to decide whether you actually enjoy whatever it is enough to restart it! Don’t forget, it’s OK for a new butterfly to emerge from the lockdown chrysalis; and if you do so your relationships can be built on this new and realigned footing.

2. Know what you are looking for…really looking for

Whatever you do, don’t fall prey to your mind making you think you’re desperate. That sense of anxiety and urgency can affect our judgment and decision making. An extra moment to pause (even after the year) and ask as you get back into the dating pool “Is this who I really want?” can save much longer in fretting or regret.

It’s OK - we all got a year older, and while age can be a factor in prompting us to think more broadly on our long-term wants, so too can a year in which many of us recognised what was valuable to us. If your focus is now on long-term happiness rather than momentary pleasure – or vice versa – you owe it to yourself and the other person to be honest. Further, perhaps this lack of a “game” may even help you make the connections you want where everyone knows where they stand.

Dale Carnegie Training reminds us that four things, notably prominent when we feel pressured (as we might after an enforced “dry period”), which can distort our values and result in self-sabotage:

  • Greed – the drive to acquire gains for yourself alone. This might result in us keeping many people 'hanging on' on a dating app – which isn’t always the most respectful to them.
  • Speed – the impulse to have it all now. This might result in us not recognising red flags in a relationship because we so want to be in one.
  • Laziness – if we take the path of least effort we might settle or make do – and that’s not a healthy foundation for a relationship – for either party.
  • Haziness – not knowing what we really want can result in spending yet more time kissing lots of frogs.

It is important to identify our fundamental values, to live them daily, and to know what we are hoping for in others.  By being clear and explicit we might find out who we don’t want, but that clears the path for the potentials we do.

3. It’s ok to have been living at home

Remember, it’s not unusual for 30-somethings to have bubbled with their parents. But when many of us see our parents there is a chance for the “looking glass self” to re-emerge…i.e. We see ourselves as our parents see us, and this affects our behaviour. This may explain why an independent 40-year-old parent may themselves turn into a defensive teen on that trip home. 

It’s nothing that a period of adjustment can’t overcome, but if you have been back at home for a greater length of time that you would normally, perhaps as lockdown eases, an easy tip may be to embrace ALL the connections that can be re-established to refamiliarise with casual interactions.

4. Choose happiness regardless

Further, don’t give yourself a 'wait problem'.  The wait problem is when you put off happiness until an external goal is fulfilled e.g: I’ll be happy when I find the love of my life; I’ll be happy when I lose weight, and so on.

Happiness is a state not a goal…and further, pure happiness comes from within rather than the short term happiness of external pleasures. So remember to cherish that relationship with yourself too.

Try this for a bit of self-love:

  • Recognise when you are enjoying something
  • Decide if that activity energises or relaxes you
  • Decide which you need – and pick from the list of things you know you enjoy

Habitually you may hear “self-care” and think spa day or meditate. But whatever energises or relaxes you best (at the time you need it) is going to be the most effective for you in making you feel good. Being consciously aware of it, means you get there faster, and choose happiness right now!

5. Take the pressure off yourself

This is pretty standard when it comes to anything we do in life – not just dating. We might even feel reluctant to get back into dating because of a fear of things going wrong. Procrastination is not about being lazy, but rather learning to manage our worries (some of which may not be obvious). 

If you think you ARE procrastinating, ask yourself:

  • What am I afraid of? (This may be the date not working out, or the date succeeding – because that can lead to the unknown…uncertainly, especially now, being another source of anxiety.)
  • If you are afraid of the date failing, ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen if it DOES fail” (accept it, and then take steps to minimise that happening); OR ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen if I DON’T go?" (When the pain of not changing is greater than taking that first step, the step is much easier to make.)
  • If you are afraid of the date succeeding – perhaps use that to reflect on what you really do or don’t want in a relationship and reframe your actions from there.

As a final thought – if the date still goes wrong, won’t worry – better you know now than later when you are already invested, plus, if you reflect on it when you feel less emotional (whether that be upset, anger, embarrassment and so on) that experience has simply become an opportunity to hone your dating skills.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, Pearson

Further reading

3 steps to banish dating anxiety

How therapy helped me find the right relationship

This is what it's like dating with anxiety

Therapy helped me break unhealthy relationship patterns