Canadian university students share their thoughts on romance in 2020

Turns out COVID-19 isn’t as much of a hindrance to university dating as insecurities, school and time are

In Maclean’s annual student survey, we asked students to tell us about their romantic lives, everything from how they’re dating during the pandemic to what they think about consent to what traditional parents think about putting relationships before school. Read on for seven students’ perspectives on romance in 2020.

Boreyum Chum (Courtesy of Boreyum Chum)

Boreyum Chum (Courtesy of Boreyum Chum)

Boreyrum Chum, 21, third-year public health student at Brock University

I’ve never been in a relationship, but that’s not important to me right now. I have some relatives in Keswick, Ont., but I’m far away from most of my family, who live in Cambodia. So I often feel lonely regardless of how many friends I have. Some days just hit me harder than others: I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work I have, I’m anxious about the future and I’m worried about life decisions. On those days, it would be great if I could share all this with someone. We could help each other out through tough times and grow together. Still, I do not think I am ready to handle a relationship right now. I have other goals, like spending quality time with friends and family, and being happy with who I am. I wish people my age or younger knew that there’s nothing wrong with being single.

Jay Manera (Courtesy of Jay Manera)

Jay Manera (Courtesy of Jay Manera)

Jay Manera, 26, fifth-year construction engineering student at École de technologie supérieure, Université du Québec

My family and friends expect me to be in a relationship. When they bring up the conversation, I always say that I’m not ready because I’m busy with schoolwork. But that’s usually just an excuse to change the subject. In reality, it’s because I’m 26, still a student and living with my parents. I feel that I am lagging behind professionally and financially, which makes me self-conscious and kills my confidence. And I don’t want to generalize, but I do believe most women my age (mid- to late 20s) are looking for a partner that is financially stable since they’re mostly concerned about marriage and having children. That makes me unsuitable for these women because we’re in different stages of life. So I’m going to hold off on romantic relationships until my 30s when I should be thinking about settling down and raising a family.

Robert,* 20, third-year computer engineering student at McGill University

I don’t really know how to date. Dating a person generally requires more courage and luck than finding friendships. I wish I knew how to find dates, considering I’m in a male-dominated faculty. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Campus clubs? Off-campus clubs? How would I find excuses to see the same people again, when most campus activities with more than a dozen participants are short-term? I also wish I understood dating culture. I’m from Saskatchewan, but most of the people I meet at university are from Ontario and Quebec. Ontarians seem to be open to diverse experiences in terms of food and activities, while Quebecers seem to treasure their bubbles more. Finding a girlfriend is actually near the top of my priority list, after finding an internship. Many students feel the pressure to find work experience and career success, but for students like me who are from low-income households, this is especially true. But that also means I have less time to look for and accommodate relationships.

*Last name withheld for privacy reasons

Catherine Blais (Courtesy of Catherine Blais)

Catherine Blais (Courtesy of Catherine Blais)

Catherine Blais, 22, third-year economics student at Bishop’s University

I’ve been in a relationship for about nine months now, although for the first month and a half of that I insisted that we were just casually hanging out. He’d made it clear from the beginning that he wanted something more serious, but he was willing to be with me without the label if that was what I wanted. After winter break last year, my university started up before his college course, so he made the four-hour trip to Sherbrooke, Que., and spent a week with me in my apartment. I caught “the feels,” as we say. Now we’re together and happy. There is a stereotype of the nagging girlfriend, which I don’t feel represents me at all. I actively make sure my partner is making time for social activities and personal projects. With COVID, though, I started asking a lot of questions when he made plans with friends. How many people are going to be there? Will you be keeping your distance? Are any of you also in other social groups? It made me uncomfortable to be that kind of partner, but I also take being a responsible citizen very seriously.

Dominic Ong, 19, first-year business student at Simon Fraser University

My parents and I don’t talk about romantic relationships too much, but whenever we do, they always tell me to focus on my grades and that my studies and career should come first. They seem very adamant about that. I don’t think they don’t want me to be in a relationship; it’s more that they see education as a way to provide a stable and better life, so they want me to focus on school. I’m sure I could date, but I don’t want to rock the boat too much. I do think it’s important to have a romantic relationship, though. If you’d asked me a year ago, the answer would have been different because I was very focused on school and working on increasing my earning potential. But with COVID-19, I’ve been stuck at home and I’ve been thinking a lot about my future and where my life is headed. I am starting to feel like people are what makes life good. Having a romantic relationship (or any stronger relationship with people outside my physical home) is becoming a priority, but I will probably wait until I move out to date.

Ashley Bruce (Courtesy of Ashley Bruce)

Mickey Morgan (Courtesy of Mickey Morgan)

Mickey Morgan, 20, third-year art student at Emily Carr University of Art + Design

I don’t have time to date. I have to take a full-time course load (12 hours of in-class time plus the equivalent of that studying and completing assignments) to get the amount of student loans that I need to pay for tuition, books and living costs. And before the pandemic, I worked four days a week as a kids and youth program facilitator, so that took up a lot of time. I’ve also been considering the possibility that I might be aromantic, since I’ve never really been one for dating. I’m more interested in someone who meets my needs as a friend for emotional support and hanging out; someone I also have sex with. I’ve been casually seeing the same person since late high school—she’s someone who meets my needs for intimacy at this point in my life. It can be tough to be a lesbian, even at a liberal arts school. Expressing Sapphic affection has always been a barrier for me. It’s like, “No, I’m not trying to be just friends.” Another barrier to dating is my fear of flirting—embodying the oppressive, icky man—even though that’s not something I can be because I’m not a man. There’s obviously rape culture, patriarchy and all of these different factors that contribute to the objectification of women, and I don’t want to be that. I know I’m not the only lesbian who has felt this way.

Ashley Bruce (Courtesy of Ashley Bruce)

Ashley Bruce (Courtesy of Ashley Bruce)

Ashley Bruce-Rose, 30, master’s student at Brock University

My boyfriend has asked for consent regarding something recently. We talked it through, I told him I wasn’t ready and he was okay with it. There are a lot of other things that are fun that we’re both comfortable with. I believe consent is the basis of all good relationships. You can’t move forward without knowing whether your partner is comfortable and okay with whatever you’re suggesting. If I wasn’t with my boyfriend and I was dating someone new, I know I would talk about consent up front—by the third date at least. I think it’s important to communicate the things I don’t want to participate in.

This article appears in print in the 2021 University Rankings issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Dating culture, explained.”

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