diversity moves in: queer players stake a claim in gamer territory

Author: Emily Spindler-Carruthers 

Originally published in the Swinburne Standard.

When hero Ellie battles through the cycle of revenge in post-apocalyptic PS4 game The Last Of Us Part II, she is supported by her girlfriend, Dina.

The two call each other pet names in passing as they cut paths through infected creatures, dance to records found in abandoned cities, and experience all the mundane highs and lows of a queer relationship against the backdrop of the ruins of human civilization.

When Naughty Dog launched the second instalment of The Last of Us series in June this year, it became one of very few positive and realistic depictions of queer characters in games.

Including a queer protagonist in a genre usually featuring straight males is certainly unprecedented, but Ellie is not the only character to demonstrate increased diversity within video game narratives.

Narratives allowing players a choice in love interests, regardless of gender, are also new to the genre – one such example is the Fire Emblem series. The newest game in the franchise, Three Houses, also asks players to “pick a form” rather than a gender, using neutral pronouns throughout.

Nik Pantis (they/them), a non-binary game developer from Melbourne, says this change is partly due to an increase in “consultation with queer people and LGBTQIA developers working on games”.

Nik adds that this wasn’t always the case, with games from the ’80s to early 2000s often heavily stereotyping LGBTQIA+ characters – if there were any at all – or casting them as the butt of jokes. Case in point: the stereotypical portrayal of gay men as overly flamboyant, promiscuous, side characters seen in the Grand Theft Auto Series.

Now, queer representation in gaming is steadily improving, due to reduced stigma surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community.

This increase in representation serves to temper, even slightly, the “toxic” nature of gamer culture, where homophobic, sexist and transphobic slurs have been commonplace.

Queer gamer Bert Conner (they/them) who grew up in a rural town with “old fashioned beliefs and views”, says inclusive media is “crucial in reminding queer people that they matter, are valid and aren’t the only ones out there.”

“More [queer] gamers now have the opportunity to play something … that they can connect with.”

Despite these positive steps forward, Nik and Bert agree there is still a long way to go when it comes to depictions of LGBTQIA+ people in gaming.

“Inclusion does not equal representation. We need the exploration of queer narratives and telling of queer stories,” Nik says.

Video game Tell Me Why, they add, does well at exploring a queer story within its medium, and serves as a prime example of the direction positive representation in games could continue to go in the future.

Tell Me Why features a heavy but well-done story of a trans man after he had transitioned … a story like this may help to educate some folks on the lived trans experience.”

It is clear that players are pushing for more authentic, inclusive storytelling in video games – and game developers are finally starting to listen.

Featured image courtesy of Jorge Franganillo, courtesy of Unsplash.

how to manage your student income during a pandemic

Author: Alex Harvey, Money Coach

Money can either make you miserable or help support the realisation of your deepest dreams. – Bari Tessler

If managing a student income wasn’t hard enough, meet Rona. Rona’s here to shake up what you thought you knew and give you a good dose of uncertainty about the future.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

While it’s perfectly normal to endure tough periods and economic downturns, post-Rona, we have the opportunity to pick up the slack in areas of our lives where we weren’t taking the greatest care or focusing our attention.

You might think you’re currently worse off financially because of this pandemic. But what if it could actually empower you to change the way you looked at and managed your money, so that you ended up *better off* in the long run for having learned these skills?

Yes, this could be your big opportunity to get *woke* with your finances and lay the  foundation for the future you want, simply through building smart money habits.

In fact, why don’t you *make* this your opportunity to do just that?

Ok, so the problem is, you’re unclear on the amount of money have coming in, whether it covers everything you want and need, and how you can possibly save, when your income is all over the place.

Let’s break this all down a little bit…

Managing your money

The first, most overlooked step of managing your money and feeling great about it is creating your compass, aka *knowing where you want it to go*.

This is oh so important!

If you simply create a budget right now with no real thought about whether it reflects your goals and values – you’ll feel accomplished after doing it, but probably *never look at the damn thing again*.

Why?

