There has never been a time when going out on a first date with someone wasn't a stressful and sometimes nerve-racking experience. But now, as never before, new relationships are one of the causes for concerns and feelings such anxiety and stress.
It's officially been over a year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In these past 12 months, single people around the world have had to cross a minefield. For many of us single folk, lockdown has meant a full year without dating, swiping and flirting. Probably, the craziest thing single people have done is meeting up with a date for a walk or a picnic in a park. Rigorously six feet apart. Now that some restrictions are lifted and the number of people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine is getting higher, we may not have to sacrifice our love life anymore. We can finally (and lawfully) go on dates again. How exciting...and terrifying!
We have spent a lot of time away from other people, isolated inside our homes, where the only possible interactions were those on Zoom. It is therefore not surprising that numerous studies have shown how lockdowns and restrictions have had a negative impact on our ability to communicate and relate to others. Also when it comes to relationships and dating. For those who, like me, are singles, this could be a big issue. Not only our flirty skills are a bit rusty, but there is also a strong feeling of anxiety that comes with the idea of going out with someone for a first date in the Covid-19 era. All of these concerns have a name: FODA, Fear Of Dating Again. And yes, it’s actually a thing now.
The term FODA has become commonplace for a few months now; more precisely since the online dating app Hinge first used it in January 2021, when it revealed that more than half of its users feel more anxious about dating than before the pandemic. According to a survey conducted by the dating app, more than 77 per cent of us are currently dating online are feeling anxious about the first IRL meet-up. Meanwhile, 78 per cent have admitted lockdown has caused us to forget how to date in person. "Across the world, as different countries open up and different COVID restrictions relax, we've heard a lot of anxiety from our users about getting back out there," explain Logan Ury, a behavioral scientist and Hinge's Director of Relationship Science.
“I haven’t used Bumble in months - says Hannah, 23, a sociology student at the University of Leeds - I’m not sure I’m ready to go out there again. At the beginning of lockdown last spring I had a couple of virtual dates but they weren’t my cup of tea so I completely stopped. Now, the idea of being back in a social setting, especially a date, makes me sick to my stomach. I can't even remember what it's like to meet with someone on a date. How do you greet them, what do you say, what do you do? I just don’t know it anymore.”
Kathryn, 26, a hair stylist in London, couldn’t agree more. She told me she feels apprehensive about re-entering the dating game: “Dating in 2021 is undoubtedly a unique experience. It is bizarre because on one hand I really can't wait for life to get back to normal, and that includes my love life. On the other hand, as soon as I start talking with a man I start having doubts. Are they taking the right precautions? Do they see many people? Can I trust them? I mean, is it safe to date again now?”
According to another study, conducted by the dating site eHarmony, 22% of singles between 18 and 34 are experiencing feelings of FODA. 77% of those who currently attend online dating feel anxious about going out for a live meeting. Furthermore, 49% are afraid of future dates due to a perceived loss of social skills, while 23% are worried that going out with someone will catch Covid-19. Some of the side effects of FODA include stress, anxiety, nerves and apprehension but also overthinking the little things and really getting in your own heads.
“What if I start dating a guy, I get to know him for a couple of weeks and then the government imposes new restrictions on us? - asked Marianne, 23, intern at a law firm in the City - I don’t wanna be ghosted by someone I may like, especially if it’s because we cannot see each other. I simply think that dating during Covid is a waste of time.”
How to overcome the fear of dating again
Dealing with FODA could be scary for those who are looking for love after Covid, but the good news is that it's possible to address it head-on. Firstly, remember that it’s normal to feel anxious and nervous about a date. It’s likely the other person is feeling the same way. Social anxiety was very common even before the pandemic, so it’s understandable to be especially stressed after a year of physically not being around others. A good thing to do at the beginning of a first date would be to voice your concerns. I believe honesty is always the key. If you, for examples, don’t feel like going to a pub because it could be too crowded, tell your date that. There’s nothing wrong in having boundaries, and it’s better to lose those who can't respect yours.
Even if you're overthinking more than usual these days, it's important to know that many people feel the same way. If it makes you feel better, you can prepare yourself mentally before a date. For example, swear by journaling and meditation to get into the right pre-date mindset.
But finally, and more importantly, give yourself time to ease back in. Dating experts also recommend starting off slow and setting concrete goals for yourself to get the ball rolling. Just because it’s possible, no one is saying you need to go on five dates a week. Take your time and don’t rush yourself into anything.
Written by Paige Trimbly