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Author Domini Clark, right, and boyfriend Shane began 'slow dating' during the pandemic. Ten months in, they're going strong.Handout

Domini Clark is an editor at The Globe and Mail.

It was not love at first sight. Far from it.

But there was enough of a spark on my first date with Shane that I decided to see him a second time. And a third and, well, nearly 10 months of dating later it’s safe to say things have worked out.

Call it, love eventually. Or, to use a buzzword, slow dating. Spurred by COVID-19 fears and restrictions, the trend is one of the unexpected positives to come out of the pandemic. As a single, straight woman, I’ve found using apps for online dating often disappointing – so many conversations end with ghosting – and, at its worst, a threat to personal safety. The pressure to meet quickly, and do everything you can to impress and keep the interest of a guy whose options are endless, is unrelenting.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of singles panicked about finding someone to lock down for lockdown; even exes came out of the woodwork. Of course, as restrictions tightened and went on, it became harder – and scarier for all genders – to connect in person. Rules dictated that the culture of hookups and casual dating was effectively over. For a while in the U.K. it was essentially illegal for two people who didn’t live in the same household to have sex.

But even if hanky panky is off the table, humans crave connections, especially when our mental health is at risk. Over the past year, Hinge – the dating app through which Shane and I met – experienced a 63-per-cent rise in people downloading it and a tripling of revenues, its chief executive officer, Justin McLeod, recently told The Guardian. Other apps, including Bumble, Match, Tinder and OKCupid, reported similar bumps.

But increased use wasn’t the only change. Multiple surveys revealed singles experienced a change of heart and became more intentional about their dating, both out of necessity and desire. Video dates and phone calls – activities that allow to people to get to know each other without any sexual pressure – took off.

“Priority around finding a relationship has increased,” McLeod said. “ … When we’re faced with big life events such as this, it makes us reflect and realize that maybe we want to be with someone.”

In Toronto last summer, a reduction in case numbers meant somewhat traditional dating was possible. Patios were open and indoor socializing was allowed, yet people still seemed wary of quick flings, and the threat of another lockdown was ever present.

That first date with Shane took place in late August. It was a simple park hang with coffees in hand. He was cute, engaging and quick with the compliments. I was pleasantly surprised and left wanting to see him again.

But despite a promising beginning, our relationship encountered some hurdles early on. One month in I bought a house in a different city. And shortly after that I became an emotional mess as my mother endured a long hospital stay and almost died. It was one obstacle after another, and at times I doubted whether a guy I had just met was worth what little energy I had left.

I decided he was.

The question is: did I stay with him because of the pandemic? If, as in the before times, I knew I could easily start over with another man when my life had calmed down, would I simply have dismissed our fledgling romance as too much work and moved on?

When I brought it up with Shane he rightly pointed out that it could just as easily have been him who called it off. It’s not like I was making things easy. He had, in fact, told a friend he was thinking of bailing in the early days.

I think it’s safe to say the pandemic played a role in our love story – but not because it limited our options. As Hinge’s McLeod said, living through a global catastrophe has a way of bringing our wants and needs into focus. It serves as a reminder that our health, happiness and liberties are not guaranteed. It forces us to confront the reality that our time is precious and fleeting, and compels us to consider how we truly want to spend it – and with whom.

Research commissioned by Bumble in May shows that 40 per cent of Canadian daters are extending the get-to-know-you-phase and “seeking more meaningful relationships.” About a third report “an increase in clear communication of expectations and intentions” from potential partners as well as “fewer instances of ghosting.” In the world of online dating, where matches constantly disappear and disappoint, that’s noteworthy.

What I learned about Shane during those first few weeks is that he is, in every sense of the word, a good man. When I was down, he lifted me up. When things got dark, he brightened my world with sunflowers. When I embarked on a new adventure, he said, “How do I help?” Such depths of kindness, integrity and support take more than a couple of dates to plumb.

The obstacles Shane and I faced turned out not to be roadblocks but merely speed bumps, slowing us down and, ultimately, keeping our budding relationship safe. Combined with the pandemic, they gave us the opportunity to get to know each other without distractions, to learn how to best communicate and to prove to each other how serious we were about making it work.

And now that the dust has settled, we’re enjoying a delayed “honeymoon” phase. Yes, the world is still a messed-up place. But at least we have the joy of “us” in our lives.

What else we’re thinking about:

Summer brings with it a lot to be excited about it, and for me that list include moths. Yes, moths. Listen, butterflies are pretty and all but I prefer to cheer for the underdog. Moths can be just as gorgeous and are also crucial pollinators. They just do their work at night, which for some reason creeps people out. “Mothing” has become a pandemic pastime in the U.K., with at least 10,000 people picking up the hobby, according to one report. It’s easy to get started. All you really need is a bright light, a white sheet and some patience.

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