While the entire world might have gone on pause when the pandemic hit, it soon became clear that one thing was speeding up like no other—relationships. As people created their own social bubbles, they had to make choices of what few people they could actually see in person for everyone’s safety. Naturally, when you spend a lot more time with a person, your relationship develops at a much faster pace. So, it makes sense that all of a sudden, it seemed like people were moving in together, getting engaged, and, on the flip side, breaking up, at a speed we weren’t used to.
“Timelines for moving in together have completely shifted,” shares Lindsey Metselaar, founder of the popular dating podcast, We Met At Acme. “Couples who had started dating before COVID were really left with no choice but to ‘quarantine together,’ aka cohabitate. The notion of waiting for more than a year went out the window. People began moving in together after just a few months. It either accelerated things to an engagement, or to a break-up.”
It wasn’t just established couples, either. Online dating rose, too, and people were quickly evaluating who they wanted to bring into their bubbles. According to a Bumble survey, 91 percent of Americans believe that there is no longer a stigma attached to meeting someone through a dating app since the pandemic began, and two out of three believe you could fall in love without ever meeting a person. Singles began conducting video calls, going on socially distant walks, and having tougher conversations early on. And, while quarantining may be over, for now, these changes don’t seem to be going anywhere.
“The pandemic has leveled the dating world like never before and has brought about meaningful changes in behavior that we see having a positive impact on our community long term,” said Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO, and founder of Bumble. “Historically, this is a time of year where the dating industry sees a considerable increase in activity and we’re experiencing that more than ever heading into this summer season. As our research illustrates, daters are entering this ‘summer of love’ with more intentionality than ever before and are prioritizing safety, compatibility, and shared values as restrictions ease and vaccination rates increase.”
As dating went online, so did divorce. Many lawyers and mediators got creative and made divorce settlements easier (and less expensive) to achieve over Zoom and through new website platforms. “But, even if they were able to prepare their own divorce paperwork, they would also find that there were significant delays for having [it] processed at the courthouse,” notes Terri Breer, Esq., founder and mediator at the Orange County-based Breer Law Offices. Now, with courts reopening, these new advances are making divorce easier, faster, and more accessible than before.
Folks want to get married because we have no idea what the future holds.
We are also experiencing a wedding boom. Though many of the couples getting married now got together and planned weddings pre-pandemic, quite a few actually met during lockdown days as well. With those typical timelines out the window, the process of planning a wedding is speeding up for some, too. “We have one couple that was engaged this summer and we are, as of two weeks ago, planning their winter wedding,” shares Fallon Carter, founder of Fallon Carter Events. “Folks want to get married because we have no idea what the future holds.”
Ahead, we look into the new world of relationship timelines, looking at real couples who put their love into hyperdrive and how we will navigate those major milestones moving forward.
The Dating Dash
Whether or not you were single during COVID, it was to deny that dating was a big topic of conversation. Not only did a lot of people want to find companionship to make it through lockdown, but many were accessing whether or not they really wanted a serious relationship.
“Through interviewing people for my podcast We Met At Acme, I’ve learned that this time has been a huge indicator to people of what is the most important,” notes Metselaar. "To some, that’s taking the next steps in their lives and wanting their life to start as soon as possible.”
Since meeting people at events, bars, and gatherings of friends was no longer happening, people naturally turned online. Many were used to swiping on potential matches on apps before, but the virtual date—aka a video call with a potential romantic partner—become a new part of the dating timeline. According to Bumble’s study, nearly 40 percent of people now enjoy going on virtual dates as they find that it’s safer to engage with a match virtually before meeting in person. [Editor’s note: I would have counted myself within this demographic as I video-chatted with a few potential suitors while quarantining with my family.]
Individuals were grappling for a chance to connect with someone in isolation.
“In a time pre-Covid, it’s possible that online dating wasn’t taken seriously by all who participated,” shares Metselaar. "Now, after having experienced a pandemic, people are still uneasy about being in bars and other places where they could meet someone. Online dating is the best option they have. People are also turning more and more to matchmaking. During peak Covid times, I experimented in the matchmaking world, and more people signed up in such a short amount of time than I could ever fathom. Usually, it’s more women who are interested in matchmaking, but there was an equal number of men. Individuals were grappling for a chance to connect with someone in isolation.”
For those who decided to date, things progressed quickly. Seeing each other indoors or even just in person often required pre-screening on video calls, roommate approval, and establishing rules around COVID-safety habits. Once those checkmarks were crossed off, things advanced quite quickly.
“In July 2020, I was on my friend’s phone for her during a socially distant hang and messing around with her dating app," says Metselaar. "I messaged a guy for her and arranged a date. In May 2021, they were engaged. To me, this would have been unheard of before COVID.”
It felt so natural that two weeks after we met, we became official. Two weeks after that, we said I love you
This was also the case for Jennie Xu, who met her now-husband during the early days of the pandemic. “Michael was my first date in the post-pandemic world,” she shares. “I wasn’t expecting anything. I had a roommate, so it pushed the ‘what are we/what do you want’ convo a lot faster because I had to make sure we were on the same page about health and safety. Since both of us are lucky enough to be able to work remotely and there wasn’t much to do last summer anyway, he ended up spending a lot of time working with me at my apartment. This was like pushing fast-forward on a relationship because if you spend entire days together, you can’t hide anything and you get to see a real and raw version of them. It felt so natural that two weeks after we met, we became official. Two weeks after that, we said I love you.”