Because more important things will come up in your life and fight for your attention, passion and motivation. And then what happens? Money continues to cause stress in your life and holds you back from what you want, rather than helping you get closer to your dreams and goals! Now that is a tragedy.

So, how do we avoid this? How do we make money management something we care about for more than 10 minutes, enough to consistently use an actual budget or system we’ve put in place?

We develop our budget based on what we care most about it!

Step numero uno is to create your compass (aka determine your goals and values).

These are your goals and values, money completely aside:

What do you value most? What’s most important to you in life?

What goals do you have within the next year?

What midterm or longer-term goals do you have in life?

And then you can ask yourself, do any of these require money? And if so, which ones can I build into my budget right now?

Maybe one of your top values is ‘community’, and you realise it would bring you epic joy to cook a meal for your friends once a fortnight, or have everyone over for tea and biscuits (once Rona has settled down a bit and it’s legal, of course)… and so you can build that into your budget.

Your budget may be pretty tight right now. And that’s ok. You can still usually find ways, even if small, to make money-related decisions that are aligned to what’s currently most important to you.

And even if don’t feel you can save towards your goals right now, the act of defining them and defining the money you’ll need to meet them will empower you to tweak your budget accordingly when your circumstances change.

Now your budget is something that’s getting you excited! It’s fun. It’s linked to what matters most to you.

The second step is to use your compass to put together a money plan and find *your number*.

Ok, so now that you’ve defined your goals and values (aka compass), you need to start putting numbers together!

You can start out with a rough budget, but you know what’s even easier?

Tracking all of your money for 30 days.

Everything you earn or receive, and everything you spend. Write down every single transaction; what it was (ie groceries, Uber Eats, phone) and how much you spent.

Once you’ve recorded 30 days’ worth of transactions, you can see exactly where your money went in a single month. You can then choose if you want your spending habits to remain the same or take a different path – aka one that is more aligned with your values and goals.

But you don’t stop there – you then keep doing this every month! And that’s the next step.

The third step is to work the plan, and track track track.

Now you have a money plan, you have to actually use it, otherwise having one is honestly useless!

What you want to do is keep tracking your money and then compare your spending against your budget. Where did you stray? Is your budget realistic? Do you need to make adjustments? Do you actually need to earn a little more?

And that’s powerful!

Do you need to earn more or spend less?

The power of this process is that it gives you really tangible answers.

Rather than saying ‘OMG, the world is collapsing, I’m not earning enough and I need more! I can’t cope I’m just going to watch Netflix for a bit and then work it out’.

You can say ‘Oh, my shortfall right now is $100/ week. How can I earn an extra $100/ week?’.

Boom. All of a sudden, making some extra money becomes tangible. Now you can set your mind towards working out how to earn $100/ week.

Just trust me, knowing the exact number makes a really big difference!

And my friend, that’s how you get started.

One step at a time.

(Psst. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or you’d like a hand, click here to check out my pre-made money planner & tracker – literally changes lives and it can change yours too).

So when are you going to sit down and first work out your compass (goals & values)?

Put it in your calendar! Or even better yet, why not do it right now?

As Bari Tessler says “Money can either make you miserable or help support the realisation of your deepest dreams.”, so why not support the realisation of your deepest dreams?

About Alex Harvey

Alex Harvey is a money & empowerment coach for ambitious millennials that want to live life on their own terms and have a meaningful relationship to money – in both how they earn it and use it. She believes that the more people that earn a living doing that they love and spend and save in alignment with their highest values and generosity, the more we can heal the planet and our dysfunctional money systems.
 
Alex has helped hundreds of people to significantly change their money story, save thousands of dollars, get off credit cards, pay down all their debt and build an income doing what they love. She does this through online courses and workshops, group programs, retreats and private coaching. To stay connected with Alex or learn more, sign up for her free VIP mailing list here.

COVID-19 Series: #3

Author: Jessica Murdoch 

When the stay at home orders were announced, mixed amongst my general concern was a sense of excitement that isolation would provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on reading, and allow me to (finally!) get to all those TV shows people keep recommending.

