Photo: Jeff Ihaza

I'm skipping pandemic cuffing season altogether. Here's why

I am generally a voracious dater, but right now it feels like there are just more important things to do — like actively work to remove Cheeto from office, dismantle the white heterocapitalist patriarchy, and take naps. Honestly, some days I can barely get it up to shower, much less flirt. Is there something wrong with me because I don’t feel like dealing with cuffing season this year?

First off, single people who are successfully Tindering and Hinge-ing are making me feel like I’m wrong for wanting to temporarily opt out. “Some people are dating more right now because they are lonely or have more time,” says Becky Belinski, a psychotherapist in Santa Monica who specializes in family and relationship therapy. Your relationship goals also impact the way you’re dating right now. “For people who are very intent on finding a life partner and having kids, they feel stressed about the way the pandemic has impacted the probability and feel pressure to make it happen sooner rather than later.” This makes a lot of sense to me. I, for the record, do not have more free time (ah, to be a health journalist during a pandemic) and I also don’t have a sense of urgency about partnering up.

Belinski says that people who are less goal-oriented about dating may still be swiping, but it’s more about being social than it is about cuffing. “There isn’t as much pressure and you can be on the apps and date because it’s fun and you enjoy connecting with others, rather than having a goal in mind.” There are other people who are not dating because they fear COVID-19 or are having a hard time right now, of course, and Belinski reminds us that’s okay. “Everyone is different and has different needs during this time,” she says. “However you are handling this, you are doing okay.”

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This conversation about the difference between people who are intent on finding a partner in a timely fashion and those are not resonated. Before the pandemic, I dated mostly for sport. Now, casually hooking up seems irresponsible to me. I am drawn to having more stable romantic experiences, but it also doesn’t feel like an emergency. I am not trying to take long walks through the apocalypse with just anyone cute. The combination of the pandemic and the political landscape have shifted my priorities — and my standards.

In the past, for example, I might have met up with someone after some quick Tinder banter just because they looked good and showed up during the right spoke in my menstrual cycle. Now, not so much. These days I spend a lot more time vetting potential dates. “This is common,” Belinski says. “Because there is more risk than pre-pandemic, people are being more thoughtful about who they are meeting up with. I see people having higher standards and having more video dates first before committing to meeting in person.”

The pandemic itself has a way of making it clear how much your values and ethics align with someone else’s, Belinski says. “How seriously people are taking the pandemic is an important part of how people are vetting potential partners,” she says, and notes that seeing how your mask-wearing practices line up with a date’s isn’t just about not infecting each other with COVID-19. “It is also an insight into someone’s values and how they navigate difficult or uncertain situations,” she says. So. Much. Yes.

I may be a casual dater, but I don’t enter into “real relationships” lightly. I want potential partners who show good judgement, and it takes time for people to demonstrate that, especially when you’re only communicating by text. So, if you’re like me and are neither desperately tuned into your ticking biological clock nor are you looking to indiscriminately swap respiratory droplets, it makes sense if cuffing season seems a little meh to you this year.

You can still have a cozy good time solo, and cuffing season is also a great time to deepen your other relationships. “Romantic partners are not the only place to find connection and intimacy,” Belinski says. “Cultivate this in relationships you already have.” It’s also okay if you feel one way about dating today and another tomorrow. “Your needs may shift throughout the pandemic,” Belinski says. “Listen, trust yourself, and honor whatever it is you need.”