iTHINK | Modern love: Pandemic tales of love, loneliness, and loss

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As the love month of February draws to a close, we’re now just a few weeks away from spending a full year in community quarantine.

For those of who have partners, this pandemic has proven to be the ultimate proof that love, indeed, is less about moments of ‘kilig’ or fancy date nights. It’s about patience, understanding, kindness and communication. Now more than ever, conjuring that selfless love is mandatory. Sharing a home with your beloved can make an otherwise difficult and claustrophobic situation not only bearable, but often meaningful.

This pandemic has also proven to be the ultimate stress test for couples who suddenly find themselves unable to visit their significant other – especially those in long-distance relationships. I came across this article about transnational couples who have been kept apart by Covid-19 and have started an online movement to petition governments around the world to recognize their relationships and grant them entry visas to allow them to be with their partners again. Love knows no boundaries, and the determination of these lovers to conquer all is nothing short of admirable.

The single ladies and gents I know consistently laments how the situation has made finding someone special so much harder. Many of them have resorted to online dating apps, but the pandemic continues to pose a hurdle. After all, it’s understandably hard to gauge chemistry and compatibility solely through messaging and video calls. Those who have attempted to actually go out for a date with their online match say that the distanced seating and acrylic barriers in restaurants have made conversations more awkward than they have to be.

But, love is proving itself to be essential. Covid-related challenges have not stopped people from seeking it out. Countries around the world including Singapore, the United StatesGermany, the United Kingdom, and yes, even the Philippines have reported a sustained surge in online dating app usage for the past 12 months.

A recent Fortune article notes that in March 2020, Tinder recorded its highest-ever number of swipes on a single day: 3 billion. Another dating app, OkCupid, saw a 700% increase in dates for the period of March to May 2020. The female-led Bumble app reported a 70% increase in video calls among its members.

If I were to hazard a guess, this is probably driven in large part by the collective sense of isolation that the pandemic has forced on us.

In my personal life, being a father to two beautiful daughters means the world to me and it would be excruciating to not be able to see and be with them, especially during these extra challenging times. As a professional. I’m fortunate to see my colleagues at least every other week when I report to the office. However, I still do yearn for those times when we could go out to dinner and drinks after work or unwind with a night of uninhibitedly bad karaoke singing. I miss being able to travel to visit family and friends abroad, attending reunions, weddings, and concerts. I can imagine how crushingly lonely it can be for those who completely live by themselves.

That crushing loneliness, if left unchecked, can also make people more vulnerable. While romance scams are not new, they have been given new life as people look for attention and connection online.

Alongside the boom in online dating, romance scams reached an all-time high in 2020, with a record $304 million lost to these phony suitors, according to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This is a 50% increase from 2019, despite information and communications campaigns from government watchdogs, advocacy groups, banks, and the media.

Victims are often older people who are more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and are also less adept at navigating the pitfalls of social media. So how can you protect yourself or someone you love from falling prey to these loathsome lotharios?

For starters, check in on them more often and more meaningfully. When you call them, ask them how they are and who they’ve been talking to lately. Be concerned, but not judgmental so they will be more open with you. If they mention somebody new, ask about the nature of their interactions and watch out for the usual ploys such as selling a sob story, asking for money, asking for personal information that can be used to compromise their bank accounts.

If you happen to be the person who has just met someone online who you think you may have a romantic future with, be on the lookout for sudden requests for money – whether it’s for medical expenses for a family member or other emergency. Also be mindful of requests to use your mobile number, email, online payment account, or credit card for “just one transaction.”

Even if you’ve spent hours talking online, you don’t really know him or her.  The FTC advises the public to “never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.” You can visit their website for a comprehensive list of how to spot, avoid, and report romance scams.

This is also in line with the constant advice that banks like BPI tell customers: “Never give your OTP (One-Time PIN) to strangers who call, text, or email you” – because a bank personnel will never ask for it. Doing so may not just break your heart, but also your bank account.

I think love and being cybersecure have a thing in common – it’s both a shared responsibility between the parties involved.

Stay safe, everyone. Let’s all pray for better, lovelier days ahead.

The author is the vice president and head of corporate affairs & communications of BPI and is concurrently the executive director of BPI Foundation

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