The pandemic gave Mara (not her real name) the reprieve she needed from the pressure of getting married before 30. At 32, she is still single AF and she is not rushing—not when the virus still lurks.
It's different before the quarantines started. When she was nearing 30, Mara felt the pressure from her family and society to settle down and find a mate.
"With this pandemic, everything is fair game and we are all in delay with our plans. Kahit naman without the pandemic, love lives can be tricky," she said.
Mara is not alone. COVID is making it harder to find love at a time when fewer Filipinos are getting married. Millennials like Mara are either delaying marriage or not marrying at all, according to several studies. In the U.S., teenagers and young adults are having less sex than previous generations. What gives?
COVID is making it harder to make 'meaningful connections'.
Bonchy, 22, and a self-confessed "no jowa since birth", thought himself lucky when he started talking to someone early on in the lockdowns. But weeks passed and the quality of their conversations deteriorated.
"Eventually, I ran out of ways to keep things exciting. Around one month and a half after we started talking, I decided to end it because I couldn't sustain it anymore," he said.
Clarko, also 22, described his pandemic dating experience as "bleak." "I try my best to talk to the people I've matched with, but I've been really demotivated lately," he said.
Dating apps Tinder and Bumble reported increased usage as soon as social distancing measures were implemented. It didn't take long for Bonchy and Clarko to succumb to digital dating fatigue.
"It also has to do with my priorities. There's a lot going on with my life right now like surviving a pandemic, keeping up with my family since they're far away, and of course, my career. Getting into a relationship right now (especially that everything's online and impossible to meet) is the least of my priorities," Clarko said.
If romance is being delayed, what about, at least, sex?
(Parental advisory: Kalat ahead)
In the Netherlands, the liberal government acknowledged the need for sex during the pandemic. "Find a sex buddy for lockdown," they told single people, even releasing guidelines on how to safely do it.
There was nothing similar in the Philippines. With a responsibility to keep masks on, how do Filipinos get their pants off? Many did it virtually, as they did for other social activities.
Bacolod-based Albert, 24, said his town is still "somewhat conservative," limiting his options as a queer individual. Cybersex was the only resort, he said, though he admits that the first thing he did when lockdowns eased was to find a hookup.
"The fact that we consider working virtually and studying virtually as legitimate things, perhaps having sex and dating virtually is legitimate too," Albert said.
Alelee, 22, who had no choice but online date a guy she met on Bumble found herself in the same setup. They almost invested in a sex toy especially made for long-distance couples.
"We couldn't afford it so instead, he just bought me sex toys and jakol props depende sa kink niya and as long as I'm into it. We did sex-on-phone before pero that time, sobrang nag-level up yung cyber kantutan game ko," she said. Their relationship was more than sex.
"May drama pa ako dati na hindi ko pa masasabi na gusto ko talaga siya kasi nga hindi pa nasistimulate lahat ng five senses ko. 'Di ko pa siya naaamoy or nahahawakan or NATITIKMAN," she said.
While the two believe cybersex "has its own sense of intimacy," it can only do so much.
"I've been doing it since before but now the experience is very different, it feels constraining, somewhat alienating? Sometimes I'm not sure if we're just there to experience a semblance of sex because the cold screen does not compensate for the warmth and intimacy that physical sex provides," Albert said.
Pandemic killed the fun in dating
There was a point when Alelee thought he was the one—the partner she connected with both emotionally and sexually—until their relationship ended this week, a few days before Valentine's day.
"It takes so much patience and belief na magwo-work. Pre-pandemic dating kasi, probably alam mo na agad what you want after the first few dates," she said.
"Personally, I like reading another person's aura—what energy they give off when they enter the room. Or how they meet your eyes when you talk to them. I didn't really experience that with him," she said.
Conflicts were also harder to resolve as his love language was physical touch.
"So kapag may argument kayo tapos magsusuyuan, hindi niya nagagawa through a hug or a kiss or holding your hand or whatever. Hindi lang naman through words or facial expressions tayo nag-e-express," she said.
So, is there no hope at all?
The pandemic didn't really kill love. You can find hundreds of "successful" pandemic love stories on social media, including news of young people who got married during COVID against all odds (also because weddings are cheaper).
All you have to do is adjust accordingly, said celebrity life coach Myke Celis.
"Admittedly it is quite challenging to have physical interaction nowadays, but hey, dating isn't all about that. It's about getting to know the person better to see if there's a fit. Come to think of this: At least you're not just relying on sexual chemistry as a basis for your attraction," he said.
But first, know what to keep private, Myke said, warning of the rampancy of cyber crimes like leaking private photos and videos.
"In the meantime, make yourself a priority, as you make yourself date-worthy. Be the person you'd want to date, I always say," Myke said which happens to be what Mara, Bonchy, Clarko, Alelee, and Albert all agree in the end.
"Happy ever after" may not come during the time of COVID, but they all believe it's still out there, in whatever form—either happily single, married, or partnered.
"After I turned 30 and everyone who got married is telling me about their marriage problems... parang I got to see na kanya-kanyang path talaga ang tao. And somehow I'm still lucky I can still change courses because I'm only responsible for myself," Mara said.
"I think we should remind everyone that nothing is permanent in this world, including the pandemic. Someday, somehow the world will open up again. So instead of coming from a space of resistance, people must come from a space of openness," said Myke, the life coach.