Jenna Birch with her fiance on a hike.
Jenna Birch with her fiance on a hike.
Jenna Birch
  • Jenna Birch is a freelance journalist and author of “The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love.” 
  • She and her now fiancé dated long-distance for over a year, and Birch says being apart helped them to develop a strong, lasting connection. 
  • Physical distancing reminds you that developing an emotional bond in tandem with a physical connection is important. 
  • Used wisely, the tech-based, distance-driven dating we’re now stuck with could be a surprising remedy for singles’ romantic fatigue.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dating has changed a lot over the years; from the age of courting to the dawn of app dating, we’ve come a long, long way. And with today’s social distancing guidelines in place, singles are jumping headfirst into another reinvented type of courtship: long-distance dating, but from day one. 

In a lot of ways, pandemic dating reminds me of the way I met my fiancé

We dated long-distance for over a year while he was in the Bay Area and I was in Michigan. I’d been serial dating on apps for four or five years before briefly connecting with him at his own 30th birthday party in Chicago. I was charmed by his humility and sense of humor, his ease around people, and how different our connection felt than the ones with people I had to dress up and go out on the town to meet. 

Needless to say, we hit it off — and after 24 hours, I thought this was a relationship worth pursuing. I also thought I needed a change. 

Jenna Birch
The author and her fiance in July 2020.
Jenna Birch

App dating is like being on a hamster wheel or in the wild West — and it’s also the most popular way to meet your future mate if you’re brave enough to slog your way through the heartbreaks. 

With the lack of real-life context on any of your dates — mutual social connections, meeting in a setting where you can observe what they’re like — each date exists in a vacuum of chemistry and potential. You never know what you’re going to get. A commitment-phobe? A misogynist? A two-timer? Someone who wants a free dinner? 

Despite the emotional turmoil — and how exhausting dating via app really is — it's hard to get off the rollercoaster ride. 

App dating offers a unique proposition: Meet hundreds or thousands of singles in your area with whom you'd never otherwise cross paths

Go on as many dates as you want, looking for either the love of your life, or the next best thing. Sometimes, it's hard to tell. Dating companies will sell you on the romance, but it's more like an endless adrenaline rush with a dash of trauma thrown in for good measure.

Apps tend to lend themselves to bad behaviors, because there's no real accountability. 

You likely don't run in the same circle with your matches, and therefore won't be running into them at a party or picnic. The toxicity of the culture is why we bemoan the trends that have popped up in the last ten years as new technology has burst onto the dating scene — ghosting, zombie-ing, stealthing, benching. I've accumulated a dictionary of buzz terms of these frustrating, infuriating dating behaviors. 

When I was writing my dating book a few years ago, almost all the singles I interviewed that were seeking relationships had an obligatory, confusing relationship with dating apps. They'd experience the bad behaviors, get tired of the endless dates that led nowhere — or worse than nowhere, toward trauma — and delete all the apps from their phone. 

But soon, they'd realize how challenging it is to meet people IRL when singles could simply cut out the rejection risk by meeting on an app; so they'd re-download Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and then complain endlessly to me about the state of connection. 

I've been trying to find silver linings in this pandemic. For singles looking for substance in this dating culture, social distancing might just be a big ol' blessing in disguise.

Jenna Birch
The author and her partner in Austin in November 2019.
Jenna Birch

Social distancing — literal physical distancing — reminds you that developing an emotional bond in tandem with a physical connection is important. In a culture that practically encourages romantic defensiveness and throwing away anything that seems remotely flawed (read: human), I'd argue that it's critical.

Dating my fiancé long distance was my way off modern dating's infinite hamster wheel. It was the change I needed to stop relying on insta-connections to dictate who would make a good long-term partner for me; to stop coming home from a date and browsing the apps before I went to bed. It was a way to slow down, take my time, savor small moments of insight into his personality, and get to know someone in a foreign way while developing a deep sense of familiarity.

We texted, chatted, and FaceTimed for two months before we met for the second date, in California. The anticipation was intoxicating. And also, I knew him. We'd invested a lot of time to get to that exciting moment where I stepped off a plane, ran through the airport, and found his car.

For singles of today, navigating a new age of dating in pandemic times, it could be a rebirth for your romantic life

Don't be afraid to slow down. Get to know someone over phone calls instead of drinks. 

Invest in really getting to know your dates when sex is off the table; if you're seeking a relationship, especially, you'll know your match isn't in it for the physical if there's no in-person first date on the near horizon. 

I've been checking in with my long-term singles, my long-term app users, during the pandemic. One, a 36-year-old woman from Philadelphia, has experienced a lot of highs and lows while dating via app for many years. But during lockdown, she'd been on 12 FaceTime dates with a connection she met just before quarantine for the very first time. They've been keeping their distance, but she still calls this one "the most promising connection in a long time." 

Yes, dating is evolving once again. But used wisely, this tech-based, distance-driven dating could be a surprising remedy for singles' romantic fatigue. It worked for me.

Jenna Birch is a freelance journalist and author of "The Love Gap" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018), covering health and wellness, dating and relationships, beauty, and women's issues. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, SELF, Psychology Today, and many more. She resides in Ann Arbor, MI.

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