However, two months in (or however long it’s been. What even is time anymore?) that hasn’t really eventuated. One of the things I noticed early on in this crisis was my disinterest in watching new shows, or picking up anything unread on my TBR pile. Whenever I tried to settle into something, I felt restless. Choosing something new felt stressful, so I found myself falling back into old favourites I’ve seen or read a hundred times.

The thing is, this it isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this phenomenon. Around exam time or during a busy work period, when I’m feeling anxious, I often find myself falling back into these familiar patterns.

I’ve noticed others acting similarly, too. Is there a reason we reach for something comfortable and familiar when we’re feeling anxious or stressed?  If people aren’t seeking out their old favourite books or shows, they’re sharing their holiday throwbacks on social media, or even simple pictures of past ‘regular’ hangouts with friends, reminiscing about the good times with desperate pleas to ‘take me back’. This type of nostalgia seems to be a behaviour many of us are employing as a counter to the current situation we are all enduring.

In his book Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource, Clay Routledge discusses the way our understandings about nostalgia have changed over the years. Routledge explains that nostalgia was first studied in relation to soldiers fighting away from home, and was believed to be a medical illness. The Swiss medical student who coined the phrase actually defined it as “the pain caused by the desire to return to one’s native land”.

Since that time, researchers have developed a greater awareness that there is a lot more going on for soldiers than homesickness. With continued developments in the field of psychology, scholars started to look at the concept differently, and nostalgia began to be seen more as a general longing for aspects of the past. Not just places, but also people or objects. Rather than being an illness causing these symptoms, nostalgia began to be thought of as more of a behavioural response to distress or stressful situations. Over time, researchers began to consider that nostalgia might be a coping mechanism used to counter a negative state.

By the 90s, psychologists started to embrace a more positive and functional view of nostalgia. While current research still explores whether it is ‘good’ for you, it does recognise nostalgia as an experience that can generate positive affect – that is a greater propensity to happiness and positive emotions.

As far as the question of causation, Routledge points out that nostalgia is far more likely to be experienced when people are distressed than when they are happy or content, and that loneliness may be a particularly potent nostalgia instigator. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to assume that in a global pandemic, even if our immediate safety needs are being met, there may be plenty of reasons to be reaching for nostalgia to help us cope.

For me, it seems like the reading, cooking and listening I’ve been doing could easily fit into this idea of a coping mechanism. So, I’ve decided to outline some of the nostalgic ‘comfort-doing’ I’ve been participating in recently, and explore the kind of thoughts this practice has raised for me, in the hope that it might help you gain some clarity on your own nostalgic behaviours.

Now, I’m probably older than many of you reading – I’m an actual millennial, as opposed to the constantly lazy short-hand way that it’s misused as a synonym for ‘young person I have a preconceived prejudice against’. So, some of my nostalgic throwbacks are probably going to seem ancient to some. Or maybe you’re cool and you like my throwbacks too!  Either way, feel free to sub in whatever books/movies/music you were enjoying through your teens or childhood, and consider whether you’ve been using them in the same way.

Comfort Reading

Sweet Valley High and Anne of Green Gables are both series I read as a teenager. They’ve been providing me with the same level of comfort, only in different ways. Not only are they taking me back to a time when I had far less responsibilities, but they’re allowing me to press pause and escape from my ‘real life’ – just as they did back then.

The Sweet Valley High books have been pure escapism – and pure trash (in the best possible way). Now, anything that young teen girls love is often dismissed as being valueless. And if I’m honest, the feminist in me could rip them apart – particularly the early ones. The first one has unrealistic body expectations and body shaming… and that is literally just on the first page. I mean, they were published in the 80s.

But having the opportunity to figure out some of these things for ourselves is important – I mean, how can you learn what ‘good’ literature is, unless you read all types? That’s not to say these books do no harm to teen readers, but leaving that discussion aside for now, they served a useful purpose. That is: being dramatic, ridiculous, yes problematic, but ultimately soap-opera fantasy fun. Reading doesn’t always have to be serious.

On the other hand, the Anne books have a completely different, much more wholesome feel. There’s always the risk that when you go back to a childhood fave, you’ll discover just how problematic they were, which your naïve kid-self failed to notice (not like SVH above, I think they were blatant enough even for teenage me to see)…now, Anne is not perfect, but I have to say overall that they do surprisingly well for writing published in the early 1900s.

