About two weeks before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, I wrote an article about how after my husband died, I found myself looking for someone to save me from a zombie apocalypse. In the article, I concluded that maybe I could actually save myself, and rather than a savior, I needed a partner.
That was all well and good…until what felt like an actual apocalypse hit. Within days, the world that I knew fell completely apart. Schools shut down. Businesses shut down. Life seemed to shut down.
Without any warning or time to prepare, it was just my two kids and me, in the house, all day long, as the world teetered on the edge of crisis. It was terrifying and isolating, and with no other adult anywhere in sight, I suddenly was less sure that I could save myself.
Like most people, I was filled with anxiety, stress, and an intense inability to stop doomscrolling. In a normal world, anxiety, stress, and a serious obsession with doomscrolling don’t signal that it’s time to download a dating app, but that’s exactly what I did.
I did so despite the fact that I had deleted the apps and vowed to take a long break from dating, because dating as a widow and solo parent had proven harder than I’d expected. I did so with no expectations because I couldn’t imagine letting a stranger within six feet of me.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only single parent signing up for dating apps. Anecdotally I knew this to be true because in the last weeks of March and early weeks of April, it seemed as if every match was a single dad, and they were all swiping faster and messaging more frequently than usual. Quantitatively, it seems it’s true, too. Recently The New York Times reported that several dating sites saw an increase in the number of single parent registrations. “Hinge has seen a 5 percent increase in single-parent registrations, Elite Singles has seen 6 percent, and Match has seen a rise of almost 10 percent.”
It would seem almost counterintuitive for single parents to sign up for a dating app (or two or three) during a pandemic. Why, when you can’t meet anyone in person and, even if you did, you had nowhere to go, would you sign up for a dating app?
Well, I can’t speak for every single parent who signed up for a dating app during a pandemic, but I can attempt to explain my reasons. The most obvious, of course, is this: it did feel like I was staring down the beginning of the apocalypse and while, yes, I could face it alone, I didn’t want to. It was lonely. Day after day without another adult in my home, I was lonely.
But there were other reasons, too.
Distraction is at the top of the list. Distraction from all that stress, anxiety, and doomscrolling. The latest fun match or message from a match was a distraction from all the gloom and doom in the world. Hopefully, regardless of whether we chatted for a few minutes or a few weeks, we were a distraction for each other for a little while.
Also, it was easy, at times, to feel as if the world outside my neighborhood had disappeared. We (my kids and I) were lucky that we were able to stay home. I could work from home and they could school from home, but as a result, it could sometimes feel like we were the only people left. The dating apps were a reminder that the world outside my neighborhood hadn’t disappeared.
Staying home 24/7 with my children meant that I was in the role of mom 24/7. A few minutes spent messaging with a match took me out of that role. I was just a woman, and not mom (emphasis on the whine, for effect.) I truly believe a few minutes of not being mom helped maintain a thread of sanity on some days.
And while most of the conversations I was having focused on the pandemic and quarantine-life, because no one was going anywhere or seeing anyone, there was something nice about commiserating with a stranger, hearing a new perspective—or at the very least getting new ideas for ways to pass the time. I’ve always believed there’s something nice about learning that your singular experience is actually universal.
Technically I could have called up a friend to chat. But I’m the only non-partnered person in all my various friends groups, and while many of my friends who were suddenly at home with their partners 24/7 would have happily chatted with me for their own distraction, I found there was something nice about talking to someone who also didn’t have “their person” to speak with. In that way, despite being strangers, we had something in common that none of my partnered friends had. When I did call those partnered friends to chat, it was nice to regale them with adventures in pandemic online dating rather than focus on our stress and doomscrolling and distance learning frustrations.
And also, almost most important, signing up and using dating apps during the earliest days of the pandemic was a touch of normalcy in a world that felt anything but normal. And that’s what I’d needed at the time.