Anne Katz, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a certified sexuality counselor and clinical nurse specialist at CancerCare Manitoba. She is the author of This Should Not Be Happening: Young Adults with Cancer and is an avid blogger for ASCO Connection. Ian Scott, MSW, RSW, is a social worker and the adolescents and young adults (AYA) psychosocial clinician at CancerCare Manitoba. He provides counseling and support to teens, young adults, and their families and supporters. The authors of this post have no relationships to disclose.
Online dating has become increasingly popular in the last 10 years. In fact, since 2013, more people have met their partner(s) online than in person. While many people might prefer to meet someone in “real life,” meeting online is more popular and common than ever. And now that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down and inside out, online dating seems like it’s the only way to go. When you can’t go out to bars, parties, or other places where you might meet someone, your phone or laptop becomes your only option.
With online dating, you can take the time to look at lots of profiles and then talk to anyone who seems like a good fit for you. Sure, you’re taking a chance. But life is about taking chances, and you never know what might come of it. After messaging with someone you’re interested in for awhile, talking on video chat or on the phone is the next step. This helps you get a better idea of who the person is since you can hear their voice and, better still, see them. That way you can check out if their profile picture is really them—and they can do the same to you!
Pros and cons of online dating during COVID-19 and cancer
One of the advantages of online dating, especially for someone with cancer, is that it gives some distance from the other person. There is a certain amount of safety in meeting someone online, especially if you have scars or missing parts. You can take your time getting to know the other person and choose when and how you disclose your cancer history. It provides some distance, both physically and emotionally, and that can be good.
Another positive of online dating during this time of COVID-19 is that it has taken sex and money off the table. Because of this, you don’t have to be pressured to show or share your body with someone that you don’t know well. This can protect your feelings and reduce your stress. Plus, you don’t have that awkward issue of who is going to pay for coffee or drinks. COVID-19 has forced dating to be slow, which allows time to get to know someone and for someone to get to know you for the strong, brave person that you are.
But even with the benefits of online dating, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are disadvantages to it as well. Perhaps the most annoying thing about online dating is when someone abruptly stops messaging you and never talks to you again, also called “ghosting.” This can be confusing, hurtful, and enraging all at once. Is it because of something I said? Did they stop talking to me because I have cancer? Why did I waste my time on this person?! You end up questioning the relationship you thought was developing, and you might tell yourself that you should have seen it coming.
Even though ghosting is commonplace and unfortunately not going away anytime soon, the reality is that it is a form of passive-aggressive communication and a sign of emotional immaturity (both of which are red flags in any relationship). It can be upsetting if you think someone ghosted you because they can’t handle the fact that you were diagnosed with cancer, but it’s important to ask yourself if that person really is worth your energy. If someone ghosts you, make sure to remind yourself that it’s a reflection on them, not you, and that it is important that you don’t close yourself off from other potential healthy relationships.
Another disadvantage to online dating is that it can sometimes lead to problems with truth-telling. Since people can spend all the time they want editing their dating profile, you might find yourself asking: Is that actually a photo of them? Are those their real hobbies listed or are they just meant to sound good? Do they truly love dogs? The lack of truthfulness can cut both ways, and you might be tempted to change your dating profile to what you think will sound better to a potential partner. “Think” is the key word here, as you are better off being truthful. Honesty helps avoid complications in the future, especially if you get to the stage of video chats or eventually meeting in person. That doesn’t mean you have to put your cancer diagnosis on your profile; cancer doesn’t define you, and there are so many other aspects of yourself to include. It just means you should use the same level of truthfulness that you would expect from someone else.
Another thing to remember when dating online is that it can be hard to find a “spark” with someone that might usually be easier to feel in person. Without being physically present with the other person, it can be hard to gauge how well you might get along.
You might also want to consider what kind of connection you are looking for, and then choose dating apps based on that. Are you looking to hook up or find a long-term partner? Can you afford to pay for a profile that will give you better search results? There are different options available for different dating goals.
A lot of people have been experiencing isolation and loneliness since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s extra hard if you are dealing with cancer at the same time. If you are already dating online or thinking about trying it, make sure to consider the advantages and potential pitfalls so that you can improve your chances of having a positive experience.