There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has left many students feeling isolated and disconnected. But against all odds, some UNC students have been able to find love.
But navigating relationships and dating looks different now. From Zoom calls to socially distanced picnics — the way students connect romantically in the past year has changed dramatically:
Starting a relationship during a pandemic may seem like a challenge, but some students have found ways to overcome these obstacles.
Sophomore public policy major Emma Cohn said she wouldn’t have met her current boyfriend if it weren’t for the pandemic.
“In the beginning of the pandemic I was passively on dating apps, but I never met up with anyone because I was being really cautious,” she said. “To try and make new friends, I joined a Facebook page for Jewish college students and that’s where I met my current boyfriend.”
UNC Facebook groups have also played a role in pandemic dating. SK Doherty, a first-year chemistry major, said she met her boyfriend through the UNC Chapel Hill Class of 2024 Facebook group.
“He’s an out-of-state student, so he joined to meet new people,” she said. “Right off the bat, we hit it off because I didn’t know many people coming here from my high school and he didn't know many people from North Carolina. We could really lean on each other.”
Caroline Bowersox, a sophomore media and journalism major, said she tried to use dating apps — but nothing came out of it.
“My roommates and I downloaded Tinder and Bumble together,” she said. “It was hard because we had specific COVID rules for our house, but we didn't know how dating factored into that.”
But things worked out for Bowersox. She said she met her boyfriend through a UNC club at one of its limited in-person events.
First-year sociology and business administration major Vivian Clarke also had a more traditional experience — meeting her boyfriend in the first few weeks of the fall semester.
“I met my boyfriend on the first day of school last semester,” she said. “It was definitely not too different from what I would expect a normal meeting to be, other than only being able to see half of their face.”
But for these students, meeting their partner was only the beginning. Many had to come up with date ideas while following COVID-19 guidelines set in place by the University and the state.
Cohn said sticking to regulations was easy because her boyfriend lived across the country. She said phone calls and Zoom calls were essential to maintaining the relationship.
“The first nine months of us knowing each other, he was in Los Angeles and I was in North Carolina,” she said. “So we really couldn't meet. The only activity that was available to us was talking. And we talked for hours every single day and got to know each other really well.”
Since traditional dates were out of the question, Bowersox said she and her boyfriend had to get creative with their time together.
“I think it’s been a fun thing to navigate, because we get to do a lot more fun things that aren't the traditional stuff,” Bowersox said. “We found a random field by scouring latitude and longitude coordinates, and we went and stargazed.”
Clarke said she’s also enjoyed getting to spend time outside with her significant other.
“We go on lots of picnics, walk around campus and go to the North Carolina Botanical Garden,” she said. “Anything outdoors where we can just walk and talk are some of our favorite things to do.”
Bowersox said one area that was difficult to navigate was introducing her boyfriend into her COVID bubble.
“My roommates and I had a meeting and agreed that we had to include my boyfriend in our bubble,” she said. “It was a little scary at first, since I already live with five other girls.”
The pandemic won’t last forever. Once COVID-19 passes, students are excited for new chapters in their relationships.
Since her boyfriend lives out-of-state, Doherty said she has not been able to meet his parents and said she’s looking forward to taking that step.
But some couples are most excited about the little things — like going to restaurants. Cohn said in their year of dating, she and her boyfriend have yet to go on a dinner date.
Albert Demarco, a sophomore computer science major, said he doesn’t see the day-to-day of his relationship drastically changing.
“I’m excited for us to go clubbing and things like that once everything’s normal,” he said. “Other than that I can only see our relationship getting stronger.”
Like Cohn, Clarke said she’s ready to go out in public places with her boyfriend and have a more typical dating experience.
“It can only go up from here,” she said. “It will be nice to be able to go out in public together more since we haven't gotten that experience yet.”
Despite the challenges of a pandemic, Bowersox said she is grateful for her relationship — even if it hasn’t been a normal one.
“I'm definitely thankful that I was able to meet someone so great during a pandemic,” she said. “I think that I'm the lucky one in a lot of ways.”
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