There isn’t glaring overt racism (aside from the overwhelming whiteness – yikes the bar is low). There’s plenty of heteronormative expectations being celebrated and some icky ideas about beauty norms but overall, Anne as a character is so interesting and complex and sweet, and there’s plenty we can still find relatable in her stories today. The vocabulary in this book is not oversimplified for children – and for a kid who loved learning (and mispronouncing, because she’d only ever seen them in print) new ‘big’ words, as Anne herself did, relishing this was a joy in itself.

As an adult, I found myself feeling much more emotional about her horrible start in life, but it also makes her growth, and the growth and growing love of those around her, that much more effecting. The thing about this series, is that it really does feel like it was written to be read as a serial – each chapter often feels very complete – which is perfect for a child to read with a parent. And I’ve been spacing them out to read just a chapter a day – reminiscent of the way I had to read when I wasn’t in charge of my own bedtime.

Comfort listening

I have a pre-adulting playlist already set up on Spotify, which I usually listen to when I have to do the shittier kind of adulting like cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming – but until now, I have never listened so regularly to so many of my high school faves. Spotify has started curating 90s and early 00s focused playlists for me, and it’s been fun rediscovering some oldies that I haven’t heard in a while. Vanessa Amorosi’s Have a Look came on at one point and I was instantly transported back to my high school bedroom, where I sang all those desperate break-up tunes so passionately, having never even been kissed.

It’s not surprising that we are so often attached to our high school hits, even in more typical times. The music that we love in our puberty years – when all of our emotions are often experienced in extremes – will always have a powerful place for so many of us.

Writing for Slate.com, Mark Joseph Stern says, “between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments).”

Comfort cooking

Don’t worry, this subheading is not about making bread (although more power to you if you find that comforting). In fact, a little content warning for this paragraph: like so many of us living in a society where diet culture is constantly being thrown at us, I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship with food. And at times when my mental health has been at its lowest, the effort of making food is often the first to go. Luckily, I’m in a place of my recovery where I’ve learned to notice early warning signs.

For me to make healthy (and by that, I mean, not disordered) food choices, it’s important to remove as many barriers to cooking as possible. That might mean buying precut vegies for example, or ready-made sauces. While I’ve been working to be more mindful of environmental impact and reduce my meat/animal product consumption  for the last five or so years, for my own mental health, I can never place completely rigid rules around my food consumption. With the added stressors popping up currently, I’ve had to loosen those restriction even more and simply give myself permission to accept that I’m doing the best I can.

Usually, I still make the vegetarian option, but the easy, familiar meals of my childhood – often a stir-fry with vegies and some kind of meat – are the best way I can take care of myself right now. The constant jokes and memes about people’s fear of weight gain is damaging enough, putting restrictions on the way I keep my body alive in a global pandemic is something I can’t afford to do.

Those are a few of the ways that nostalgia is helping me at the moment. The truth is, I don’t think I’m feeling terribly lonely right now. I’m an introvert. I’m independent. I enjoy my alone time. But I am anxious, and more than a little stressed about the general state of the world.

Besides, there’s a difference between choosing to stay at home and having to stay at home to keep everyone safe from a global pandemic.

For me, the truth is, having an excuse to stay home is not always the best thing. I may like being shut away at home (insert introvert meme here) but having the perfect built-in excuse to isolate from people is not always the best thing for my health. It’s human nature to do the comfortable thing and with the way ‘self-care’ is often packaged to us these days, it’s easy to convince ourselves that leaning into comfort is the best thing to do. It’s like I have society’s permission to shut myself away and that’s not always the healthiest thing for my brain. I like being on my own but that’s not always the best thing to keep my brain healthy.

So, although I’m enjoying relaxing into some of these nostalgic comforts, I’m also trying to stay aware, so I can catch myself if I start to spiral a little too deeply into my comfortable past.

