Love at First Zoom
Despite COVID-19 restrictions creating the idea that romance is dead at Tufts, many are still looking to date. The Action for Sexual Assault Prevention by Tufts Men (ASAPtm) branch surveyed 65 Tufts students to gather data before their “Courtship and COVID” event on November 1, which was a discussion about people’s feelings and experiences around dating during the pandemic. The survey found that 70 percent of respondents had been on a date since the pandemic started. Sophomore Annalise Jacobson said, “I think that I want to be in a relationship in general; I don’t think COVID has to do with that.” She plans to continue going out on dates during the pandemic. There are still many options for dating life at Tufts, despite the difficulties students face trying to remain safe while finding closeness with other people.
However, for many, COVID has made maintaining a dating or sex life difficult, if not impossible. In ASAPtm’s survey, 62 percent of respondents said that the pandemic has made their dating life more difficult because it’s hard to meet people, it’s stressful, or it’s unsafe. Fifty-three percent of the survey respondents said that they were only comfortable with sexual contact under certain conditions, such as if they were in a monogamous relationship, with someone they live with, someone who has been tested, or a member of the Tufts community. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they were not at all comfortable. Sexual Health Representative Sophia Alfred said, “Given our current state, [the Sex Health Reps] wouldn’t say that it’s safe to be in close contact with anyone either from Tufts or in the surrounding area. Tufts is seeing cases rise and so are Medford and Somerville…There’s risk involved regardless if you’re participating in close physical contact with anybody outside of your household.”
Since students are mostly in control of how strictly they socially distance despite the stated rules, they have to choose how to best prioritize their safety and the safety of others as well as respect the concerns of more cautious partners. Jacobson said, “People are less available and there’s nothing to do. For example, [someone I was planning to go on a date with] was like, ‘I don’t really want to hang out right now because of COVID, we should do it after Thanksgiving.’” Sophomore Jonathan Lai said that when he goes on dates, “I always wear a mask. I always ask, ‘How many times a week are you tested?’ [and] ‘Are you negative?’” Almost all the participants of ASAPtm’s survey said they discussed guidelines for sex and relationships with the people that they live with.
Forty-eight percent of respondents on ASAPtm’s survey said that they preferred meeting partners during the pandemic through dating apps. Similarly, this year’s creators of the popular hookup app, JumboSmash, designed by Tufts students for Tufts seniors, have been considering COVID restrictions, regulations, and more when designing the application. An anonymous team member of JumboSmash said, “We’re trying to make sure that we keep the Tufts community safe and we don’t promote risky behavior. Especially since we get tested so often it would be good to have a COVID verification, just to know that your last couple tests were negative and if you are comfortable meeting in person, if you’re comfortable with six feet apart, or masks, or no masks.” Frequent COVID testing at Tufts can be a way of helping people make an informed decision about which potential partners they should meet, but Alfred warned, “Testing…is not at all a preventative measure, it’s only a tracking measure. Somebody who’s getting tested frequently isn’t any less likely to have COVID than someone who’s not getting tested.”
The most popular date option on the survey was outdoor socially distanced dates, with 40 percent of respondents saying this was the type of date they were most comfortable with. Alfred said, “In this moment of really high cases…our advice is not even to social distance date. But if you do decide to go on an in-person date, outside, six feet apart, masks on reduces the risk.” On the survey, those who did go on virtual or socially distanced dates noted good experiences and were able to become close despite the lack of physical contact.
Long-distance relationships can also be made more difficult by trying to make plans during COVID. Alfred said, “If you are in a long-distance relationship and that’s something that you both decided, that you’re going to travel to see each other…[It’s important to] think about the compounded effects of what would happen if you were to get coronavirus either during travel or while seeing your partner.” But an anonymous student who broke off a new relationship shortly after going back to his hometown in March said, “I had to tell her, what’s the point? I never wanted a long-distance relationship. And I didn’t know when the school would let us come back or when we would be back in the same place.”
Several survey respondents also reported that they felt a push towards having monogamous relationships, rather than interacting with multiple casual partners, as a way to have companionship while limiting their exposure. Lai said, “COVID kind of amplifies the feeling of being single. When you see people in relationships, you feel like, ‘What if [lockdown] happens again? I’ll be alone again.’” New cases in Massachusetts have reached a second peak, and are in fact higher than they have been since the beginning of the pandemic. Staying safe can make the search for romance feel dangerous and disheartening.
For those looking for companionship beyond dating and hookup apps, Tufts students have been creating unique solutions. Avni Ambalam, a member of the Tufts Marriage Pact team, said, “I started changing the marketing where at the start it was like, ‘Oh you haven’t found the one yet in college? Here’s your chance.’ I feel like that would appeal more to seniors. But stuff like ‘make a new friend’ or ‘meet someone new’ would appeal more to underclassmen because they haven’t had that chance…‘Let’s meet new people’ worked better than stuff like finding the one or finding your true love.” The team credited in part the marketing strategy around making new friends with the Marriage Pact’s popularity at Tufts and said that the platform was most popular with freshmen and least popular with seniors.
For Lai, COVID has colored his dating life so much that he said, “The first thing I use to break the ice is ‘How have you been during the pandemic?’” Lai said that even if he doesn’t start the conversation, his dates often ask him the same question. Tufts Marriage Pact team member Anne Lau said, “We thought if this actually does work, and if people get on board, then it would help make the COVID situation a little better. And so I think that that also led to our marketing being more like, ‘End 2020 on a good note,’ essentially.” The ways that people have adapted love and relationships while staying safe keep social life on campus alive during the pandemic, even if dating at Tufts in 2020 looks very different than it has in any other year.