What happened to the people who started dating just before the pandemic?

When the coronavirus arrived, many people involved in romances that were just starting to materialize found themselves thrown into what felt like an involuntary long-distance relationship—and then watched their promising new fling sputter and slow down, in many cases to a complete halt. As states and cities begin to lift their strict social-distancing guidelines and single people start to (cautiously, distantly) seek out one another’s company once again, let us spare a moment to mourn the new relationships and budding flirtations that were felled by the coronavirus this spring—and to consider why exactly they were lost.

The loss of physical togetherness, for one thing, can take away some of the foundational experiences that lasting relationships are built on. The first few weeks or months of a dating relationship are typically considered to be some of the most magical. They’re also some of the most dependent on physical proximity: Caresses, hand-holding, and long mutual gazes at close range all help to build intimacy. As well as, you know, other stuff: Among the things O’Donovan-Zavada and her Tinder date found themselves texting each other repeatedly, she told me, was, “I wish I could make out with you!”

The early stages of dating are also when new partners gather the context clues that help them understand and make sense of each other. What are this person’s friends like? How does this person talk to waiters, to children, to strangers who need help? Coronavirus protocols have put a serious damper on new couples’ ability to learn about each other organically, because phone calls and videochats necessarily exclude the elements of the outside world that make many of these observations possible. Some couples have found themselves in a sort of holding pattern, having been in touch for a while but not feeling like they’ve gotten to know each other any better.