Dating in a Post-COVID world


Audio Version

Adrienne: As more vaccines go into more arms, optimism is building. And today, our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson, is here to talk about one particularly subtle but important sign of that rising optimism. Hi Scott.

Scott: Hi Adrienne.

Adrienne: I understand you’re seeing a much higher percentage of people asking about dating?

Scott: Yeah. We could anticipate this reaction to having been locked up. Everyone feels people-starved. So the interest in dating is just being pulled along by that larger sensation.

Adrienne: Is COVID affecting how people are approaching dating?

Scott: COVID did help a lot of people gain more perspective. Everyone wants to date more consciously. They want a fresh start. Life feels more precious now. And people are tired of wasting time.

Adrienne: What should people interested in dating consider right now ?

Scott: Well, we all have to be conscious that we’ve been living under extreme conditions for over a year. Our brains have been rewired to suit this new reality. So it’s wise to think about how those things might impact our behaviour in a relationship. For instance, people might be clingy or needy when they normally wouldn’t be. So they’ll need to find ways to recover their resiliency. And they also need to find healthy ways to communicate with their partners until they do. Others might find it hard to have others close, for at least a while. After a year and a half of being socially distant, for life and death reasons, we can anticipate that at least some of us will experience some temporary agoraphobia. So we might have a panic attack in a crowd when we never would have before. In the worst cases, people could feel more inclined to endure domestic violence situation out of a greater fear of having to be alone again. All of these issues can be addressed. But, uh, to do that we need to recognize what our subconscious motivations are.

Adrienne: And what about the dating issues that existed before COVID?

Scott: Ah! Most of those relate to the nature of dating apps, and how they can change the entire thought process that people apply to dating. So think of stuff like ghosting, or fake profiles, or embellished ones. But the big one is ‘serial dating,’ where someone can never find the ‘right’ person. That’s largely because we’re paying attention to the wrong things. By necessity, apps turn complex human beings into some photos, and a list of activities, interests or philosophies.

Adrienne: But aren’t things like religion, or personal philosophies, or just basic interests, valid things to consider?

Scott: Yeah, for sure. Those things are not like rejecting someone because of how tall they are, or because of their hair colour or weight, or something arbitrary like that. But even then, we should keep in mind that there are tons of great mixed marriages of all kinds, so if people are in love they find ways around their differences. For instance –for instance- I’ve worked with highly ethical vegans who later regretted rejecting highly ethical hunters. Over time, they eventually realized that they valued ethical people even more than they valued people who just have the same diet. Also, we have to remember that, for many, opposites do attract. I know a lot of very healthy couples that holiday separately because they dislike how each other vacations. But in a world where there’s a ‘list,’ it’s very easy for us to think that we could replace the very good thing that we have with someone even better. Why go on separate vacations if we can win the trifecta? So it’s kind of FOMO for romance. We’re always worried there’s someone better further down the list. We want this product, but with these exact features. Miss one a feature, or have one we don’t like, and we’re back to the list. It can get to the point where it’s not unlike a gambling addiction. One more try and maybe we have a ‘winner.’ And then, on top of all of this, there is also the issue that Barry Schwartz discovered in his studies on choice. I wrote a blog about that a few years ago. If anyone wants to know more about his research, I put that up on twitter and facebook.

Adrienne: What did his research say?

Scott: It basically demonstrated that most humans are naturally self-critical. No surprise to any of us I’m sure. So, given a choice between two gifts, we’ll tend to second-guess our choice. And because our brains are designed to protect us, we naturally have a slight negative bias. So we’re inclined to assume we made the wrong choice. But Schwartz’s research showed that the people who had no choice had no reason for second guessing. They mostly experienced gratitude for having been given a gift at all. So the longer they had the gift, the more they liked it. Meanwhile, the other group liked their gift –their chosen gift- less and less and less the longer they thought about their other potential choice.

Adrienne: Interesting. So just by choosing a date off a profile list, that alone can undermine our confidence in who we pick?

Scott: That is what the research suggested. Choices often lead to us assuming we might be wrong. Dating the old way meant people didn’t imagine they chose a person from a collection of candidates. That’s why they’d say they ‘met’ someone. When ‘meeting’ someone was less planned and more unexpected, the brain had no reason to imagine alternate choices. But today people draw their dates from actual lists. So it doesn’t take much to be wrong before people feel pulled back to the list and some theoretical ‘better choice.’ There are now a lot of men and women who are so worried about getting the wrong person that they’ll still stay on the dating apps while they’re dating someone. Just in case.

Adrienne: So what can people do? It doesn’t seem very likely that dating apps will go away.

Scott: Yes, anything that makes that much money is unlikely to go anywhere. But the apps and the lists just encourage us to seek perfection. They don’t demand it. The truth is, everyone has qualities. Those aren’t what ends relationships. It’s people’s imperfections. So we have to remember, we’re all imperfect. Which means we’re better to think about why someone  would accept our lack of perfection? Because then we’ll realize that finding qualities we like is easy. What we’re really looking for is matching tolerances. That’s our dating  superpower. That’s how we can find someone that is right for us but not for others.

Adrienne: What does a ‘dating superpower’ look like?

Scott: Ah, that’s the stuff we tolerate without even noticing. So… if our family took silent walks when they were angry, then angry displays can be frightening. But if we grew up in a house with a Mom and/or Dad that yelled a lot, then it’s a long walk and the silent treatment that will be agonizing. Yet we’ll have a high tolerance for yelling. The brain’s an amazing thing. Pig farmers don’t smell pigs. So anything we see enough of ceases to exist for our brains. Even noisy anger, or The Silent Treatment. So whatever tolerances our childhood taught us, become dating superpowers later in life. It allows us to love otherwise excellent people that others wouldn’t even tolerate. And it also allows other good people to love us when a lot of other good people wouldn’t. It’s like the old saying goes, ‘bent pots need bent lids.’ Rather than looking for perfection, successful dating is more like figuring out how our pot is bent, so that we can recognize our matching lid when we finally find it.

Adrienne: Okay. Some solid dating advice here. Thank you so much for this.

Scott: My pleasure. Happy dating folks.

Adrienne: Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at Relax and Succeed dot com, and Twitter and Facebook.

Hi everyone.

I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me and host Adrienne Pan, for CBC Radio Active‘s Wellness Column, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. She’s an excellent host who is perfect for a column like this. You can listen to us via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at If nothing external impacts us, we are usually on every second Tuesday, at 5:20pm.

Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. I will also attach a transcript of the column to the top of this post within a week or so of airing.

Today’s topic: 

As vaccines go in arms and optimism rises, people are again thinking about dating. But after a year of being locked away, it seems that everyone is now more serious about finding the right person, and about ensuring they have the life skills to keep the relationship together. Today we talk about what makes relationships really work, and how we might be looking at the wrong things when we’re looking for a sustainable match.

That’s what we’ll be covering today. If you get to hear it and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy their show. They have a great team.

Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.

peace. s