I mentioned earlier that researchers weren’t completely convinced that nostalgia is ‘good’ for us. While it can be a soothing behaviour, that doesn’t automatically equal good for us, and research has shown that in some cases it can lead to feelings of frustration and discontent.

Dr. Krystine I. Batcho, a licensed psychologist who researches the psychology of nostalgia, says that “the main risk for unhealthy nostalgia lies in trying to do it all ‘solo’”.

Speaking to Mary Grace Garis for Well and Good, she says, “if we find ourselves becoming trapped in sadness, we need to reach out to others. Not only is it great to receive support, but it’s incredibly beneficial to extend support to others. Extending a digital hug to another feels good and can encourage us to look forward to better times. Just as there were good times before, there will be good times ahead.”

Overall, aside from the inconvenience of trying to self-motivate when it comes to studying online, I’ve not found my isolation to be the worst experience. I know how incredibly lucky I am to be in a more secure position than many – the increase in Austudy has meant I’ve actually had enough money to pay rent and manage other living expenses – which is a whole other piece of writing.

I have a safe place to live, enough money to buy food and pay my bills, and friends and family to check in with. So, taking comfort and joy in familiar things while also making sure I’m staying in contact with friends and family, and looking after myself physically and mentally has mostly been manageable.

The truth is, it is important to be gentle with ourselves right now. I’m not going to say that we’re living in unprecedented times, because holy shit am I sick of hearing that from companies still trying to sell us their products. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t the experience we thought we would be having in 2020.

So, if you’re feeling a little stressed about your current circumstances, or more than a little anxious about the future, remember that you can take a little comfort in some familiar experiences, solo or with others, and you’ll be in good company.

About Jessica Murdoch

Jessica is a writer, teacher and experienced list maker who is currently doing a media and comms degree.

She has spent almost a decade teaching primary age students and is passionate about young people having access to critical literacy skills, opportunities to express themselves and quality representation in media. She uses writing to help her figure out her opinions about books, pop culture and the world.
 
You can find her collection of bookish thoughts and reviews, as well as the occasional food shot on her blog or Instagram @mermaidhairandtales. She’s also had writing published in previous editions of Swine and Other Terrain.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

federal government pushing university sector “off the cliff” with proposed hecs reforms

Author: Millie Spencer

University students’ HECS/ HELP loans will face termination if they fail more than half of their units, under the Federal Government’s proposed Job-Ready Graduate Package.

National Union of Students (NUS) President Molly Willmott says the package is “incentivising success through fear” and shows “no compassion” for the students it will effect.

Willmott stresses that certain students are failing “not because they’re lazy,” but because of the impact these extenuating circumstances may have on their ability to study. She believes the experiences of these students are not being considered by the government when introducing these changes.

“We see the HECS aspect of this as an extremely punitive measure to punish students without any sort of acknowledgement of the issues [they] face and why [they] struggle with degrees,” Willmott says. 

She continues, “the government says this is to protect students and to protect taxpayers, but what we see is, this is just punishing students for circumstances outside their control.”

“The reasons why students don’t succeed in studies is not because they’re lazy, it’s because of issues like access to study [or] cost of textbooks.”

“It’s also about students with [a] disability or survivors of sexual assault on campus, when these students don’t report, can’t report or don’t have proof of the impact on their studies.”

According to End Rape on Campus Australia, students who have been impacted by sexual violence are more likely to fail their courses in the semesters following their assault.

“Education providers can waive the punishment [set out in the Job-Ready Package], however there is a lot of under-reporting of sexual violence on campus leading to a lack of proof,” Willmott says. 

“Survivors will have to prove that something happened to them and prove their trauma to make sure they keep their degree.”

This package also comes after months of turmoil in the university sector, with fee hikes and staff cuts.

“Universities can’t provide support services when they’re firing staff,” Willmott contends.

“If we want to see students succeed we need to improve on-campus services, such as counselling and psychology, so students can talk to professionals if they are struggling. “

Minister for Education Dan Tehan says the changes “would ensure the sector was focused on assessing whether a student was academically suited to their course on an ongoing basis, not just at the point of enrolment.”

Willmott disagrees, countering that this package “promotes students who are able-bodied, white citizens,” leaving those that belong to minority groups at a disadvantage.