After spending a month together in Tulum just a month after meeting, the couple decided to move in together. “Sometimes, it takes an immensely stressful situation to realize you can be each others' long-term partners. Ever since then, we spoke about marriage and how we'd want to approach it,” Xu says. “In April, Michael surprised me with a road trip through Southern California and on our last night, proposed on the beaches of Zuma in Malibu—just like on the beaches of Tulum when we first realized we were each other's life partners.”
Moving forward, it seems like online dating, and faster roads to commitment might be sticking around. After all, open communication is on the rise thanks to the pandemic. Bumble reports 55 percent of global users have said that they are now feeling less willing to compromise on what they want and need from a potential relationship, and 38 percent of Americans noticed an increase in clear communication of expectations and intentions while dating. However, it will be interesting to see if COVID couples will be stronger in the long run. “We recently did a poll asking people if they thought it was weird for a couple who met in quarantine to be married without having truly experienced that post-Covid world yet,” says Metselaar. “50 percent said yes, and 50 percent said no. I’m willing to bet within that 50 percent yes are a lot of Covid couples.”
The Breakup Boom
Plenty of couples found love during quarantine, but spending that much time together proved too much for others. The “COVID breakup” became a very real and common phenomenon. “I had a couple who moved in together in order to stay safe when the pandemic started,” shares Ashley Mason, founder and wedding planner of Saunter Weddings. “It was difficult to plan a wedding, navigate working from home, and live together in the face of a worldwide health crisis. The amount of pressure that bears can add strain to any relationship. Ultimately, theirs ended.”
Although some were lucky enough to not have to worry about the legal dealings of a breakup, anyone who wanted a divorce during the pandemic faced new challenges. “Divorcing couples during peak COVID were not able to secure hearing dates or set matters for trial because most courts were not open to the public, and staffing had been significantly reduced. As a result, there was a sharp rise in divorcing couples seeking to mediate their disputes with private mediators,” explains Breer, who owns her own mediation practice. “In order to accommodate the demand, many mediators began offering online mediation services and learned to use the Zoom meeting platform to conduct their sessions. Eventually, the court began setting matters for online hearings. Judges and their support staff also had to learn how to hold court hearings online using a Zoom meeting platform and the backlog of hearings was reduced.”
During COVID, it was not unusual for it to take up to three months or more to obtain a final judgment.
While divorce went virtual, people still had to face unique slowdowns during COVID. “Even though a couple was able to settle their divorce disputes outside of court through mediation, they met with additional obstacles,” notes Breer. “In Orange County before COVID, I could submit a divorce settlement to the court for entry of judgment and receive the final judgment from the court in two to four weeks. During COVID, it was not unusual for it to take up to three months or more to obtain a final judgment.”
However, with courts opening up again, new innovative online platforms created during the pandemic are making divorce much easier than before. “There was also a rise in the number of online options for DIY divorce,” explains Breer. “Couples were provided greater access to be able to process their divorces without having to visit the ‘self-help’ office at the courthouse.” She continued that post-pandemic, divorce might be a much more accessible option for many people who couldn’t afford it before.
The Wedding Rush
For those who planned to get married during COVID times, they faced many tricky decisions on whether to postpone their weddings, reduce the size of their guest lists, host minimonies with the intention of holding a reception at a later date, or just skip the big event and elope. Now as we are currently in the wedding boom, many people getting married are rushing to make sure their nuptials go off without a hitch.
COVID made it easier to not feel guilty about not having a big ceremony.
Some couples on those faster pandemic timelines have already pulled the trigger and said, “I do.” “We had gone through the motions of planning a ‘real’ wedding but were underwhelmed by how fulfilling it was for us,” Xu shares. “Soon after we had started, we turned to each other and said, ‘Yeah that's not us.’ We decided to elope, with a small celebration for just close friends and a separate reception for immediate family. Some little girls dream about their big wedding day—I’ve always dreamed about running off and eloping. COVID made it easier to not feel guilty about not having a big ceremony!”
Other couples who either rescheduled their weddings or recently got engaged are ready to get married as soon as they can. “Previously, standard timelines were usually built around the idea that you had at least a year or more to plan. Now, that amount of time is rarer to come by,” says Mason of Saunter Weddings. “Couples are having shorter engagements with only a few months to plan and the reasons vary. Many couples rather not risk waiting until another new wave of COVID hits or a city mandate flips the capacity limits on their venue. Sometimes, it’s just that they’re seeing the majority of their guests getting vaccinated and are eager to gather together again.”
The wedding industry is definitely feeling the effects of these quicker relationship and planning timelines. “Taking months on end to choose vendors is a thing of the past altogether,” notes Mason. “There’s a shortage of ideal dates available when you’re competing with the calendar of rescheduled weddings and other newly engaged couples’ inquiries. Often, they’re faced with two choices: a faster soirée or a much longer engagement. After being in business for over 10 years, never have I seen so many last-minute inquiries. It’s a very different industry with a whole new normal.”
While it may seem like all of life's big relationship moments are speeding up these days, it isn't necessarily the case. What it does show us though is that timelines are irrelevant and love moves at its own pace. Whether you want to get married after eight months or eight years shouldn't matter to anyone but yourself and the special person in your life.