When it comes to relationships, the teenage years can be critical for learning lessons and developing healthy habits. This is hard on its own, but this year gave us the extra obstacle of living through a global pandemic. The pandemic flipped everything upside down. It's also changed the way people, especially teens, approach relationships. I wanted to truly find out how bad these dystopian-esque circumstances impacted teenage relationships. So I put an anonymous Google Form on my Instagram to find out firsthand how the pandemic affected relationships and mental health. I ended up with twelve responses from my teenage acquaintances. To summarize the results, the pandemic took the fun out of dating.
I first asked about the challenges of quarantine dating and what each couple did to solve those problems. The main issue was pretty obvious: all dating is now long distance. The closest anyone could get to their partner was having their Zoom box next to each other. Zoom dating isn’t for everyone, and with Covid guidelines, safe ways to connect with a partner are hard to find and just not the same. One person mentioned that, “We couldn’t see each other at all. We FaceTimed as often as we could, but it was too much and we ended up breaking up.” Unfortunately, they aren’t the only couple to meet the same fate. Another person shared that, “We got into a lot of arguments and fell out of love quickly. I couldn’t do anything and I got so overwhelmed and stressed.” Many others brought up the fact that the aspect of physical touch wasn't there anymore. Whether or not it’s your love language, for many, physical affection is critical for showing appreciation as well as keeping the emotional connection stable₂.
A serious byproduct of this pandemic has been the mental health crisis. I found that mental health played an important role in these relationships. During lockdown, statistics show that depression was three times higher than before Covid₃. Common symptoms of depression such as low energy, and feeling like a burden to others, can make folks less social. Obviously, when you aren't communicating with your partner, things can go on a downward spiral very fast. An individual who was subject to Covid-era depression wrote, “I was in a dark place and it just made me less enthusiastic to talk to my ex-boyfriend and I just felt too tired all the time.” In addition to depression, anxiety has plagued young people. While reflecting on their relationship during Covid, someone added, “Anxiety hit the roof, it definitely hurt our relationship a bit because of how overwhelming it was to identify my feelings and cope with that meanwhile also caring and trying to support my s/o (significant other).” This person put into words what everyone was thinking: it’s really difficult to be someone's therapist while needing one yourself.
To put a silver lining on our situation, teens and adults have had the chance to develop communication skills that will benefit them in all relationships, as well as a new appreciation for their partners. In terms of boundaries within relationships, Covid has normalized communicating about what's on the table and what's not. A New York Times article₁ brought up the point that many couples during Covid have had to have a conversation about meeting up, showing physical affection, and how much pandemic-safe interaction can go down. These conversations are parallel to one you would have with a partner about consent before sex.
My final question explored the takeaways from dating in a pandemic. Two themes stood out: never take your significant other for granted and communication is one of the– if not the– most important thing in a relationship. To summarize, quarantine has had a crippling effect on mental health, especially for many high school students. The pandemic has made it challenging for teenagers to maintain happy and healthy relationships. At the end of the day, couples (and ex-couples) were able to identify what went wrong and they now know what they need to incorporate into their next relationship to make it stronger.
This blog is part of a series developed through the Teen Talk Writing Internship. The internship was carried out remotely during early 2021 with a group of high school students who have participated in the Teen Talk High School sexual education course. The ultimate goal of the group was to build connections between students as they worked together to exercise their writing and health advocacy skills.