“It’s those more marginalised groups especially students with a disability and migrant students, who are going to be affected by this the most,” she said.

“Students deserve the right to an education, they deserve to be treated with compassion and acknowledgement of [their] struggles.”

Willmott is calling for “an entire perspective shift from the government away from students are lazy and universities are bad.”

“Our sector is failing right now and all [the government is] doing is pushing it off the cliff.”

Featured image by Tim Gouw, courtesy of Unsplash.

 

a new era of masculinity

Artwork and writing by Belle M. 

Stoic, strong, unemotional and dominant are words commonly associated with masculinity. Unsurprisingly, these male stereotypes are further fuelled by the mass media and entertainment industries. Over the last couple of years, however, these industries have experienced an incredible shake-up, with various talented young men ushering in a progressive and exciting new era for masculinity

A famous, and much-loved example takes the form of Harry Styles, well known for infusing some much-needed colour and flair into the music industry. Styles confidently blurs the Fine Line between society’s black and white definitions of masculine and feminine and gay and straight. Alongside his beautifully progressive song lyrics, Styles further defies toxic masculinity traits through his androgynous clothing choices, colourful and embellished suits and jewellery choices.

Then there’s the promising young actor Timothée Chalamet, star of a plethora of groundbreaking projects including Call Me by Your Name and Beautiful Boy. In these films and many others, Chalamet clearly and effectively embodies complex characters exploring complex emotions.

His raw and impassioned performance as Laurie in Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Little Women is a testament to this. One could say that Chalamet is showing the world, one film at a time, that unbottling your emotions and expressing yourself doesn’t make you any “less” a man. Oh, and not to mention – Chalamet has quickly become a fashion icon for his show-stopping red-carpet ensembles, head of soft curls and genuine kindness towards his fans.

When Spider-Man: Homecoming was first released, numerous headlines proclaimed Spider-Man as “the most feminist superhero”. On the surface, this is a lighthearted and fun teen film, however British actor Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker is surprisingly nuanced. Spider-Man is openly emotional and awkward, doesn’t claim to “have all the answers”,  and makes a clear point of respecting women.

Tom has also been making waves outside of his role as an iconic Marvel superhero. In an interview with GQ magazine, Holland opened up about being bullied at school for practicing ballet in the gym instead of the traditional “boy’s sport” rugby. Tom proudly admitted that all those hours wearing tights and dancing by himself in the school gym has been incredibly valuable to his career on a number of levels, and is something he doesn’t feel like hiding.

Perhaps the most nuanced and diverse expression of masculinity is through K-pop. Fans enter a colourful universe when they watch these mesmirising music videos, with vibrant and ever-changing hair colours, elaborate outfits, dainty jewelry and glowing flawless skin. Whilst the authentic and progressive K-pop aesthetic is sadly known for making many Americans uncomfortable, this only emphasises how the Western psyche does not associate masculinity with softness or beauty, unlike some other cultures. However, K-pop music has still amassed an enormous passionate fan base – aptly named “army” in the case of boy band BTS. This speaks to the diverse nature of the genre, highlighting its enchanting and liberating appeal to men and women from varying nationalities.

Together, these multi-faceted and courageous men (alongside many others) are dismantling the long-established boundaries of gender stereotypes, emphasising that men can do things typically seen as more “feminine” without threatening their own masculinity.

In the words of Harry Styles, there’s so much “masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine… and becoming comfortable with who you are.”

COVID-19 Series: #1

Author: Millie Spencer

In the first week of semester 1, my Global Media Industries lecturer began his lecture by telling us that 70% of people meet their life partner at university…so if we didn’t want to die alone, we should turn up to class. Looking around the room of first years, I could see from their wide eyes and open mouths that they were experiencing an epiphany: ‘I’m actually going to bother turning up to uni!’ But then we were hit with COVID-19, forcing us to stay home, interact with people via a screen and most likely ruin our chances of ever meeting a life partner.

Victoria’s forced lockdown has evidently destabilised traditional expectations of dating life. How has this societal shift, combined with the general instability of life as a university student during a global pandemic, impacted on the lives and mental health of students?

