Are you experiencing dating fatigue
The pandemic put the brakes on singles looking for love, but after months of navigating apps and Zoom drinks, are singles ready to date in-person again? One writer describes his anxiety-provoking return to the dating scene.

It’s a rite of passage as a twentysomething single: You’re sitting at a bar waiting for your coupled friends, or standing patiently for a take-away coffee on a lonesome Sunday morning. In your moment of solitary weakness, you receive a message from a friend: “Hey! How are you? We haven’t spoken in a while,” it reads. “I have some exciting news!” Here we go, you think. “We’re getting married.” And there we have it.

Beyond the initial stages of glee for your friend and the positive reinforcement you offer (yes, of course they are doing the right thing by marrying the love of their life in their 20s), you are met by a second, more thudding groundswell of emotions. Like a Long Island Iced Tea, it is a fierce and brazen cocktail. Equally as anxiety-inducing as a hangover, the emotions fester from jealousy and sadness to a real numbing sense of loneliness.

For the past two years singles have been shafted into an underworld of dating. One in which aimless strolls through a park or awkward encounters over Zoom have been the only option for meeting new people. While singles have become more solitary, couples have shacked up and settled down. They have battened down the hatches, moved in together, purchased dogs and fiddle-leaf figs and even had babies (what else is there to do in a pandemic?!).

The haves and have nots of the dating game have become vastly more unequal. With two years of time on their side, those in relationships suddenly seem more stable. For singles, the dating game has never been so starkly, well, single. Notwithstanding a brief COVID restriction reprieve in early 2021, spending 24 months on Hinge, Tinder, Grindr (et al.) has often seemed as pointless as floating a message in a bottle and hoping it reaches Buckingham Palace.

Sydney’s second lockdown was my first experience of visceral single loneliness. With my housemate at their partner’s house on a Saturday evening, I was greeted by the uniquely lockdown feeling of not having the company of my housemate for the first time in weeks. Naturally, I ordered a mountain of Thai food, switched on The Real Housewives, poured a punishingly large glass of Pinot and did something I swore I wouldn’t do during lockdown. I redownloaded my dating apps of choice. Loneliness, a light wine buzz, boredom and horniness. A cocktail for the ages.

But I wasn’t alone. While singles may have publicly shunned walking dates, online it was a different story. The locked-down streets were bare, but dating apps were the new hive for connection. It was impossible to escape the gloom, though; the collective energy of those hoping that months-long digital chats would transpire into real-world connection wasn’t exactly upbeat. Conversations ran in a predictable cycle, concluding with an inevitable line about catching up when the world was back to some form of normality.

With lockdown once again behind us, has the return to dating IRL resembled the level of frivolity and care-free energy much famed in the V-J Day kiss photo from NYC in 1945? Not for this writer. Social anxiety in a post-restrictions world was much anticipated. The connection we craved during lockdown could, experts warned, become the source of another form of anxiety. Dating adds a swift sucker-punch to the gurgling conundrum of social pressure and self-worry. In the age of a so-called Hot Vax Summer (HVS), young people have repeatedly been told the months ahead will be hot, sweaty and thirsty. If you aren’t willing to put out for the HVS then you might as well quit while you’re behind and join some form of modern-day celibacy convent.

While some may relish the opportunity to run through a conveyor belt of dates and fill their diaries with cocktail bar upon cocktail bar, others like me are fearing merely dipping our toes in the water. In doing so, we run the risk of falling further behind the crowd of couples who are filling their shared homes with plants and babies.

Where does that leave the toe-dippers? The dating game has been exhausting for a long time. Social stressors, COVID check-in apps and the fear of being left behind following two years of living under quasi house arrest make dating feel like a never-ending game of Monopoly. Only in this game you are stuck between jail and spending your rent money on pointless drinks. Needless to say though, there is no dating game without the actual dates.

My return to the scene was swift. One week post lockdown, I hit the apps hard, arranging a drinks date in what I like to think is record time. The date itself was a reminder that conversation with strangers is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Was there a spark with this new suitor? Despite my best intent to forcibly light the match, I was gifted a message three days post the date. I wasn’t the one. He, like many twenty-somethings, wasn’t looking for a fling. He wanted to know I was in it for the long haul and looking to the future. I suppose that’s what happens when you lose two years of living.

While markedly better than being ghosted, my date’s honesty had me at a loss. My first toe-dip into HVS ended with rejection. Diving in, only to belly flop into the wrong lane. Whatever I said or did, it wasn’t right for him. It was the false start I needed, though. HVS looks different for everyone. Some singles need to get back into the game by dating freely and widely, others need their next partner to be it and a bit.

For those of us belly flopping our way through HVS, it’s worth reminding ourselves that life invariably continues without a partner. After all, you have made it this far sans the dog, fiddle leaf fig and shared two-bedroom apartment.

Will loves seeking out and crafting inspiring stories. Born and bred in Adelaide, he has lived in Sydney for over half a decade where he has been a publicist for international brands, a food writer and advocate for The Butterfly Foundation and batyr.