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College students are still finding romance in a pandemic, through Zoom crushes and actual dates

The dorm hookup, once a staple of college, has mostly become a thing of the past. Masked first dates are the new normal, and dating apps and Zoom crushes have replaced staring at the cute person through the flashing lights of a party.

Campus codes of conduct can be strict — in September, Northeastern University dismissed 11 students for gathering in a hotel room. But hooking up can fall into a gray area. The University of Georgia posted — then deleted — guidelines recommending that students wear a mask while hooking up, after resounding online ridicule. Other schools prohibit close contact with anyone outside of roommates. But the level of enforcement is often unclear.

The changing cadence of college life has made romantic prospects harder to come by, even for those who are back on campus. The nebulous circles that define social relations — lab partners, gym buddies, people you meet on a night out and avoid eye contact with for the next four years — have mostly been phased out, or rendered virtual.

As Diaz-Cruz puts it: “Co-workers have been removed, acquaintances aren’t a part of my life anymore. Friends of friends, all those little social interactions that make up your day, it’s not really part of your day.”

Scout Turkel, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley, adds, “in order to have intense relationships in your life, you also need to have casual people.”

For Turkel, the pandemic has made hookups and what she calls “convenient intimacies” much less available. Berkeley is all-online for the semester, but Turkel is still living in a nearby co-op with other students. Turkel’s solution to the problem of “convenient intimacies”? Hooking up with a housemate, an experience she documented over the summer in the Sex on Tuesday column for The Daily Californian.

“It seems like the only ethical option from a public health perspective,” Turkel wrote of her intra-house hookup. And though the relationship ended amicably, Turkel says, “it does feel like a huge deal to lose my only clear opportunity for physical intimacy during a time it doesn’t feel available to me.”

That desire for physical intimacy is in part why dating apps have become even more popular on campuses (many have seen traffic spikes overall). As Sarah Berg, a senior at the University of North Texas, put it, “during the pandemic, everybody was bored and downloaded Tinder, Bumble and Hinge.”

This video-chatting era has also given rise to the “Zoom crush.” Nicky Romano, a junior at Temple University in Philadelphia, was shocked when a graduate student in one of his online classes approached him while he was studying outside on campus. He’d recognized the blond streak that then marked the middle of Romano’s dark hair from the squares of their shared Zoom grid, and asked him for a study date.

Romano didn’t quite know what to make of it — was it a romantic overture, or a platonic request? But he does know the feeling of seeing someone