Image source: Wikimedia Commons

It was once a truth universally acknowledged that you shouldn’t break up with somebody over the phone – but then it became illegal not to. 

Which is how I found myself one evening, sat on my bed, being informed by both my laptop and my (now) ex that we had a weak connection. Looking back at it, the scene was farcical: family members popping in, screens freezing every few seconds, not quite being able to make out what the other had just said – hardly the dignified conversation we were going for. But still, we muddled through, and eventually we hung up. And it was over. Both of us with only our own pixelated faces bordered by a call history of the other’s name.

Over the last year we’ve all had to adapt to seeing the people we love via a screen – faces and names popping up, voices bursting out, bombardments of links and memes and photos – all ways of telling someone that you’re thinking of them, even when you have nothing to say. FaceTime is often our only face time; the inches of a laptop or phone screen the only tangible thing bridging the space between us. 

And if you’re looking for somebody to love? It’s onto your phone you go. Entering the arena, Bumble vs Hinge vs Tinder square up, backed by success stories, scorned by dating nightmares, and watched by a perhaps surprising amount of people who you know. Which highlights a much-disputed point of courtesy; do you 

a)     swipe right and never mention again?

b)    screenshot and roast on a mutual group chat?

c)     send a message to diffuse the weirdness?

But we’re jumping the gun here. Before all that, you need to choose your photos, summing up your cool-fun-chill-smart-interesting-endearing-adventurous personality in a neat swipe, with some witty one-liners (app-provided). Accompanied with common consensus, confidence, or a crisis amongst your camera roll, making the profile itself is an odd experience, requiring a moment of soul-searching profundity to answer truthfully what your favourite meal/ideal date/non-negotiable is, phrased in a similarly cool, fun way (to complement the pictures).

Over the last couple of years, I think there’s been a discernible shift in attitudes towards dating apps: once vilified as the means to get a quick shag and not much else, there’s  now a draw to it as a way of meeting people who you most likely would never have found yourself speaking to otherwise. This potential has of course only multiplied since the pandemic began; with every potential meet-cute struck off the list – lectures, libraries, smoking areas all gone – people have been left with far less organic opportunities, and far more time to swipe, message, and ponder just how many fish there really are in the small Oxford sea. 

So, after dodging soft bois, aforementioned acquaintances, and people who just aren’t quite your vibe, you might match, message, and even meet with your match (Covid rules allowing). According to a poll of my friends, two thirds of people were keener to meet up with people than they would have been, had it not been for the pandemic. A date is a guaranteed new face, fresh conversation, and, at best, the start of something; and if it’s a disaster fit to feature in one of those first date montages on Facebook, you got a couple of hours off from work, and a funny story to rehash over the monotonous cycle of weeks, even months to come!

I imagine that it’s this craving for new, different social interaction which is at the root of such an increase in foot-traffic through Uni Parks, and the sprawling expanse of Port Meadow, fit to rival the promenading of Bridgerton. Coffee and conversation has proved the tried-and-tested recipe, quickly revealing compatibility or a lack thereof, as, for better or for worse, there’s very little to distract from the date at hand when it’s just the two of you, and the same set of trees that you passed 20 minutes ago. Of course, there was brief respite near the end of Michaelmas with the return of the substantial meal, which saw many flock to flirt over Oxford’s finest selections of scotch eggs – not before renowned for aphrodisiacal qualities – and a drink. 

But now, with 2021 upon us, and the pandemic still very much ongoing, we must once more turn to the apps and the great outdoors to be in with a chance. So why not give lockdown love a shot? Grab your coat, and a drink, and see what the algorithm has lined up for you xxx