Dr Helen Fisher Shines Light On Post Covid Dating

Study

The COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Dating – And Probably for the Better

Chloë Hylkema

Written by: Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema loves using her writing skills to tell stories that matter. Her time as an English student at Emory University molded her into a detailed writer with a knack for the relatable. Chloë is familiar with what it means to date in the modern age, and she endeavors to write material that is both truthful and helpful. She has previously worked as lead campaign writer for an animal advocacy group and now brings her passion for engaging and actionable content to DatingAdvice.com.

See full bio »

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Discuss This! Discuss This!

The Short Version: The Singles in America study has been tracking American’s attitudes toward dating, relationships, sex, and love since 2010. Thirteen years and one pandemic since the first study, the 2023 release sheds light on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed dating, along with how Gen Z is shifting the scene. Match’s Chief Science Advisor and Biological Anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, helped us explore the study she’s headed and the current dating scene and gave anthropological insights into how people are dating today and why it matters.

My good friend in college studied anthropology, and she would often note that we’re weird hairless monkeys talking and painting. Maybe a tiny bit reductive, but I often find comfort in the idea that our biological makeup – who we are as a species – affects everything we do in our human lives, down to who we’re attracted to and why.

It sounds so obvious, but it’s so easy to forget how much wisdom lies in anthropology’s approach to understanding why humans love the way we love. There is a beautiful diversity of humans and yet a remarkable unity: We all yearn for true connection. 

Dr. Helen Fisher is a Biological Anthropologist and the Chief Science Advisor to Match.com. Helen has conducted extensive research and written six books on the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences, and personality styles. There’s no better person in the space to help us dig into what dating looks like in 2024 and what singles can expect for the future. 

Helen delved into the stats she and her team compiled for Match’s 13th annual Singles in America study in 2023. The study asked thousands of singles to answer questions about self-worth, sex, relationships, and love to track the ever-transforming dating scene. The study has been conducted since 2010, giving us invaluable insights into how the COVID-19 pandemic shifted dating attitudes.

The study also witnessed the entrance of Gen Z into the dating scene, as plenty of the generation are now well into their mid-20s. Helen helped us dive into the study’s findings and explore future prospects for the dating scene. 

“I’m an anthropologist, and for millions of years, we lived in these little hunting and gathering groups of about 25 individuals, and it was this stabilizing force,” Helen said. “We just don’t have that anymore. We traded in the local community for local autonomy, which there a lot of good things to say for, but it means so many people are now lacking a support system.”

Dr. Helen Fisher Investigates What American Singles Want

“Singles in America has been studying thousands of Americans for over a decade,” Helen said. “We do not pull the Match members. It is a nationally representative sample of singles based on the U.S. Census. It’s real science.”

Helen said the survey asked the same question every year: “What are you looking for in a partner?” The survey gives dozens of options to choose from, andHelen said people tend to say the same things year after year. “They say they want somebody they can respect, somebody they can trust and confide in, who makes them laugh, makes time for them, and is physically attractive.”

In 2020 and the years following, the survey saw a rise in two indicators. “Ever since the pandemic, there are these two things that now everyone is looking for,” Helen told us. “They want someone who is emotionally mature and a good communicator.”

dr. helen fisher
Dr. Helen sat down to talk us through Match.com’s study.

Helen said these two indicators have consistently been in the top seven since the pandemic, and they weren’t before. She attributed this to something called post-traumatic growth. “I do think these things are an impact of the pandemic because the pandemic really made people realize what they need in life,” she said. “None of these things are new, but they’re certainly more important and valued to singles than they used to be.”

During the pandemic, many people were unable to see and be with the people they loved most for months. Many of us are changed by the things we experienced during the pandemic, and many people experienced rapid emotional growth during this time. It was a deeply challenging couple of years, and things are going to be different as everyone reemerges from pandemic isolation.

While things may be different about dating, it looks like singles values are only becoming more focused on the real substance of relationships. The pandemic made singles realize that emotional connection and maturity is the crux of every relationship, and Helen said she thinks this a good thing.

Studying the Brain to Understand Dating

There is a lot of messaging around dating that says casual dating is the new standard. Helen said that’s not quite the case. “Every year, about 11% of the singles we survey say they’re dating casually,” she said. “Which means that 89% of daters are looking for something serious. They want a long-term relationship, and maybe they’re not looking for marriage, but they want a genuine relationship.”

Helen said that this yearning for real connection is an innate part of the human condition. “It doesn’t surprise me. We’ve studied the brain. There’s an enormous brain pathway for feelings of intense romantic love, which can come along with all of these other huge brain activities linked with feelings of attachment. Times change– the circuits in our brains don’t.”

Monogamy can be out, and situationships can be in, but those things stand meek in front of millions of years of human brain function. “These feelings were around 4 million years ago, they were around 100 years ago, and they’ll be around millions of years from now. These are basic parts of the human brain. The way the connection looks may change, but we’re always looking for that connection,” Helen said.

match's singles in america study 2023
Singles consistently value trust in a romantic partner.

While some studies may report Gen Z is moving away from marriage, this isn’t necessarily the case. Helen suggested that more singles are choosing to get married later. Marriage isn’t on the out, but getting married in the early 20s may be.

“I just wrote an academic article called ‘Slow Love,’” Helen said. “What’s really going on is we’re getting married much later, and many daters are looking for marriage down the road rather than right now. The average age is going up.”

This isn’t a bad thing. “Actually, it’s very good news,” Helen told us. “The longer you court and the later you marry, the more likely you are to stay together. This doesn’t discourage me at all. It’s a positive outlook where people are seeking egalitarian relationships.”

The human longing for connection will never change. But now that marriage serves a different purpose than it did 100, or even 50, years ago, people are going to treat it differently. This is even more the case in a post-COVID dating scene. Daters are very different today than they’ve ever been, but an abundance of positive changes and additions should reaffirm singles.

Love in a Post-COVID World

The pandemic may have brought about positive changes, but that’s not to say it was a positive experience. Helen agreed that young people, single, dating, and paired alike, face new obstacles that few generations before them have experienced. Many young people face isolation and loneliness caused by a combination of many factors that make life – not to mention dating – difficult to navigate.

“When we asked questions about loneliness, 58% of Gen Z said that they’re lonely,” Helen told us. “Forty-nine percent of Millennials, 37% of Gen X, and 24% of Boomers. It saddens me, but it doesn’t surprise me.”

Helen said many young people are migratory and just getting started in their adult lives. The pandemic delayed many Gen Zers by a few years, and Helen said many young people haven’t immersed themselves in their city’s culture and established strong long-term relationships. She said she hopes young people will find their way with time.

dr. helen fisher quote
Dr. Helen Fisher had encouraging words for young people.

“I want young people to know they will find a way through,” Helen said. “I want them to know to hang in there.”

The antidote for this epidemic of loneliness is healthy relationships. And they don’t need to be romantic. “We have friends nowadays, but often they’re on the internet, and they live in other places,” Dr. Helen said. “We see them at work, on the weekends, but they’re not integrated into our daily lives. We need communities, and we need people– it’s part of our biological makeup.”

Single people and coupled folks alike need a strong support system. Loneliness may be on the rise and disproportionately affecting young people. Still, with time and proper attention to building genuine relationships, young people can heal from the impact of experiencing COVID-19 during essential fundamental years.

“I know it can feel like your friends will do for now, and you gotta keep starting over,” Dr. Helen said. “But the day will come. You will fall in love. You will settle in. You’ll find a job you like, you’ll have babies, and you’ll integrate. It’ll happen. It will.”