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Couples during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic adapted to the times by kissing through surgical masks. (Photo provided via @ClaireCJS on Flickr)

Here’s what dating looked like during a previous pandemic

COVID-19 has warped many of life’s joyful moments and replaced them with mundane, sorrowful alternatives. Birthdays turn into smaller gatherings filled with pity, summer turns into a strange three-month period where holidays cease to exist and school turns into frustration from teaching yourself five courses at once when your WiFi situation couldn’t possibly be worse. 

2020 can feel like a personal hell, and to make matters worse, our dating and sex lives have gone up in flames with it as well. Quarantine stopped newly blooming relationships and ‘situationships’ right in their tracks. There’s nothing easy about trying to nurture anything romantic during a pandemic, let alone actually meet someone to even spark a connection with. However, people are adapting to the times by having socially-distanced dates, establishing hookup pacts and embracing the online dating scene. 

If this year has taught us anything, it’s how to not be shy. Since the element of “bumping into” someone no longer exists, you now have to go out of your way and initiate plans if you want to see someone. Even if you and your boo have already DTR’d, chances are no one will know since PDA went flying out the window, along with everything else this year. Dating or having a consistent sex life is hard right now. However, it used to be a whole lot worse. Here’s what dating used to look like during a previous pandemic:

Kissing was extremely controversial and frowned upon

During the 1918 Spanish Flu, people felt just as cockblocked as Americans do now, if not more. Cities all over the world issued “kissing bans” and special protocols to stop the spread of the H1N1 virus. As WWI ended, people were forbidden to hug or kiss the soldiers upon arriving home, in fear that they were carrying the virus. In 1920, The Bisbee Review reported that a man was arrested in Madrid for kissing his wife in public. The law “forbid a man from kissing a woman on the streets of the city with or without consent.”

Back then, star-coughed lovers did their best to keep their spark alive amidst all the rules. One loophole that was used was kissing through a handkerchief. “If you must kiss, kiss via kerchief,” warned a headline in New York City’s The Sun newspaper in August of 1919. “Otherwise you may get the Spanish Influenza, or it will get you.” Nowadays, people can still be practicing PDA by kissing through masks, as seen on Vogue Portugal's coronavirus-themed April 2020 cover.

Marital ads were the old-fashioned Tinder

Since there was no element of just casually running into the love of your life, people took to the newspapers to find new love interests. Singles would often submit profiles and take out martial ads in classified sections of newspapers. Similarly to how we would swipe left or right on Tinder now, people during the Spanish Flu would flip through pages looking for a suitable match.

People couldn’t rely on their dating apps to seal the deal for them, which is why this was the time period that love-letters truly became more popular. There was no instant messaging, so people had no choice but to craft a letter and wait patiently for a response in the mail. 

“Petting parties” became a thing

Once immunity from the Spanish Flu was achieved after a few years, dating still began to evolve during the roaring twenties and sexual revolution, duh

The perfect visual of a “petting party” is the scene in The Great Gatsby (2013) film when Nick (Tobey Maguire) is first taken to Myrtle’s (Isla Fisher) New York apartment for a drunken afternoon with no shortage of kissing or alcohol. Petting parties or “kiss fests” are how people channeled their tent up sexual tension into intimacy. However, the parties always stopped before intercourse because having friends around prevented people from feeling pressured to have sex. 

A hundred years ago, petting parties became the bane of society as older people began to view the gatherings as a symbol of rebellion. In 1921, beach officers in New Jersey were ordered to throw ice water on seaside petting parties and 15 couples in Pittsburgh were fined for publicly engaging in a kiss fest. 

If history decides to repeat itself as it did with the pandemic, we can look forward to not only a normalized world but what will be our very own version of the roaring twenties. While waiting patiently, have a moment of silence for all those that had to write love letters during the last pandemic and will never know the art of sliding in the DM’s.


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