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  • Writer's pictureGiulia Zoppolat

Love in the Time of COVID: 2 years later

An update on the ongoing international research project


Note: the following post first appeared in the Love in the Time of COVID project blog.


March 2022 marks two years since the world changed. It also marks the two-year anniversary of the ‘Love in The Time of COVID’ international research project. When we first set out to study how people were connecting, relating, and coping during the pandemic, we never really imagined just how interested people would be in participating in this research with us. But two years later, we count over 5000 participants from over 57 countries, hundreds of whom have continued to participate month after month, and dozens of research collaborators from across the world. As such, it is time to reflect on what we have accomplished together so far. The ‘Love in The Time of COVID study started as a bi-weekly survey in March 2020. After 6 surveys, we then switched to bi-monthly surveys, and then switched to every four months. We are now on the 14th survey! This has given us some incredible data to examine people’s experiences not just at the beginning of the pandemic, but also how things have evolved over time. We are so incredibly grateful to all participants, and especially to those who have stuck with us for such long time. If we could, we would thank each and every one individually! In lieu of that, here is an update on how the data provided has helped advance science and what we know about people’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. - First, in a project led by Dr. Jiang of Rutgers University, we found that people with lower levels of education experienced greater financial distress during the pandemic, and worse mental health. Although the pandemic has been challenging for most people, it has not affected everyone to the same extent, and more attention is needed to protect certain populations. In the words of the main author of this paper, “these results suggest the need to address financial stress related to the pandemic to narrow mental-health disparities among adults from low educational backgrounds.” - Second, in a project led by one of our ‘Love in the Time of COVID’ co-founders, Giulia Zoppolat of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, we wondered, did an increase in screen time during the pandemic, which helped us all stay connected, also influence people’s romantic relationships? Short answer: yes. We found that people who had greater pandemic-related stressors (lockdown, health worries, loneliness...), tended to use their phone more while in the presence of their romantic partner and also used social media more. In turn, they reported more conflicts in their relationship and worse relationship satisfaction. It is likely that technology can be a detriment when it interferes with quality time with one’s partner. - Third, in a project led by another ‘Love in the Time of COVID’ co-founder, Dr. Balzarini of Texas State University and the Kinsey Institute, we found that the pandemic negatively affected people’s romantic relationships, but people who had a partner that was responsive to them— who listened, understood, and cared about them – were protected from some of these negative effects. As the lead author says, “At the very core, these findings suggest that being cared about, feeling valued, and being understood helps. In fact, it might seem too simple, but these qualities in partners might actually be the best medicine we have. They might help make things better even when they can’t be made right.” - Fourth, in another project led by Dr. Balzarini, we asked, what is sex in the time of COVID like? In this research, we found that, over time, when people experienced stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. health concerns, financial strain), they also reported having less sexual desire for their partner, and this was in part due to external stressors triggering depressive symptoms. You can read the scientific papers directly above, or, alternatively, check out these pieces in popular media outlets that have covered our work: - “Will the pandemic ruin your relationship?” in Psychology Today - “This quality may help protect your relationship from COVID-19 stress” in Psychology Today - “Expert Advice On Love, Dating, and Pandemic Relationships” in NPR’s Consider This podcast - “Do you really want to break up, or are you just horny for post-vax summer?” in VICE - “Caught in a COVID romance: How the pandemic has rewritten relationships” in The Guardian - “How the pandemic has changed our sex lives” in BBC - “More sex. Fewer fights. Has the pandemic actually been good for relationships?” in The Guardian - “Feeling too schlubby to have sex? It’s not just you” In Wall Street Journal - “If you are dating, the pandemic may have sped up your relationship. So you make it or break it sooner” in Toronto Star In addition to what is already available, we are working behind the scenes on several other exciting projects. Together with colleagues Anne Harris, Timothy Valshtein, and Ana DiGiovanni from Harvard and Columbia University, Christina Leckfor and Daisi Rae Brand from the University of Georgia, David Rodrigues from the University of Lisbon, Niyantri Ravindran from Texas Tech University, María Alonso-Ferres from the University of Granada, Betul Urganci and Anthony Ong from Cornell University, Pielian Chi from the University of Macao, Lara Kröncke, Mitja Back and colleagues from the University of Muenster, Nipat Pichayayothin Bock from Chulalongkorn University, Christoffer Dharma from the University of Toronto, Dominik Schöebi from the University of Fribourg, Johan Karremans from Radboud University, Anik Debrot from the University of Lausanne, Amy Muise from York University and Francesca Righetti from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, we are pursuing the following questions (and more): - Did people in long distance relationships (LDRs) experience more or less conflict and passion in their relationship compared to those not in LDRs? - Is Zoom fatigue real? And why do we feel it? - Who is more likely to engage in health-protective behaviors like social distancing? - Are extraverts really suffering more than introverts? - How are parents doing? - Has boredom been killing relationship passion, but can engaging in new and exciting activities sustain it? - Can affectionate touch help romantic relationships during stressful times? We are excited about these research questions and can’t wait to share more soon. To all of our research participants: thank you, this would not be possible without you. A big shout-out also to all of the research assistants, led by the incredible Megan Tracy, who have also been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this all run smoothly. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

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