Tanzina: Welcome back to the Takeaway. I'm Tanzania Vega, and today we're taking a look at how the pandemic has affected our romantic relationships. Boy, we heard a lot of stories from our listeners that ran the gamut. For some, the pandemic has helped strengthen your relationships and has even provided new opportunities for love.
Young: Hello, this is Young from Seattle in Washington. When the pandemic started, we had been in a relationship for a year with my girlfriend and I feel having to spend together and be in close proximity and spend more time together, just brought us closer, and we had to learn a lot about each other. It's been mostly positive when it comes to the relationship.
Sally: This is Sally from San Francisco. I'm retired but my husband is still working outside the home. We've been married for 18 years and are very happy, but I am so glad we are not cooped up together in our small apartment 24/7.
Charlie: Hey, this is Charlie from Seattle. I stopped seeing people and I stopped having sex until October 2020, about. I then met someone online that works in an isolated environment so it worked out really well. Our first date, we wore masks, and we walked around a park, and it was great. After that things just got better. We've taken a pause from in-person visits because of how bad it's been getting. It's not so bad with distance walks or FaceTime. Hopefully, vaccines will be in high enough stock we continue things later.
Tanzina: For others though, the pandemic has pushed relationships to their breaking points, and it's highlighted our desire for physical contact.
David: I'm David from Point Reyes Station, California, and has the pandemic affected my relationships. Are you kidding? I haven't hugged anybody in seven months. Actually, in the last month I took three bold chances. I hugged three different people. We faced away from each other as much as possible. Sad, but a little human contact. It's awful.
Julia: This is Julia from Clayton, California. Yes, I have no romantic life and would love a relationship but just gave up during the pandemic. The dating sites were a complete joke. I really miss romance and intimacy. You need to date someone long enough to like them enough and trust them to get to that point. I'm teaching online full time, and have a household animal, and I say my prayers at night to meet someone perfect for me someday. Thank you and have a great day.
Riana: Hi, my name is Riana calling from Tacoma, Washington. I am preparing to pick up my husband from the airport, he's been gone for nine months. We are going to drop him off at a hotel where he can quarantine for two weeks. We're going to be getting virtual counseling because the pandemic has driven a wedge between us or worsen things that were already problematic in our marriage. I'm hoping that we can come out of it. We have argued so much and seeing things so differently that I'm not sure if it's going to work.
Mercyline: Hi, my name is Mercyline Brown, I'm calling from Salt Lake City, Utah. I was just getting over a relationship when the pandemic hit. I'd just gotten the courage to start dating. Then the difficulty is I'm just over 50 and though I desire having a partner, I just cannot see myself taking the risk. It's just one more thing that makes me feel even lonelier, and honestly just hopeless about having a partner at all.
Karen: Hey there, it's Karen from Auburn, California. Not that Karen, but the nice Karen, just wanted to clear that up first. How's our love life? It's awful. It's non-existent. With my 17-year-old son home and online learning right now, we're with him 24/7 since March, the time ticks slowly. When you just can't abstain any longer and you got a man up and flat out tell him, we're going to be busy for a while and do not disturb and then that's that. He knows what we're doing. It takes the wind out of your sails, and it's not fun anymore. We love our son and what can you do? Anyways send help. [laughs] We're in crisis.
Tanzina: For those of us that are single, the pandemic has completely upended how we think and approach dating and sex. As we balance our personal safety and health with our desire for intimacy and physical touch. I'm joined now by Helen Fisher biological anthropologist and author of Anatomy of Love and the Chief Scientific adviser to the dating site Match.com. Helen, thanks so much for joining us.
Helen Fisher: Thank you.
Tanzina: Also with us is Lexx Brown-James, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of the Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy. Lexx, welcome to the show.
Lexx Brown: Hi, nice to be here.
Tanzina: Lexx, love in the time of the pandemic has been brutal. What are some ways that you've seen things work or not work for folks? What are you hearing?
Lexx: I'm hearing the same type of brutality that we just heard from some of the amazing listeners that called in and shared. My practice has soared as far as couples, either looking to reconnect and rekindle and maintain, or for couples looking to rededicate themselves to each other. We're seeing that mental health and therapy supports are very, very high. Me and my colleagues are very, very busy trying to support folks in their relationships. We're trying to give people grace, and also build upon values of intimacy within couples, and then build mutual respect.
