The coronavirus pandemic has altered how the world experiences love, dating and relationships. Since March of 2020 COVID-19 has changed the function of daily life, resulting in significant impacts on personal relationships and mental health.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Household Impacts Survey from 29 April to 9 May the most commonly experienced personal stressor due to COVID-19 was loneliness, with women 12 per cent more likely to report feeling lonely than men.
A recent study by the Australian National University (ANU) revealed that the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds experiencing severe psychological distress increased by 8.3 per cent from February to April. Severe distress increased by 6.5 per cent in adults aged 25-34.
Almost two-thirds of Australians reported feeling anxious or worried about their own safety or the safety of close family and friends due to COVID-19.
Life satisfaction has declined sharply since January with a drop from 6.9 to 6.5 out of 10.
Nearly 20 per cent of all respondents said that there has been too much unnecessary worry about the outbreak and Australians have a 10 per cent higher rate of being very hopeful compared to Americans.
ANU’s survey also outlined the tendency for women to have a higher rate of reporting anxiety and worry, with men 8.9 per cent less likely to report these feelings.
Counselling Practice Specialist Sandra Martel-Acworth at Relationships Australia said the pandemic has changed the nature and volume of her work.
“Discussion of the impact of Covid and self-isolation are now part of what clients often raise and want to talk about, both the personal impact and the impact on close relationships,” she said.
“Monitoring safety feels harder and is more of a concern when providing counselling over the phone and online, when people are in their own homes.”
Martel-Acworth has seen both positive and negative impacts of Coronavirus while counselling remotely.
“It provides the challenge of learning to be content with our own company, which is one important part of any successful relationship. The idea of learning to appreciate and like ourselves,” she said.
Relationships Australia has conducted three online surveys since the pandemic began, analysing the impact Coronavirus has had on personal relationships.
In May, those who reported feeling lonely were more likely to experience negative relationship changes throughout Coronavirus, especially in regards to close relationships with partners, children and friends.
By June, half of the respondents agreed that the lifting of restrictions will have a positive effect on their close relationships.
Coronavirus has also impacted how single people date. The online dating landscape has recorded higher usage rates with longer conversations, utilising video features to date virtually.
Tinder recorded three billion swipes worldwide on Sunday, March 29, the most the app has ever recorded in a single day. Matches on the app have risen by 15 per cent since the pandemic began, and the number of messages sent is up by 10 per cent. The length of Tinder users’ conversations has also increased by 10 per cent.
Bumble, a rival dating app, saw increased engagement with video and voice integration in the app by 21 per cent, with the average video call lasting around 15 minutes. The number of regular messages sent also increased by 21 per cent as matches appear to be chatting for longer during the pandemic.
Martel-Acworth raised concerns regarding the even greater shift towards online dating due to Coronavirus.
“This tends to be very aesthetic and visually focused, rather than valuing personality and internal traits, values, and so on. It can require very low emotional investment,” she said.
“This can be problematic. We are learning more and more all the time about how a healthy brain needs and thrives on connection with others.”
Martel-Acworth said that young Australians who are struggling to feel connected during this time can keep reaching out to close friends.
“Take up the challenge of learning to be content in your own skin. Be kind to self. Do things for yourself that you enjoy,” she said.
For some, the pandemic allowed stronger bonds to form through genuine connections and fewer distractions.
Kate Finlay* and Daniel Gray, a school teacher and fitness instructor from Campbelltown, found themselves living together during lockdown despite dating for less than a month.
“I think it just gradually happened. It wasn’t like we sat down and spoke about it, days just started to meld together,” Kate said.
“[Coronavirus] has pushed us to live together and a bit further into the relationship than we would have been, not that that’s a bad thing because we are quite happy with how it’s worked out, but at the same [time] it kind of all felt a bit natural, it didn’t seem forced.
“It just amplified a lot, a month in and he’s staying at my place every night.”
The pair met in early February at a birthday party for Daniel’s mother, who works with Kate. They struck up a connection and made the discussion of their goals a priority early on, partly due to a five year age difference.
“We were both where we wanted to be with our lives, [that] helped greatly because if we weren’t in it for the long haul I feel the pandemic might have broken us,” Kate said.
“The fact that we were both on the same page from the very beginning reinforced everything.”
As Daniel lost work as a result of COVID-19, they spent more time together. The couple is grateful for their situation, and credit Coronavirus for a stronger relationship now.
“We’ve gotten to know each other a lot quicker but I don’t think that’s a negative,” Daniel said.
“I like the fact that we became a lot closer than most people would in that amount of time. It does suck that we weren’t able to go out and date properly, it’s sort of in a way like we missed that, but I definitely don’t think that’s a negative.”
The couple feels that missing out on the traditions of dating allowed them to discover their compatibility earlier on.
“Traditional relationships go through that and then they’ve got to get through all the conflict resolution and work out if they are compatible,” Kate said.
“Some relationships they either break down and some work out where as we’ve flipped it and gone through and worked out that we are compatible, we can get through things and problem solve and now that things are slowly starting to open up we can go out and enjoy each others company and do fun things, so it’s kind of like we’ve been able to work out earlier on as opposed to later on how well we do click.”
As well as getting to know each other, Kate and Daniel found themselves enjoying things they hadn’t done in years, such as bushwalking together or doing a puzzle.
Now that lockdowns have lifted, the pair have recently enjoyed their first coffee date together.
“We felt like we’ve done a lot in those four months but then to say four months in we’re only just going out for our first coffee date, we had a little laugh at that,” Kate said.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service at coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au or 1800 512 348.
*Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Feature image: Angelo_Giordano/Pixabay