In these perilous times, I’m told a destination reachable only on Zoom is “the hottest new club.” At Club Quarantine, people flirt. Some expose themselves. One waiter at a closed New Orleans restaurant wrote for HuffPost about masturbating over FaceTime with a pre-pandemic hookup. Before quarantine, the pair parted quickly after intercourse. In isolation, however, they lingered, and the author was surprised to find emotional fulfillment in their non-sexual interactions.
A friend recently contemplated over iMessage what quarantine is like for people early in their dating relationships, after only a few outings, when it’s way too soon to shack up under one roof and ride this thing out. What about singles on apps?
A New York Post exploration provides some answers. The picture painted by people interviewed is one of hours-long FaceTime dates, excuses to get out of sweats, and ongoing app swipes. The result is less bleak than you might guess. “Being on FaceTime forces you to be attentive and listen to the other person,” one 22-year-old Seattle woman said. After three FaceTime dates with different guys, one Utah twenty-something said, “They went really well,” adding, “In light of this huge crisis, we got to skip the small talk.”
“Is it a coincidence that people are having the best dates of their lives while isolated, bored and starving for human contact?” author Suzy Weiss wonders. We’ll see. Surely there will be quarantine couples, telling the tales of their unlikely romance sparked in the darkest of days for generations to come. But the concept eliminates one very important variable: physical intimacy.
I’m certain sexting is on the rise. Club Quarantine sounds like it has enough exposure to rival Chat Roulette in its glory days. There’s definitely some catfishing going on. But for the many people dating like those in the Post, quarantine courtship completely removes the possibility of sexual intimacy early in a relationship. The incentives for conversation are different. The focus is different. Eliminating the complications early sexual intimacy can bring basically involves no discipline.
On apps, of course, people connect digitally before they connect physically. They sext too. But the goal is generally to land a date and go from there. Sometimes the goal isn’t even to grab drinks, it’s just to dive into bed.
The men and women willing to spend time together on FaceTime right now are probably not the people who use apps that way, although there’s likely some overlap. Either way, all the twisted cultural expectations about sex are basically out the window in these times. It’s an interesting experiment, one with a tragic genesis, but also one that could bear some fruit.
This isn’t to say physical attraction plays no valuable role in relationships — that’s certainly not true — but dating today overemphasizes premarital sex in a way that hurts young people who find themselves single into their thirties, regretting a decade of casual hookups or relationships built on the wrong foundations.
For many young people whose priorities could use some reconfiguration, the forced physical distance may emerge as a benefit, not an obstacle to making a lasting connection. Oddly enough, looking for love during the pandemic could be the experience a generation of sexually broken millennials needs to turn their luck around, a silver lining to this historic tragedy.