Jazzy Swedosh, a second year Bachelor of Health Science student, suffers from   depression. She told me that COVID-19 exacerbated her tendencies to overthink, resulting in her becoming introspective to the point where she almost lost grip on reality. Her partner who had never experienced depression before also began to suffer, as a result of social isolation and not being able to attend university on campus.

“He needed me to emotionally support him just as he’d done so often to me, but my struggles with mental illness prevented that,” Swedosh explained. “I’d try to help him, but my lack of self-worth believed that I was the reason he was depressed, and that my selfishness about making it all about me only made him feel worse.”

Swedosh and her partner have been together for over a year and generally see each other daily. “[Pre COVID] My boyfriend and I went from having sex every day to about once a week, I was expecting the opposite and I even invested in some sex toys for us to use together.”

Although Swedosh and her partner continued to see each other, they felt their “connection begin to dwindle. “We both lost our sex drive and began to feel not 100% comfortable around each other. We communicated all of this and talked regularly about how this feeling of emotional distance was affecting us, but it’s still just so hard.”

They are currently still seeing each other, but less frequently, Swedosh told me – in the hope that it will give them some more clarity about how to handle this situation. “We are so in love with each other and this is our first real rough patch, and it’s been so hard realizing that we are not immune to struggling with our relationship (as I know no one else is).” She is holding out hope things will go back to normal and their relationship will be stronger than ever. “I am 100% certain that the amount of love we have for each other will prevail and we will be stronger after getting through it together .”

Like Swedosh and her boyfriend, COVID-19 has affected the mental health of many young people in Australia. A recent ANU study indicated that 10.8 per cent of Australians reported a serious mental illness compared to 8.7 per cent in 2017. With young people aged between 18-34 years being largely responsible for this increase, the impact of the pandemic on our dating lives becomes clearer.

However, the global pandemic didn’t quite spell doom for P’s love life. P, a Swinburne student and academic staff member who wishes to remain anonymous, took to online dating for the first time during the pandemic. It had been a while since she last had a relationship, so she took the opportunity to delve into the world of dating by downloading Bumble.

She swiped right and quickly initiated a connection with someone who worked near her. “We recognised each other from work, so it was already a bit promising,” P told me. They managed to catch up for two dates before Victoria was in a complete lockdown and decided to continue dating by moving their relationship online, where they tried to be inventive with their virtual dates. Because her date worked in the hospitality sector, they organised to cook food for each other and drop it off to their respective houses “without actually interacting”. Video calls asking deep questions, virtual cards against humanity and Netflix watch parties were also common for the pair.

P said they had “great conversations” and got to know each other quickly, which was a welcome contrast to her previous dating experiences, where the physical tends to happen early on. “In this case it was very much like getting to know the person for who they are, which was really lovely.”

However, P said the online dating experience was full of ups and downs. Sometimes she would feel amazing after their dates, while at other times, they would message each other and express how flat they felt because they couldn’t see each other in person. “I think those ups and downs sometimes can impact you a lot harder, especially in isolation. You don’t really have your friends that you can see in person to vent to, or chat about the date with, you can talk to them with video call, but it’s different to when you can just hug a friend.”

With her main focus during the pandemic being to keep her family safe, keep herself safe “and not spread anything”, P set clear boundaries with her date, including “not catching up in person until the health authorities/Government said it was finally safe to do so.”

While they were aware of the fact that partners were allowed to see each other during lockdown, P says they we were not quite at “that stage”, which left the pair in a “weird grey area.” These boundaries proved to reveal their compatibility. “I eventually found out he was not really honouring the lockdown restrictions, whereas I was being a bit more strict with them.”

As restrictions started to ease, P arranged an in-person date. But the week before the date was due to happen, her date became very “flaky and distant.” Eventually, he called P and told her “considering you’re so worried about the health side of things, you know, I’m still going to be going out, catching up with friends. I’m still going to be doing all this stuff and I’m not sure how comfortable you’re going to feel around me. So maybe it’s best we wrap this up.”

