Editor’s Note: Beginning next week, we’re starting a weekly feature called Seattle Dating Scene. We’re hoping to feature readers’ thoughts and stories about what it’s like to date in Seattle. For one of our first features, we’d like you to answer the question: “How has being together 24/7 during the coronavirus quarantine affected your relationship with your significant other?”
Please email your answers to: firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, June 25, for publication in a future edition of The Mix.
During a time of crisis, it’s instinctual to want to reach out to a loved one. To seek some form of human intimacy. Coronavirus is a crisis in and of itself, but the precarious nature of work in the time of a pandemic, the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the inability to plan for the future have combined to make us lean harder on our partners for support than ever before. But the pandemic has forced some couples into involuntary long-distance relationships and stymied dating for many singles in the Seattle area.
In the age of technology, long-distance communication should be easier. But for three Seattleites, this time has been anything but. With the nature of their relationships changing uncontrollably, they’ve been struggling with being alone.
“I can’t hug the person I love,” said Raquel, a bisexual 25-year-old nurse who first spoke to The Seattle Times about her dating life for a story last fall, and who asked to be identified by her first name only because she is not out to her extended family. “I’m seeing all these people die and get sick. How am I supposed to cope?”
The coronavirus drastically changed lives, increased stress levels everywhere and has taken a toll on people’s mental health. Families and couples have been separated from one another, and the pandemic has forced everyone to go from having in-person conversations to date nights on Zoom.
“It’s been tough; I’ve had to be hugely independent,” said Nikolaj Lasbo, 32, who lives in Seattle but is dating a woman in Eastern Washington. “I’ve got to work through so much by myself and with my therapist. I’m not seeing friends and I can’t see her very often. I’m on my own here.”
Lasbo’s girlfriend is living on a farm near Ephrata until August and rarely has internet or a cellphone signal. They try to have date nights, but Zoom doesn’t quite capture the romantic atmosphere. Overburdened internet connection lags stop movie nights and faces freeze for minutes at a time.
Raquel has had a similar experience even though she and her boyfriend both live in Seattle. Before the pandemic, Raquel saw her boyfriend at least three times a week, sharing meals together (her boyfriend works in the restaurant industry), going on hikes, being part of each other’s daily routines. However, everything changed after the coronavirus hit Washington. Because Raquel is a nurse, the couple initially didn’t see each other for eight weeks.
“At this point I hate the word ‘Zoom,’ ” Raquel said. “But we thought, OK if not seeing each other is keeping our community safe, then that’s what we have to do.”
Both Lasbo and Raquel entered quarantine in long-term relationships, which Lasbo is thankful for — especially with his unplanned long-distance relationship.
“I’m glad we’ve been dating for a while now, almost a year,” said Lasbo. “I’m glad I have that to stand on. I know our relationship is going to survive.”
However, some Seattleites entered the pandemic single and in the process of mingling. Attempting to find a partner in a pandemic is daunting. Brett Miller, who goes by they/them pronouns, has nonetheless ventured into the world of online dating while under stay-home-order rules. They are trying new apps, new ways of communication and finding community. But it’s hard to chat online without knowing when you’ll be able to see each other in person, says Miller.
“There’s the skepticism and fear of meeting up with people,” said Miller, 31. “But at a certain point you have to ask yourself, will this spark/conversation fizzle out? How many fizzled-out connections are you going to have before you can go on a date again.”
Dating during coronavirus is risky — there is no end date to the pandemic. Plus, Miller points out, those with a more fluid gender identity are already at increased risk for sexual violence. Dating during a pandemic just adds another level to that fear. There aren’t many public places to meet for the first time. Miller’s usual first-date spot is the pizza place in their neighborhood. Now that simple (and delicious) safety net is doing takeout only. To top it all off, Miller is immunocompromised and has to be extra careful about meeting new people during these fraught times.
“It’s about the character of someone that is willing to break quarantine,” said Miller. “If these people are willing to be irresponsible during this time, what would it have been like if I met them outside of the pandemic?”
The complexities that come with “coronalationships” have left many reflecting on themselves without the comfort of others. Miller is continuing to explore their gender identity.
“I have a lot of time to think and question,” said Miller. “I might be coming out of this another gender and I’m sure I’m not the only one.”
Raquel is dealing with multiple levels of guilt. She has begun to see her boyfriend, but he never comes over to her apartment because she lives with two other nurses.
“At the beginning of coronavirus, nurses had to be mindful because there was a mask shortage, so we were only supposed to wear masks when working with a COVID-positive patient. We wore them basically until the mask got gross. But I was working with kids,” says Raquel. “I actually called out sick from pure guilt alone. I had a lot of guilt at the beginning of the pandemic about me spreading it to other people, including my partner.”
For these Seattleites, the need for human intimacy came second to the desire to stay safe. But if anything, quarantine has given them time to reflect on what it’s like to be alone.
“We’re going to be more appreciative of each other,” said Lasbo. “Quarantine is making people look hard at the small things. We’re examining society in a different way, ourselves in a different way. I think that reflects on relationships, too. I think people have a lot more appreciation right now — I just hope that continues.”