Tanzina: Lexx, you're working with the people who are together. Helen, you are a chief scientist over at Match.com, who is working with people who are trying to get together. Those of us out there in the, or maybe in the dating world in the single world? What effect is this having on dating Helen?
Helen: Strangely enough, it's actually having a very good effect. I hate to say that, but it is. First of all, my data comes from studying 50,000 Americans based on the US Census. Every year I pull about 5,000 Americans, we do not pull the Match members, this is a national representative study. Our last study came out just in August, and it was all about the pandemic. What we're seeing is the rise of a new stage in the dating process. Prior to the pandemic, people were meeting on the internet, that's all the internet does is introduce you, and then going out and meeting in person.
Now, we see the rise of video chatting. They're meeting on the internet, then doing the video chatting, and then going out in person. As a result, what they say is that they're spending more time getting to know somebody. They're having more meaningful conversations, there dong more self-disclosure, which does lead to intimacy. They're being more honest, more transparent, less obsessed with looks, and much more interested in finding a partner who's got a full-time job and is financially stable. We're seeing the rise of intentional dating. People are truly looking for a partner now, and they've got a new way to do it that is actually safe.
When you go out with somebody for the first time, you've got to deal with sex, you've got to deal with money, you got to get all dressed up. Whereas they're now using this video chatting as a vetting process to decide whether they even want to go out with somebody. We're going to see fewer first dates, they're going to be more meaningful because they already know who this person is and we're going to see people kissing fewer frogs.
Tanzina: That's good news for single folk. Lexx, you're working with couples. What are some things that are keeping couples together in this moment? What are some things that are forcing just the end of a relationship? Is it relationships that were already not so great, that are just being exacerbated in this moment, or is it the pandemic creating new problems?
Lexx: It's a both end here. There was studies out of Indiana University that talked about mothering. How mothers who are now being forced back into the home full time as caregivers because of being furloughed because of losing their jobs due to the pandemic. Are reporting increased amounts of stress, when those children are elementary age, versus toddlers and little people who did not go to school before. Those parents haven't necessarily seen a shift.
We're also seeing that some couples do have the privilege where they're given the chance to spend a lot of time together. For those couples, if the relationship wasn't that great before, now we're starting to see those stressors start to impact the relationship affects again, and it's hard. I don't know if I really like you anymore. When you were at work, it was a little bit easier to spend these three or four hours in the evening together but now we're spending eight hours together. You're that person that I don't even like an email. That's really hard.
We're also seeing an increase with, of course, domestic violence and abuse. Because the world is not open, and people don't have access to as many resources and policies have changed on what's open and what's accessible. It's harder to get out of relationships where those power dynamics can be destructive. On the other hand, in my own practice I've seen people re-dedicated to their relationships. They're noticing like, "Oh, we're together all the time and we thought we'd be having sex all of the time and we finally get time to spend with one another."
Some people are really leaning into that, of this is what it's like when we're not ripping and running. This is what it's like when we just get to focus on one another. We see increased touch of kissing, hugging, cuddling, being together, even if it's not direct intercourse and that has been a real reprieve. I've even had people say, "I want to stop cheating on my partner and be in this relationship fully. How do I stop doing that?" That is the positive of folks who are being forced together. The last part of that--
Tanzina: We're going to talk a little bit more-- I'm sorry, go ahead.
Lexx: Oh, I was going to say the last part of that is in that privilege of being able to be with your partner. We're also seeing folks who don't have that privilege, where their partner is still out working, or they're gone for four or five days and then needing to quarantine. They're starting to pick up some romance and intimacy because they're missing their partners. They're like, "I want to be with you, I want to talk with you," and they're starting to rekindle romance based on getting to know each other again.
Tanzina: Helen, a lot of the calls that we're getting, particularly for those folks who are uncoupled, are really talking about missing touch, missing sex, missing that physical intimacy. Is there a safe way to approach that now?
Helen: I know that from the studies I've done with Match, that about 20% of singles really-- They all want to go out and start dating again, they all do. I study love. I put people in brain scanners. It's a basic brain system, it's a drive, is a very primitive drive to love and to be loved. Something like about 20% of them still want the social distancing, still want to be very cautious about who they touch and kiss, still insist that both people wear masks.
