During pandemic, students keep romance alive through social media, outdoor dates

Media Credit: Sophie Moten | Staff Photographer

Senior Ryan Tavares met his girlfriend, Manuela Lopez-Restrepo, on Hinge, and spoke with her for weeks virtually before meeting her in person.

In early March, then-freshman Caroline Nystrum had gone on her first two dates with her future boyfriend. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Nystrum home.

Nystrum said her relatively new connection turned into a long-distance relationship almost overnight, and the two began to keep in touch over the next half year over Snapchat and texts. Six months later, the two moved back to the District and made their relationship official.

“We were always looking toward the future and looking for something to hold on to,” Nystrum said. “We were both just so hopeful to see each other again that we kept it going.”

Without classrooms or bars to meet people, students said they’ve turned to dating apps like Hinge to find dates or locked in connections they had already made in person before the COVID-19 pandemic. Students said they leaned on social media and texts to make their relationships work, and those dating new people over the past year became more cautious about the number of people they were seeing romantically.

Meeting via dating apps
Dating app use soared last March, when most college-aged students were first sent home during the initial wave of COVID-19 cases.

Per a friend’s suggestion, senior Ryan Tavares said he downloaded Hinge and met his girlfriend, Manuela Lopez-Restrepo, a senior at University of Maryland, on the app in August. Lopez-Restrepo said they chatted virtually for a few weeks before meeting up in person.

She said she wanted to ensure she could trust that Tavares was abiding by coronavirus guidelines, especially since she was living with her parents.

“I could tell we got along, it was more like, ‘Can I trust this person’s judgment?’” Lopez-Restrepo said. “’Do I trust them being honest with me about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing’?”

During a FaceTime call before they met in person, she said the two clicked instantly and made concrete plans to meet in person. For their first date, Tavares brought pasta and Lopez-Restrepo brought homemade pesto for a picnic at Malcolm X Park.

Shortly after the two began to see each other, they became exclusive. Tavares said he was caught off guard at first, but Lopez-Restrepo said sticking to each other would be safer than dating others given the public health crisis.

“I understood where she was coming from, but also it was two weeks into the relationship and I was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s intense,’” Tavares said. “But I’m also like, ‘Who else do I want to talk to right now? This is the only person that I’m enjoying talking to.’ So I don’t see a problem with it.”

The couple added that they’re not sure they would have dated if the pandemic didn’t happen. They had matched on Tinder last year and attended some of the same concerts in New York City, but it wasn’t until they matched again on Hinge while living in D.C. that they decided to give it a shot.

“I have a philosophy that we were sort of meant to meet now and as the current versions of ourselves,” Lopez-Restrepo said. “I don’t know if me a year ago would have had this connection with Ryan.”

Moving date night outside
Outdoor dates have become a go-to for couples who met for the first time during the pandemic.

Lauren Ofman, a junior and former Hatchet reporter, said dating over the past year has forced her to be more conscious about planning safe dates.

“It’s been so interesting dating during a pandemic, because you have to move really fast, you know, you have to go from dating to essentially doing nothing together and having to be really creative with what you choose to do,” Ofman said.

Ofman said she occasionally used Hinge while she was home in Los Angeles last spring but started using it more seriously once she moved back to D.C. in June, when she met her boyfriend Jon on the app. She was nervous to meet up with Jon in person given the circumstances of the pandemic, but after some convincing from her roommate, she decided to go.

“With the pandemic, I was really terrified to just go meet a stranger out,” Ofman said. “I would be very, very selective of who I would go out with.”

For their first few dates, they ate dinner outside at the Georgetown Waterfront and went for a walk at the National Mall. Ofman said they bonded over their affinity for the Trader Joe’s frozen food section and became a couple within the first few weeks of dating.

Since the cold weather kicked in, Ofman said it’s been more challenging to think of date ideas that are both safe and fun. She said she and her boyfriend enjoy visiting Union Market and checking out fixer-upper houses for sale on weekends.

“It’s possible for people to get through a relationship now as long as they pursue it safely and can feel confident that they can still be creative with their partner to have fun and do things even during this horrible time,” Ofman said.

Making long distance work
What started with an Instagram comment turned into a multi-month holding pattern for senior George Glass and his girlfriend, sophomore Carolina Fujiy-Vieira.

The two were familiar with each other from mutual friends and their biology class last spring, but they didn’t begin chatting over on social media until Glass commented on one of Fujiy-Vieira’s Instagram posts.

“We were both just curious about each other,” Glass said. “I remember she posted a picture on Instagram. I was like, ‘It’s a pretty cool picture,’ I commented something and then I think a week after that she slid into my DMs and said, ‘You’re going to comment on this picture before you slide into my DMs?’”

After being sent home from school in mid-March, Fujiy-Vieira was living in California and Glass in Virginia. They talked daily, and after two months, Fujiy-Vieira said they both recognized they were more than friends, but they wanted to ensure the in-person connection was just as strong.

“It was nine months, and I was really tired, you know what I mean?” Fujiy-Vieira said. “Like we either need to start dating or just end this because it was too much for me.”

The couple hung out for the first time in person in November – Fujiy-Vieira flew from California to D.C. to visit some friends and Glass drove up from Virginia Beach to spend the day with her. The duo said they grabbed lunch at Tonic and walked around campus and found that the connection was there, but they didn’t officially go public with their relationship until last month.

The couple said that setting aside time to chat has made their long distance relationship work.

“One of the earlier things that at least I had to learn was that respect for time,” Glass said. “It’s so much easier in person for us to say ‘OK, meet me here at 7 p.m.’”

Fujiy-Vieira said she recently moved to Philadelphia, which allows the couple to talk without a difference in time zones. They said they also try to visit each other once per month – Glass is planning to visit Fujiy-Vieira for Valentine’s Day.

“Overall, it’s been worth it,” Glass said. “And if we can make it through a pandemic together, I’d like to see what else life can throw at us.”

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