Exploring love in the time of COVID-19

May 21, 2020

By Christina Yu 

reaching-out-pngIn this day and age, technology influences so much of our interaction. As social animals, humans crave interaction and contact with others for support, well-being, and to have some fun. Yet, with a global pandemic happening right now, people are living in extremes: 1) being with their partners 24/7 or 2) living away from their partners 24/7. There doesn’t seem to really be an in-between. 

Married couples now see each other more than their co-workers and, for some, their partners have become their co-workers. On the other hand, for couples who do not live together, it is much harder (impossible) to get that contact you need, especially physical intimacy, as we are all advised to practice social distancing to limit the risk of passing on COVID-19 to other people. But humans are known to be adaptable. No matter what circumstances people are faced with, they will find a way around it. 

So how are romantic relationships being affected during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are people who are trying to pursue love doing? How are they reaching out as the chances of meeting people have been dramatically diminished? 

Married couples 

A typical day in a married household might look something like this before COVID-19. It’s 6 pm and you say, “Hello love! I’m home!” Your partner welcomes you back with a peck on the cheek or a hug, and the two of you get ready for dinner. You had a productive yet slightly tiring day at work, your schedule filled with meetings and time working on projects, but it feels amazing to be finally back to a warm place with people who you love, called home. It’s 7 pm, and dinner is finally ready, so you and your family eat dinner and talk about how each other’s days went, do some chores, and either spend time together watching a movie or documentary, or enjoying the rest of your evening by yourself. By this time, it’s already time for bed, and the whole family goes to sleep. The next day, you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your work agenda. 

COVID-19, however, seems to have thrown off our daily routines. The rhythm of what a typical day looks like has now been disrupted by being locked in at home, seeing the same people every day, maybe competing over internet bandwidth, negotiating over whose turn it is to help school the kids, and fatigued from the hours upon hours online and maybe struggling with a Zoom-induced headache. 

Recent studies show that more than 40% of couples report spending 20+ hours more per week with their partner during this time period.¹ With the frequent interaction and being in the same space, a majority of the couples also report learning something new about their partner whether it’s how much their partner loves popcorn or has a habit of taking one minute deep breaths after every meeting. Some are taking this as an advantage to deepen their relationship and prioritize strengthening their emotional connection. However, some married couples are plagued with poor communication and struggle to discuss conflicting issues they have with each other. 

Because of the lack of communication and the unwillingness to face hard conversations, only 18% of married couples report being satisfied in their relationships. It is no wonder then that the number of divorce filings has increased since the home restriction order.² One can imagine how the topic of divorce might arise as one or both people get laid off, the kids are loud, and you both feel tired and anxious about the future. 

Psychologists from UC Berkeley recommend some tips for couples dealing with cabin fever³

  1. Don’t beat yourself up.
  2. Be kind to yourself and your partner.
  3. Work through the hard stuff, and show vulnerability, not anger.
  4. Be open to adjusting your usual roles in the relationship. Instead of catastrophizing, do things together that you enjoy.
  5. Don’t be afraid to seek advice or professional help.

Couples who are dating

behind-computer-graphic.pngWhat it means to connect with your partner today is not the same as what it meant to connect with them 2.5 months ago. Before the pandemic, couples often spent quality time with each other going on dates, visiting new places such as restaurants, scenic spots, and museums, and had myriad options for activities that they could do together. Increasing the person’s life satisfaction and happiness level, these shared experiences brought couples closer as they bonded and learned more about each other. The form of contact in the time of COVID-19 has dramatically altered for couples and is now virtually, well, virtual. 

All of a sudden, couples who were getting to know each other were thrown into what, for all intents and purposes, is a long-distance relationship. These days couples are using FaceTime, Zoom, and other video chat apps to stay connected. To elevate and mimic the real-life aspects of being together, some couples intentionally video chat with each other while trying to cook the same dish and enjoy a date night. Hannah Chi (College Nine, Business Management Economics’ 20) notes that even though she cannot see her boyfriend every day, they still FaceTime at least once a day. Sometimes, Chi’s boyfriend calls her when he walks his dog. This way, she feels included and remembered. Some couples have reported remote interaction with their partners through online games and Netflix parties. 

Psychotherapists and couples counselors recommend a few ways to stay connected⁴:

  1. Write letters to foster intimacy-having a letter in their hand makes it more present. 
  2. Make notes of things that made you smile, laugh, cry, anything so that you can bring them up when you FaceTime because we oftentimes forget a lot of the things we want to share until we end the call. 
  3. Intentionally set up date nights where you dress up for dinner.

No matter what form of communication, being open and honest about your feelings is instrumental for any relationship, especially during the quarantine times of COVID-19. 


What about people who are single but trying to find love or companionship? Even in times of uncertainty where physical distancing might seem to hinder human interaction, people can still seek meaningful connections. People are constantly looking for new ways to socially connect even if physically distant. 

It is no wonder that online dating app use exploded since COVID-19. Data shows that there has been an increased use of smartphone dating apps by both old and new users. Hinge experienced a 30% increase in messages among users in March and the general trend shows that users are chatting more with their matches on the app with more time on their hands.⁵

Due to the high demand of wanting to bridge relationships closer while not being able to leave the house, dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have incorporated video and voice calling features. One UC Santa Cruz student noticed that through Hinge, she was able to meet a new friend and their first video date was a lovely two-hour conversation, sharing their feelings about COVID-19. They shared, “The virtual meet up and connection made through Zoom was as meaningful as those made in real-life.” Another student expressed that he enjoyed a new friend’s company by video chat while they both ate dinner together. 

Despite the challenges of not being able to meet in person, people are finding ways to connect, overcoming these barriers with the help of technology. They are working to seamlessly weave a relationship together even in the time of COVID. 

We all need connection and self-care 

self-care-pngNo matter if you are single, in a relationship, or married, use this time to connect with someone on a deeper level. In the midst of these uncertain and trying times, our feelings can bombard us, but we are all social beings and our rooted desire for human interaction is important in maximizing our wellbeing.⁶ Though we might be far from others, there are numerous ways to keep in touch and reach out with technology. After all, it’s the positive and nurturing relationships in our lives that make life most meaningful. 

And, not although it is important to stay connected while in quarantine, it is also important to take some “me” time and find space from each other. Exercising, meditating, listening to music, or doing activities that spark joy is a great way to practice self-care. After all, we should remember to love ourselves and attend to our individual needs too. 

¹“Majority of Couples Prioritize Deepening Their Emotional Connections During COVID-19,” Business Wire, April 16, 2020 https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200416005168/en/Majority-Couples-Prioritize-Deepening-Emotional-Connections-COVID-19

²Andy Fies, “Surge in divorces anticipated in wake of COVID-19 quarantine,” ABC News, April 17, 2020 https://abcnews.go.com/US/surge-divorces-anticipated-wake-covid-19-quarantine/story?id=70170902

³“Advice for Married Couples During COVID-19,” WTOC, April 16, 2020 https://www.wtoc.com/2020/04/16/advice-married-couples-during-covid-/

⁴William Park, “How to maintain relationships in self-isolation,” BBC Future, April 14, 2020 https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200414-how-to-maintain-relationships-in-self-isolation

⁵“Love in the time of coronavirus: dating apps buck the downward ad spend trend,” https://www.thedrum.com/news/2020/05/12/love-the-time-coronavirus-dating-apps-buck-the-downward-ad-spend-trend

⁶Katherine Diggory, “The Importance of Human Interaction and Relationships,” December 2018, https://www.explore-life.com/en/articles/the-importance-of-human-interaction-and-relationships