“It threw me off quite a bit, because his personality on the phone was completely different to how he had been this entire time,” P said.

P said this experience was a “massive learning curve”, with her date’s refusal to adhere to lockdown restrictions “being an indicator of [us] not being on the same page in general”. “If someone can’t take the situation seriously and do the right thing, it makes you question how seriously they’ll take any situation.”

She advised that for anyone struggling with dating or relationships, setting boundaries that allow you to uphold your personal values is vital ,“especially during something like a pandemic when you have kind of no choice but to uphold those values, you can really kind of filter out the ones who are really not meant for you.”

Essentially, this experience has allowed P to learn more about herself and unpack what she wants in a relationship. Though online dating can be flaky and end quickly as a result, “either way [it’s an] insane learning experience and, definitely something that you reflect on when you’re like 80 years old and you’d be like, yeah, during the COVID-19 pandemic I dated someone.”

“I think it’s given me a really good insight into dating, for when it becomes a bit more normal again. Honing more into that beginning phase of really getting to know the person and testing those boundaries and seeing where you both lie,” she said.

“Pandemic virtual dating [is] actually quite a heavy thing to deal with and what would typically be a casual dating experience could end up [feeling] just as serious as a monogamous dating experience,” she added.

“For anyone who’s not done long distance before, you know you can do it if you can do it in a pandemic.”

P is now more open and confident about the idea of online dating. Mid-pandemic or otherwise, explaining that she “definitely wouldn’t deny the experience in the future.” With that said, online dating can foster a “keyboard warrior mentality” that may leave couples less connected to each other. “Sometimes I think you make promises and, you know, you kind of create all these ideas because you feel less, I guess, attached to the situation because it is more virtual.”

In order to succeed, P believes that online dating requires a mutual agreement between both people from the beginning, to ensure that clear boundaries are set and open communication is established.

“I think it takes a cliché; it takes two to tango.”

She added that both people should disclose what they are willing to do or not do, understand each other’s preferences and engage in consistent, open communication.

“And you know, the minute you feel like you can’t do it anymore, just say it because the worst thing is not getting messages back for a week.”

Though COVID-19 has simultaneously impacted the relationships and mental health of students, it has allowed some young couples to forge stronger bonds. Pippa Criss-Chisholm, a fourth-year part time student studying Games and Interactivity, has been living with her partner Austin throughout the pandemic. Criss-Chisholm has had to take on the “home maker role rather than working partner role” after losing her job.

“I somehow feel as if I have let down my feminist predecessors by losing my job,” she said.

Criss-Chisholm explains that her mental health has suffered as a result, presenting a challenge for the couple.

“[Austin] is endlessly supportive but when I’m spending 9 hours of my day by myself, a lot of those hours after dark, there is only so much he can help.”

Despite these difficulties, Austin has been a great source of support for Criss-Chisholm. “He held me through my tears of anger and grief, my panic and not being able to get what we needed from the shops,” she said.

“He has been my rock. He even nursed me when I became sick and had to isolate after testing and made sure I was warm and cared for.”

Criss-Chisholm has noticed a change in her relationship dynamic due to the stress of losing her job and being isolated from family and friends. Being alone for most of the days, Criss-Chisholm now treasures the evenings and weekends when Austin is home from work.

Evidently, dating during COVID -19 is complex and multifaceted in nature – and doesn’t come without its low-points. Many of us have had to adapt by moving beyond conventional ways of initiating and maintaining relationships.

2020 has been life-changing for many of us, but the stories of Jazzy, Pippa and P have shown that when we think creatively, support our partners and set clear boundaries, our relationships can serve as a great source of comfort when the world feels like it has been flipped on its head.

About Millie Spencer 

Millie is a first year Media and Communications student majoring in Journalism and Media Industries. She has written for the Swine, The Standard and is the editor of Boroondara Youth’s online publication SPACE Reviews. Millie has a background in Arts and Events and one day hopes to work as a Producer or Media Advisor for a media outlet or arts organisation. In her spare time Millie enjoys walking, baking sourdough, playing with her puppy Bonnie and shopping for earrings made by local designers, adding to her growing collection!