Tinder in the time of COVID
Having recently become single, I was looking forward to steamy encounters with the tall, dark, brooding man of my dreams at uni. But in the age of COVID-19, social distancing, and Zoom calls, it’s become much harder to meet new people. During my Freshers’ Week, most orientation activities were online, which hardly allowed for scintillating individual conversations, much less cheeky hand-holding under the table. The lack of clubbing and parties, as well as the closure of pubs after 10 pm, have also made it more difficult to socialise under the influence of alcohol i.e. the best social lubricant.
However, Tinder presents a solution for this conundrum. It’s still operating pretty much like normal, with people texting and meeting up in person. Despite this, Tinder dates have been somewhat overshadowed by the fear that the other party has COVID-19. Whenever you meet up with your date, it might be wise to do a quick silent check of whether they display any visible symptoms. When you drink and chat - no dry coughs? Good. Do they seem to be able to taste and enjoy (or grimace at) the food? When it starts getting steamy, you should probably check their temperature while cautiously pressing your face against theirs.
But that’s not the biggest problem. The problem of dating or casual hookups during COVID is how difficult it is to find a private place to be together. Most colleges have made it quite clear that we can’t bring students from other households into our rooms, let alone students from other colleges. So if a student wanted to go somewhere private with their Tinder date, they would have to go to their date's outside accommodation instead of back to their place in college.
This could turn out to be problematic if one's date had any malicious intentions, especially if you were a female fresher. Going to a stranger’s place, even after consenting to that, poses risks of things such as date rape. Additionally, if you were to return to college after some fun, this could be quite dangerous as a girl walking alone late at night in Oxford. There have been cases of sexual assault and rape in this city, which definitely should not be taken lightly.
Comparatively, I would be in an environment I could control if I were allowed to invite people over to my room. If anything bad happened, I could shout for my friends in the same household, or I could immediately run for the porter. I wouldn't have to trek back to my college late at night by myself or feel trapped in a foreign bed I had little idea the location of. The power asymmetry created by these restrictions could cause more unsafe dates, and colleges should balance this invisible risk with that posed by COVID-19.
I’ve received criticism about this being irresponsible - even if I personally am willing to take on additional health risks, I should not endanger other individuals within my college. This is fair, and I do recognise that giving other people COVID is incredibly thoughtless. But realistically, if your date had COVID-19, you would probably have already gotten infected during dinner or drinks. And if the other person just went into your room, this wouldn’t affect any other people in the building or the college. Even though there is an argument to be made that they might leave the virus on certain surfaces in college or they might bump into other individuals, a) the risk of this is quite low because it’s not like you’re openly flaunting your date; and b) the alternative, i.e. meeting privately in another space such as their place, would almost certainly guarantee the transmission of COVID if one party had it as well. If the individual went back to college the next day, they would spread it around anyways. There is hence little additional risk this poses to other individuals.
Another criticism is: follow guidelines and just stay in your room. Don’t meet up with people from other households - it’s not that hard and you should grin and bear it until the pandemic eases. There is also merit to this argument. However, relationships and sex are integral parts of many people’s lives. The pandemic has already greatly decreased the amount of human contact we have, and this has been detrimental to our mental health. That’s why even the government recognises that partners from different households can be exempt from many restrictions. Additionally, it is simply not realistic to say “don’t do it” and expect everyone to be abstinent. In a world where some form of platonic or sexual contact between households is inevitable, it makes more sense to structure regulations around that as opposed to being willfully ignorant. This could look like requiring brief details to be filled in when bringing someone over, much like restaurants taking names, to trace individuals in case they have COVID. Doing this instead of a blanket ban could make the best of a bad situation.
The bottom line is, restrictions are necessary to prevent COVID-19 and its debilitative consequences, but colleges must also be realistic about what the risks are and where they come from. We should allow people over within college because of the dangers students might otherwise encounter. To be clear, I am not trivialising the very real problems COVID can create. It’s a shitty situation, but we should balance the harms of unsafe dates with the small additional risk of bringing someone over after a drink. With more realistic guidelines, this will hopefully allow for safer and steamier Tinder dates.