It’s a classic meet-cute: Jason Zenz and Andrea Martin met on Hinge in March 2020, against the backdrop of the onset of the global pandemic. OK, not quite classic, but a now common love story. While in pre-pandemic life, the two might have gone out for drinks or gotten dinner at a neighborhood spot, they had to adapt, as is the case for life under COVID-19.
Not wanting to miss out on getting to know one another, the two began going on virtual dates. While both nervous at the potential awkwardness of getting to know a romantic interest over FaceTime, they quickly grew to enjoy each other’s company, cooking dinner on calls together and playing Jackbox games.
“The jankiness of it was fun,” Zenz says. “And she had such a great energy and positivity and just fun energy about it all. So the awkwardness evaporated pretty quick.”
After about a month of getting to know each other virtually, the pair met in-person in May, free of the traditional awkwardness of an official first hangout.
“I felt like I already knew him when I met him,” Martin says. “I think we got a lot closer and our relationship kind of grew faster in some ways because we’ve only ever spent time together alone.”
Rachael Caise and Christian Bolivar of Elgin similarly connected on Bumble in March 2020 after being “locker buddies” in middle school. After a great first date, their relationship was put on pause when Bolivar contracted coronavirus shortly after.
“The next morning I texted him and I said, ‘When can I see you again?’” Caise says. “He replies with, ‘I think I have a fever.’”
As Bolivar recovered, the two got to know each other from a distance, incorporating unique methods of communication to supplement the loss of in-person time together.
“We spent the next week and a half just connecting on voice memos and being pen pals, talking on the phone, and we watched Netflix together at the same time and literally just were falling in love,” Caise says.
After Bolivar overcame the virus, they spent more time in-person together, with Bolivar eventually moving in to reduce the risk of spending time in different households.
While there is currently less access to traditional hot spots for meeting someone special—bars, nightclubs, and parties—that doesn’t mean that chance encounters have been fully eradicated under COVID’s rule.
Bryce Rogers and Charlie Kolodziej, both 21, ran in similar social circles, but hadn’t gotten to know each other one-on-one. In a truly modern example of a meet-cute, the pair were formally introduced in June as they partook in a 19-hour sit-in at the University of Chicago Police Department.
“We both went to that independently of each other and met there and ended up being locked in the police department overnight,” Kolodziej says.
The two got to know each other over the summer, becoming official in September. One of their first tests as a couple occurred a month in, when Kolodziej stayed at Rogers’s apartment for three weeks while their roommate was infected with the virus. While Rogers was admittedly “quite nervous” at how quarantining together would impact their relationship, it ultimately brought them closer together.
“There’s so few people I could spend 24/7 trapped in a room with and not be, like, crazy,” Kolodziej says.
For Avery Ferin and Seth Lemke, both 22, they had already been dating long-distance for more than two years when stay-at-home orders were first enforced in the city. After Ferin briefly moved back to Michigan from Chicago for the beginning of quarantine, the pair moved to Lakeview together in July 2020. While apartment-hunting with a significant other has its own set of challenges without factoring in a pandemic, the two had to be intentional in their browsing due to both concerns over social distancing guidelines and the distance between the city and their hometown.
“One thing that was nerve-wracking about finding this place was that we were both living in Grand Rapids at the time; that’s a three-hour drive away,” Lemke says. “So when [we were] setting up opportunities to look at a place, we’re gonna drive three hours to look at it and it might not be the one. So we really got lucky that we stumbled across our place.”
Courtney Cobbs, a polyamorous woman living in Rogers Park, is currently only seeing one of her two partners—whom she calls “lovers”—and only after “multiple negative COVID tests.” She says that a polyamorous lifestyle is not entirely compatible with the current state of the world.
“I think it can be challenging to be polyamorous in this moment because I think there have been some people who have transitioned to monogamy because it was easier for them to only have to manage, quote unquote, one person,” she says.
When asked what excited her the most about a post-COVID existence in relation to her dating life, she says the prospect of “meeting people more organically.”
“I miss dance parties so I’m looking forward to spotting a cutie on the dance floor and just like going for it,” she says.
While the specifics of each couple’s situation vary, each expressed excitement at the thought of being able to utilize Chicago in its full capacity and being able to spend time with their partner’s circle of friends.
“Chicago is such a fun city and you go to bars and stuff and, obviously, we haven’t gotten to do any of that,” Ferin says. “I haven’t really gotten to show [Lemke] the city which is a bummer.”
While it remains unclear when “normal life” will return to Chicago—or the world at large—each couple is looking optimistically toward the future and making the most of being together.
“The world has seen so much, so many horrific things from this virus,” Caise says, “but it brought us together.” v