Maintaining Romantic Relationships During Epidemic is Hard, But Building New Ones is Even Harder

When the COVID-19 epidemic just started its morbid march across the planet, it automatically birthed heaps of viral content. One of the first pieces to capture internet’s attention was a photo of an empty supermarket shelf designated for condoms. It makes complete sense, there are only so many things a couple can do when stranded in an apartment for an indefinite amount of time. Sadly, almost two months into the quarantine, the reality for dating and industries built around dating in China doesn’t look as amusing anymore. 

Condoms do sell like hotcakes. Some supermarket chains doing deliveries through Meituan even list them as “hot items” on the platform. However, buying contraception is still relatively easy. The empty supermarket shelf is a quality meme, but it does not pass the reality test. In fact, while initially many joked that in nine months China’s massive stay-at-home experiment could result in a noticeable demographic uptick, the current trend could be indicative of the opposite. According to The Global Times, one of China’s major cities, Xi’an reported a record number of divorce requests in the several weeks after the onslaught of the epidemic. 

Part of the reason for this deluge of requests is the fact that local government offices had been closed for some time resulting in a backlog of applications. Another component of the problem is the forced one-on-one time that for many couples resulted in marital feuds. 

The epidemic doesn’t spare unmarried couples either. Vast swathes of China still remain under lockdown with the majority of residential communities in big Chinese cities imposing stringent entry controls, recording the body temperature and personal information of all residents. Many Beijing communities ban residents from bringing guests into their apartments, with the exception of close relatives. Not to mention that the majority of restaurants, coffee shops, movie theatres and museums in the country are still closed often limiting date options for locals to a modest walk in the park or a trip to a supermarket. 

Dating apps are the only escape for a lot of Chinese who feel lonely under quarantine. However, many admit that despite being active on the apps, they would refuse to go on actual dates until the epidemic subsides. While none of the major dating apps have disclosed the information on the numbers of users during the coronavirus outbreak, some of them report that they did not notice any disruptions. Nonetheless, some apps have issued notifications for their users, warning them of the dangers associated with the virus. Tinder in particular displays a warning to its users with instructions on how to avoid getting infected that include washing hands and maintaining social distance in public gatherings.

Users on China’s Twitter analog Weibo have launched numerous hashtags along the lines of #ThingsIWantToDoAfterTheEpidemic and #LetsGoOnADateAfterTheEpidemic where they share their anxiety with the current situation and hopes for the coming future. 

Yet, while some couples are nostalgically complaining about the current ordeal, others have found creative ways to deal with loneliness. Online games, social streaming and video-chatting are all part of the solution. As Valentine’s day this year was mired by the virus, separated couples went out of their way to make sure the holiday wasn’t completely ruined. SCMP reported surging cases of people ordering deliveries for each other, playing online mobile games while discussing strategies over the phone or even singing karaoke together through the popular app Quanmin K Ge.

Aware of China’s struggles, even the world’s largest adult video website, Pornhub, ran advertisements in Mandarin on February 14th, offering its Chinese users free access to premium content. While the website is banned in China and can only be accessed through virtual private networks, it did not miss the opportunity to tap into a vast pool of companionless Chinese users stuck at home.