I think what they're doing now with this video chatting, is really getting to know somebody. That by the time they go out, they've already decided I trust this person, I like this person, I'd like to go forward with this person. I know that they're safe because they've been in quarantine and so have I. They're working it out. I would like to go back to one thing that Lexx said that's so important. The fact that this lockdown has created a lot of people breaking up, but also a lot of people finding each other again and getting together.
Just as an anthropologist, we weren't built for 24/7. For millions of years, we lived in these little hunting and gathering groups and both men and women went out every day or sometimes were out for several days hunting or gathering or seeing friends in other communities. It does put tremendous stress on people, and just as she said, it's going to really push you to be imaginative in how you get along with somebody. Get to know them better, fall back in love with them if it's a long-term partnership or break up and find somebody new.
Tanzina: I want to talk a little bit about those breakups in just a minute. Lexx, let's talk about the sexual connection in romantic relationships and relationships that are actually working. We heard from one of our callers, Karen, who said, frankly, she doesn't have the space to be intimate with her partner, to have sex with her husband. What do you recommend to couples who are just trying to find space for that intimacy?
Lexx: Oh, my goodness, yes. I completely empathize with Karen, with all of the folks. I also want to highlight teenagers are feeling this as well. People often will dismiss teenage love or teenage connection. Also, elderly folks, and polyamorous folks, not being able to meet with our partners. Exactly what Helen said on the sexuality and we want people to get creative. New York City's health department came out with this whole list of COVID sex guidance, basically. It says, "Maybe you're going to avoid kissing when you're either first initially meeting somebody if you're not sure about their quarantine status."
We're going to possibly wear a face mask or a covering, we're going to try and do things a little bit different. Maybe we're going to make things a little kinky. We're going to try and be creative with sexual positions. We might even use, maybe physical barriers and we've really started to tell people to spice things up. Maybe there's a sexy text message from the kitchen when somebody else is in the living room and it's like, "Hey, babe, can I send you a not safe for work text message right now?"
It's like, "Well, I'm on Zoom in front of the CEO of my company, no. However, I would love to see it later." Or, "Please, send that right now." We're starting to increase that flirting and that teasing, so that building of arousal is throughout the day or throughout the week. I personally am a fan favorite of scheduling intimacy. I know it sounds boring and drab, but it can really give you something to look forward to. If you know that your kid is going to go ahead and knock out at 2:30 and they're going to take a nap for 20 minutes.
Maybe that's when you're planning and you and your lover have that on your calendar. We're looking for innovative ways to get it in. If your partner is home and your teenager decides to go for a ride on their bike for that physical activity that's required, that is your time. All hands on deck, everybody get it going and you've been building up that sensuality all throughout the day or all throughout the week or all throughout the weekend as well.
Tanzina: Talking about building up that sensuality. I wonder, Helen, if that is actually leading to more excitement, particularly among people who are meeting. Particularly those having sex for the first time who might feel that this is something that's elicit, this is something that we're not supposed to be in contact with others or particularly indoors with others. Is that heightening the experience, the excitement/danger, perhaps around these intimate connections right now?
Helen: All the data shows that very rapid stress drives up the dopamine system and can really trigger sexuality. Long-term stress tends to dampen the dopamine system and probably also the testosterone system, probably dampening your sexual drive. I'm with Lexx, come up with something that's new, original, different, I love the fact that you said to schedule things. I've been saying that for years and people are always so grumpy about that. I do think that it's true.
Back to the thing, we are mammals. This is not going to kill our drive to make love, it's not going to kill our need for physical touch. These are basic parts of the human brain. As soon as we get this virus under control, people are going to be right back at it. I think, actually, they're going to have new experiences as Lexx said. They're going to expand their horizons in the bedroom, and also expand their ability to connect with others.
Tanzina: Lexx, we've got about a minute left in the segment. Do you see the future of this pandemic really affecting the future of romantic relationships going forward or people are just going to forget all about it once we have a vaccine?
Lexx: I completely expect a baby boom once we have a vaccine and I do think it's going to change, people are really getting to know each other quite a bit more as Helen said earlier. I do think it's going to change for the future and ideally, for the better.
Tanzina: Another thing that people are going through during this pandemic are breakups and those can be--. If you want to talk about 2020 being a dumpster fire year and then adding on top of that, the end of a relationship, whether it was short-term or long-term. Just feeling really sad about that. How do you counsel people through the end of a relationship, particularly at a time like this, when it feels like the relationships that we have are so critical?
