Video dates, accidental celibacy and ‘nuffing’ season: love in 2021

·9-min read
 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

Ahh, 2021 - the year we hoped restrictions would all be over and then they went on, and on and on - with Covid having about as much sympathy for our love lives as the Grinch at Christmas pre-Cindy Lou Who.

For daters it was a year of honesty-bombing, angst and a frenetic nuffing season (all of which more later). We went back to the apps and tried to remember how to date, what flirting was and how to have sex.

What a year, I think, now it’s (mercifully) over. This is what we were dealing with month-by-month.


Emerging from a Tier Four Christmas into another lockdown in early January, Tinder issues a survey of most used profile emojis: 2019 was the face-plant at the state of the world; 2020 the shrug of uncertainty and 2021 was about to become the wide-eyes. Little did we know that 2021 would bring us Matt Hancock’s hot vax summer and Jackie Weaver would briefly become the most admired woman on Tinder (really). Meanwhile Bumble reports that Astrolove is here to stay, with one million daters looking for compatibility via the zodiac. In other words, desperate, desperate times.


Slow dating looks set to be the order of the year with video dates still the only option in the face of banned IRL meets. Over half of Tinder users mention them on their profiles, with another 20 per cent say they want to meet someone ‘close by’. The time we would travel more than two streets for a date has disappeared. Turning 31, I eat two dozen oysters alone at my parents’ house (dad in a mood; mum allergic) and wonder if I’ll be single forever. Haven’t had sex in six months. Contemplate beginning to save for egg-freezing.


The one year of anniversary of pandemic dating and just as we’re getting used to the idea of virtual romance – 67 per cent now believing they could fall in love with someone they’ve not met IRL, say Bumble – Bo-Jo announces we can meet with ONE other person outside. “Yessss!” think singles. “Dammit,” curse swingers and orgy-goers. Then we’re told we can meet up to six people outside. “Yessss,” say alfresco-swingers fans. “DAMMIT,” say fans of the larger sex party. “I had a dream I stamped on a box of eggs,” I tell my therapist. When he asks if I know what that means I screech: “YES. FERTILITY. I’M NEVER GOING TO HAVE SEX EVER AGAIN.”

Dating columnist Lucy Holden (Matt Writtle)
Dating columnist Lucy Holden (Matt Writtle)


WhatsApp groups go mental with talk of outdoor pub tables. They seem to have all been booked for the rest of time. I stay at an ex’s house after drinks and he is extremely moody when I won’t sleep with him, not seeming to believe my new celibacy pact (I’ve decided to own it and try to reach a year). I think best not to adopt new honesty-bombing trend, which according to Bumble means 82 per cent of us are throwing truth grenades about mental health and marriage at first dates (not that this was one) and say it’s also because he’s gone bald and put on loads of weight from cakes his mum keeps sending. Start to wonder if I would have same FOMU (fear of meeting up) on an actual date, having been off for six months. Dating app Baddoo reports 78 per cent of us feel we’ve forgotten how to date IRL.

I stay at an ex’s house after drinks and he is extremely moody when I won’t sleep with him


Bank holiday season and family-first rules are set alight and dates booked on mass. Bumble reports that 50 per cent are ditching plans with family and friends for new romance, but Badoo reckons 63 per cent of us are anxious about getting up close and personal. How will we remember what to do? In London I meet an on-off-on-off thing before he flies abroad for an acting job. “I can’t sleep with you,” I say. He still asks me to do a Covid test and forward the results before I board a train. Turns out I’m on trend, with 76 per cent specifying just how intimate they’re prepared to be before the date has even begun. Spend the rest of the month High-Fidelity-ing my exes. The first one (when I was 16) is brilliant. “I wonder what went wrong?’ I think, given I seemed to downgrade most years.


Freedom day announced mid-June and the ‘I’ve had my Covid vaccine’ badge becomes officially sexy on the apps. Sex parties start selling out in 24-hours. Buy a ticket to see what all the craic is about. Meanwhile, we book dates like there’s no tomorrow - given there might not be - amounting to up to four a week to make up for lost time, according to Bumble. World events also affect who and how, they add. One year on from Black Lives Matter, a third of people say they have re-evaluated the way they approach race and equality in their relationships. Go to London in order to remember I have friends and meet a girl in a bar who tells me she read this brilliant piece about a woman who would never use a dating app ever again. “I wrote that,” I tell her. Free drinks and big discussion about why you’d have to be suicidal to use them.


