Obviously, it was weird even before the Covid-19 pandemic because modern dating is a sausage factory approach to finding love. All the ingredients are there – the people, the desire for connection — but like anything that’s shoved through a digital meat grinder, the end product is always sausages. It’s haunch with a side of trotter, kind of tastes like the original, but just isn’t.
The first lockdown added some heat and pressure and for a while, everything got way more delicious. Illicit love affairs, people moving in together after one brief go at cybersex on Hinge, strangers speaking on the phone for hours like lovelorn teenagers.
One friend – a woman who’d previously considered snogging on a first date déclassé – went further than that on the London Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park. The old rules grew lax, the atmosphere, feral, the streets of the capital shimmered in a mid-summer sex haze but every deed was excused as the symptom of temporary madness.
Now we’re on the cusp of cuffing season. An editor once asked me to “investigate the veracity of cuffing season” (which, admittedly, lends weight to the newspaper commenter who once wrote “you’ve wasted your life” under one of my articles) and it turns out that, scientifically, it’s not really a thing.
But anyone who’s ever been on the internet will know that science can only go so far in explaining the human condition – and cuffing season, that point at the beginning of winter where singles shack-up with whoever rather than face months of long dark nights alone, certainly does exist in some form.
Problematically, it looks like those who didn’t already have one have run out of time to find a casual lover – and Downing Street has confirmed that sex is off the cards for couples living apart in areas with Tier 2 or 3 restrictions. Basically, if there isn’t an interested party in your “support bubble,” you’re probably staring down the barrel of a sexless winter lockdown. What I realised from the last time, though, was that maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Obviously, that trapped-in-amber feeling, the idea that our lives are “on hold” is uncomfortable, doubly so for singles because there’s already so much uncertainty to single life (will I like them? Will they like me? Am I destined to die alone?).
However, having watched a fair few “we moved in together after three dates” relationships turn sour, a sexless winter is, in my opinion, preferable to realising you don’t really like the person that you’re locked-down with. (And infinitely preferable to spending 22 hours a day in a one-bedroom flat with a man who keeps old toenail clippings in his bedside draw – which is what happened to one of my friends).
One of the central conceits of the sausage factory school of dating is that any two single people who find one another passably attractive will have enough common ground to make a go of it, for one night at least. But anyone who’s been on a few app dates knows that’s not really the case. People are much weirder and more set in their ways than you’d ever expect, and all too often disappointment blooms in the space between expectation and reality.
The truth is, it is hard to manufacture a spark, and nigh-impossible to mould two fundamentally dissimilar people into one entity even if they both really really don’t want to be alone. While some singles have found the virus strangely motivating (“at least I’ll die doing something I love,” said one friend when I asked whether she was worried about getting coronavirus via casual sex), most of us just want to make it out alive. And I’m happy doing that on my own.