For Stone Kletecka ’21 and his girlfriend, their one-year anniversary came Oct. 26, but it barely resembled the celebration they envisioned at the start of their relationship. Accustomed to living within a volatile pandemic, they spent their day journeying to Laguna Beach instead of going to the Santa Monica Pier, one of their favorite spots before the shutdown. Arriving at the shoreline, they found a place to celebrate their anniversary on a hiking trail and in an isolated alcove—places perfect for social distancing.
“It was pretty secluded, but you could see all over the city; it was really nice,” Kletecka said. “After that, we went down to Table Rock Beach. […] There’s a big rock structure on the right hand side and on the left hand side that basically creates this ‘U shape’ around this little patch of beach. So it’s kind of like you’re on this little private island because you cannot see to your right, you cannot see to your left, and there’s just this chunk of beach that’s maybe 100 to 150 yards.”
Although the coronavirus has prevented most in-person interactions, romantic relationships remain a part of the high school experience. Kletecka, who started dating his girlfriend months before the country shut down, said they limited their social activity primarily to the two of them at the beginning of the closures. However, as time went on, he said their bubble has slowly increased to include a few close friends.
Because the pandemic allows them to spend more time together and forces them to think outside the box when planning activities, Kletecka said the coronavirus has, ironically, been a bit of a ‘blessing in disguise’ for their relationship.
“There’s just a lot less to do, and as a result, we’re going over to each other’s houses a lot more, just chilling at home watching movies,” Kletecka said. “It’s deceptively nice because with the new schedule and with COVID, you have all this extra time because you have less homework, so you get to hang out more often. But you don’t get to do as fun of things, so it’s bittersweet.”
Echoing Kletecka’s sentiment, Olivia Smith ’21 said the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed her to talk with her boyfriend more, though their situation is different because they started officially dating during quarantine. Smith said they began talking and hanging out in groups before online school, which transitioned into safe and distanced hangouts during the pandemic. Today, Smith said they have their own two-person bubble, as she strives to take extra precautions to protect her family members. Smith also said they have tried many outdoor activities, two of her favorites being an open-air aquarium and The Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
“You’re pushed to do things that you wouldn’t have thought of before,” Smith said. “Because I think if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic and weren’t forced to expand our ideas of what we can do to find safe stuff to do outside, then I don’t think I would have experienced either of those.”
From online Netflix-partying at the beginning of the shutdown to the increased in-person hangouts they currently have, Smith said her relationship has helped her deal with the isolation that often characterizes the pandemic.
“There’s been times when if I go and visit my grandparents, I have to quarantine for a couple weeks around them,” she said. “So, obviously, [quarantining is] still a factor, even if you’re in a relationship, but I would say just having someone to talk to you, especially before school during summer when we were really just in our houses with no interaction with people our age […] It’s just nice to have someone to reliably talk to.”
Online dating has long been an option for people to meet each other, and according to a WebMD article, dating apps have become increasingly popular with the onset of COVID-19. Kacey Kim ’21 said she has explored online dating apps as a means of making connections during the pandemic.
“I downloaded Bumble on the day of my 18th birthday as a way to celebrate and check things off of my list that I’m allowed to do as a legal adult,” Kim said. “I made a profile just for fun and was looking for nothing too serious. I’m sure there are great people who have dating apps installed as well, but I’m skeptical of finding a soulmate by swiping left or right.”
At the same time, because the coronavirus is an airborne infectious disease, experts such as those interviewed in a Business Insider article have raised concerns about people meeting through these apps. Kim said she is also worried about in-person interaction, which is why she remains extra careful.
“I’ve found that during quarantine I have a lot of time to kill, so I like using Bumble as a form of entertainment,” Kim said. “Relationships, especially between strangers, have changed because of the pandemic. It’s hard to feel comfortable meeting people when you value your health and want to protect yourself and the rest of your family. Personally, I do not see a romantic relationship as one of my priorities, especially now. There are bigger issues to be worried about than how many people swiped right on me.”
Counselor and Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research Teacher Michelle Bracken said that forming new relationships online may be challenging at first because of inherent virtual barriers. Despite this difficulty, however, she said it makes sense for teenagers to seek them out because of the unprecedented isolation they are facing.
“I think [meeting people online] just adds another layer, but I think for teenagers, because you all are probably so hungry for [connection], it doesn’t seem so weird,” Bracken said. “And you’re willing to do it because it’s something, right? So while I think it might be awkward, I still think it could happen, and it could be something that could be maintained after this is all over.”
Though she does not discuss romantic relationships with many of the students she counsels, Bracken said she sees the pandemic as a unique challenge. Without close proximity and simple acts such as hugging, she said romantic relationships are increasingly difficult to nurture, though friendships can still thrive.
Still, in a time of change, Kletecka said having a significant other has eased the burden of an uncertain world.
“It’s really nice to know that you have someone there,” Kletecka said. “Not just to talk to whenever you need to, and, you know, talk to them about your emotions or school or whatever it is because it’s a very stressful time […] but [also] on a social level, you don’t really feel left out. You always feel like you’re a part of something, and when the weekend comes, you know you’re probably going to be hanging out. You’re not just going to be alone.”