Lexx: That is honestly why some people are choosing to hang on to relationships not so great for them because they're afraid of being alone and not being able to find another person. For a couple of folks, I have definitely recommended that they turn internally to their friend circle. So that that friend that maybe you are lightly flirty with. Maybe you talk about what that might look like to have a no strings attached or to build a flirtatious bond or exchange intimate stories with or maybe even mutually masturbate on camera, whatever floats your boat. It really does come down to safety.
In a breakup, are you cohabitating? Does this mean that you potentially become housing insecure because you're breaking up? Who wants to look for an apartment and a house during a pandemic? For those individuals who are losing relationships. It's one, how does this behoove you? How does this take care of yourself? Are you going to be able to be safe, meet your needs, pay whatever bills that you have? Then two, remembering that we're not vacuums, we don't exist just solely by ourselves. It might look to what are some of those relationships that might have fallen by the wayside that I need to rekindle to start to build up some community and support.
Tanzina: You're talking about nonromantic relationships in that rekindling, like folks that maybe you hadn't been in touch with for a while.
Lexx: Right. Or some of those things where you might have had that slight flirtation but you chose to go a different direction. It's definitely okay to circle back to be like, "Hey, I remember us meeting at the grocery store and I was really interested, but I was tied up at the time. I'm actually not tied up anymore. Are you still single, dating? What's your situation?" Taking some of that slightly risky initiative. If they reject you, just being sure that it's not about you personally. It's really about them taking care of themselves and them setting their own boundaries. Saying like, "Thank you for taking care of yourself, I appreciate you letting me know and I'm around if anything changes."
Tanzina: That's really evolved, Lexx in many ways, because I've asked two friends of mine who are out dating and have been dating during the pandemic, how it's going. One of them said something that stood with me, she said, it's going just the way it was going before the pandemic. People are still flaky and there's still this uncertainty for a lot of folks and so I think it's really powerful, the advice that you're giving people to still take a chance anyway, because I thought things would get better. I thought people would start taking things much more seriously and saying, this is really a critical time and it seems like friends of mine are saying, not so much.
Lexx: We have to hold hope. I think that's part of what I get to do in my own practice is hold hope for others. As singles, what I'm finding is, people are really, as we talked with Helen before, they're really putting themselves out there on apps. They're swiping on people they might not have swiped on, before the pandemic. With that being more open, you're going to have more positive hits than you will have dismisses. That's part of the risk in it of really putting yourself out there. That's where we're seeing the vulnerability and from that vulnerability, comes intimacy and closeness.
Tanzina: Well, I think that's wonderful advice, and I really appreciate you for it. I have to say it was very inspiring. I'm now following you on Twitter and very excited. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Lexx: Not a problem. Thank you. I will definitely be your wingwoman when you need it. Let me know.
Tanzina: Thank you, Lexx. I appreciate it. Take care.
Lexx: You're welcome. Have a great rest of your day.
Tanzina: Take your day. Lexx Brown-James is a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of the Institute for sexuality and intimacy. Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist, senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and Chief Scientific adviser to the dating site, match.com, Helen and Lexx, thanks so much for joining us.
Hellen: Thank you.
Lexx: Thank you,
Mary: This is Mary from Brooklyn. We've been together for 15 years but not married, and the pandemic has caused us to talk all the time about our future and how secure we are. It's also however reinforced my feeling that we are solid as a partnership. We spend basically all day every day working and living together. Now that we're both working from home we really just fits, real friendship and shared interest seemed more than ever to be key. Very sweet if it weren't for the anxiety of being in pandemic purgatory.
Steve: Hello, this is Steve calling from West Orange. The answer is more yes, continuing a developing relationship requires a whole series of compromises and often real world disconnects, make the more cautious partner comfortable. This is the nature of relationships.
Mark: Hi, this is Mark Mannheimer. I'm calling from Bradford, Massachusetts. What our current reality has shown me is that I really would like to have someone in my life and be willing to be more vulnerable soon I hope.
Voice: This is the Takeaway, call us at 8778 at my take to comment on any story or give us your thoughts on any topic. Also, we're on Facebook and Twitter @TheTakeaway. Let us know what you think. Thanks for listening.
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