Given above, I try some local IRL flirting to see if I can remember how with the only young-looking person nearby but goes badly when my dog shits on the pavement in front of him and I have to pick it up mid-flirt-attempt. He asks if I want to use his bin. Visit one of the newly-popular naturist camps in UK with my friend and realise no-one has seen me naked since last summer. Terrifying. Not surprised to see news from Bumble that about 60 per cent of us are more concerned and less confident about our bodies since Covid. When we leave, feel better and wonder what I thought all the fuss was about? Attend first sex party and see what the fuss is all about: everyone strapped like tight-rope walkers and having sex all over the place. Feel totally out of depth.


First year anniversary of my accidental celibacy. Quit therapy after 18 months, partly because it has begun to feel like dating when I talk to no other men. Summer celebrations begin and I arrive at a friend’s birthday without a plus one, immediately realising everyone else has one. Neck champagne and chat up a gay man by accident. My radar is off. Then swap numbers with the hot manager, talking for ages without a single piece of body contact. “Slow-flirting,” I think. “Like it.” Continue slow-flirting with best man at my cousin’s summer wedding, wondering if no-plus-one is the romantic way forward? Meanwhile, Badoo finds 86 per cent of singles actively look for red flags when dating. We’ve become cynics. Or are we just too experienced for our own good?


Keep seeing best man from wedding until he says he’s not ready for anything romantic, the pandemic having floored him. “OMG, I just got honesty-bombed!” I think, wondering if I should be upset, then decide to see if as a false start. Having declared myself off the apps forever, I download Bumble, never having used it, and begin swiping for victory, wondering whether I’ll drop into the quarter of people Inner Circle report are jumping into bed quicker, or the quarter who’ll wait longer. Then I wonder what the other 50 per cent are doing? My article on sex parties comes out and I immediately get invited to Torture Garden by BDSM types I’ve never met on Insta.


“It is time, Mufasa,” I tell my bedroom mirror, Lion-King style, setting off on my first date in over a year. The guy’s a teacher so I figure he’ll be both nice, and also potentially instructive in an educational fashion if I really can’t remember what to do. During date, realise I’m being quite feisty (self-defence/fear/possible sexual tension) and apologise, but he says he likes it. Don’t let him kiss me and say I need to go slow. Later he texts to ask how long he would need to wait, being happy to, but potentially just needing to know if it “was, like, a year?”. Sleep with him on third date, congratulating myself for being a grown-up and not sleeping with people on the first date just because I like sex. Decide not to “soft-launch” him on Instagram, as is new Adele-trend, and having been very honesty-bombing about my intentions, download all the other apps.

I sleep with him on the third date and congratulate myself for being a grown-up


Cuffing season begins – everyone looking to be tied down in winter months – but now Badoo have coined it nuffing season: 75 per cent revealing they’re over cuffing and instead want to keep on dating. We’ve only just got it back after all. Yet for six in ten of us first dates are now ranked more stressful than public speaking thanks to the break. Not in that category, I go on first dates with a pea farmer, a “deviant” visuals guy, a drinks app lad, and an ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamy) social media type. After the first two, find myself in a car to Wales wondering if burning cystitis will stop me climbing a mountain to scatter my mum’s friend’s ashes. “Eileen loved men,” my mum says. Feel that I do also love men again, but that my body might not yet be used to them. End the month accidentally attending an Inner Circle singles party (first of my life) thinking it a Christmas shindig to meet the PRs now I have a dating column. “Sorry,” I tell the ex, I brought with me. It’s so rammed we can barely move.


Christmas party season knocks most of us off our festive perches with Omicron and all my dates start cancelling. Staring at my phone I recognise my new dating app obsession and ignoring it, go back on Feeld to find a new date. A fit pianist asks me out and feel better, suddenly understanding I am amongst the two thirds who’d rather not be single at Christmas, according to Badoo, who also say that feeling leads a third of us to text an ex. Having already mistakenly taken mine to a singles party, decide to press on with the Pianist. Stress and burnout at mismatches is felt by 80 per cent of us, say Badoo, but deciding hunkering down for the festive patch is extremely clever. “You can sit on my lap and tell me what you want for Christmas,” he says. “Can we have a much better 2022 please?” I ask.

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