There’s really nothing that compares to the epic and highs and lows of being a teenager in love. Throw in a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic disrupting life as they know it, adjusting to multiple years of disrupted social interaction (from isolation to Zoom school to pod-only hangouts) and the teens of today are undoubtedly saddled with unprecedented challenges when it comes to connecting with one another.
To get an idea of how teens are really feeling about the state of crushes, dating, and connecting with their peers in their third year of pandemic living, we turned to some real teens — our Hatch Kids — to tell us what it’s really like to date (or even consider dating) in 2022. They sounded off on everything from how a crush might catch their attention or flirt over Zoom (pro-tip: turning on your camera and saying pretty much anything is a great place to start) to whether vaccination status is a dealbreaker and how a friend’s new partner can shake up their pods.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has a number of the teens sharing that they haven’t really been focusing on forming as many new acquaintances IRL, since new people are harder to meet without in-person school clubs, parties, or big public outings.
“I think it made my existing friendships really, really strong,” Julia, 16, says. “Like maybe I could have a lot more friends or form new relationships with people but I don’t really care because I think the pandemic made me form really strong connections with the friends I already have.”
But a number of our teens also saw that the pandemic’s isolated and overall lonely vibes did inspire some of their peers to get out there and partner up (or maybe feel more committed to staying partnered up): “I’ve only seen a couple couples break up during the pandemic,” Jack, also 16, adds. “I’ve seen a lot of couples get together — maybe that’s because people are more starved for intimacy so they’re more reluctant to break up.”
Dr. Lexx Brown-James, a couple’s clinician and therapist (and SheKnows’ resident sex columnist) says that the teen years are vital social learning time as “teens are literally defining themselves and finding their group identity who they wanna be among others.
“The pandemic interrupted that process, so teens aren’t having the chance to engage with peers in the same way and learn about their morals, values, and social skills as they have been able to pre-pandemic,” Brown-James tells SheKnows. “This hits romantically as well: teens aren’t able to feel one another out, practice in-person consent, or experience intimacy in the same ways.”
Instead, a lot of these connections (for better or worse) are getting their start online, which hits on the sort of love-hate relationships a lot of teens already have with social media. It’s a necessity to keep connected with their peers and represents a way to potentially meet someone new or get the rush of getting DM’d by a crush — but it also feels frustrating, overly-curated, and a little bit hollow compared to the IRL interaction and in-person experiences they (understandably) feel they’ve missed out on.
Intrigued? Watch the full video of SheKnows’ Hatch teens as they open up about all dating during a pandemic and the state of their relationships in 2022.