Nicole, 28, thought she’d hit the love lottery with a “charming” British guy she met on Hinge in February — particularly when the city entered lockdown a month later.
Her new boyfriend, a former chef, appeared to take COVID-19 seriously, always agreeing to get tested before they spent time with anyone outside their bubble, including her parents, grandmother and friends, some of whom are immunocompromised.
“What I didn’t know then was that he would cheat on me the night before he would come to my parents’ house in Connecticut and do his laundry,” the downtown NYC entrepreneur, who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons, told The Post.
Cheating appears to be as rampant as ever — perhaps even more so during the pandemic, when folks are locked into less-than-ideal situations and the stakes of breaking up seem so much higher.
“I think people are trying to replicate pre-COVID thrills,” said Lindsey Metselaar, host of “We Met at Acme,” a popular millennial dating podcast.
She thinks the pandemic is also squeezing some couples into a box: Stay together and be miserable — or stay together and step out on the sly.
“Smart people who are unhappy in their relationships are breaking up, but scared people are still staying with their partners, which is probably why they’re seeking something elsewhere,” Metselaar said. “They’re scared to be alone since being alone now means being really alone.”
Those who selfishly try to have it both ways tend to fall into one of two buckets.
There are those who use the digital realm to flirt with infidelity — subscribing to OnlyFans, sliding into an ex’s DM or following porn stars on Instagram to name a few examples.
Without a partner’s consent, though, sexting with strangers is indeed cheating, experts say.
“If you’re texting things that you wouldn’t want your partner to know about or having Zoom calls that you wouldn’t want your partner to walk in on, you’re cheating,” said Sophie Saint Thomas, a sex writer and author of the forthcoming book, “Sex Witch.”
“Pandemic or not, thinking that you’re just chatting with someone in LA and that it won’t affect your relationship is just wrong. It’s something shady you’re doing on the side.”
Then there are those who carry on their affairs IRL — and risk the health of everyone around them.
When Nicole learned that her boyfriend, also 28, was seeing at least 15 different women during the pandemic, she sent a message to all the ladies he followed on Instagram and TikTok, alerting them of the potential health risks of being with the lothario.
“I warned them about the risk of going home for Thanksgiving and urged them to be COVID-safe,” she said. “I started getting messages from women. Some told me they’d been hooking up with him for months, and others said he was aggressively soliciting them for nudes.”
Beyond feeling betrayed, Nicole remains most upset about having unwittingly put people she loves at risk.
“The traumatizing part is that I let this person into my life, but he could have killed my family,” she said.
Likewise, Maya, a 24-year-old brand manager for a ride-hailing app in Mexico who splits her time between Mexico City and NYC, was also distressed to learn that her boyfriend had recently strayed.
The couple had been looking at something on his phone when a woman — whom Maya recognized as a “gorgeous” Mexican modeliving in NYC — DM’ed him a profile photo.
“I confronted him about it,” said Maya, who withheld her last name for professional reasons. “He admitted he had been flirting with her, and I broke up with him on the spot. Later, I found out they had sex, but he couldn’t admit that he did something wrong.”
“Nothing was enough for him,” she said of the boyfriend, 30, who lives in Soho and is trying to open his own restaurant during the pandemic.
Still, she’s decided to take him back — provided he goes to therapy.
“There are two kinds of people during COVID: the ones who don’t want to take anything for granted and those who say, ‘I’m not going to waste my time. I’m going to have fun.’ Those two mentalities are clashing big-time right now.”
That feeling that “life is short” may be partly driving the unfaithful.
“People have been confronted with their mortality in a way they’ve never been before,” said Serena Kerrigan, host of “Let’s F*cking Date,” an Instagram Live dating show.
Ultimately, she said, being dishonest with a partner is a symptom of a bigger issue.
“Right now cheating feels a lot less like, ‘Ooh this is fun and secretive,’ and more like, ‘I want to change my life and I don’t know how to do it,’” Kerrigan said.
“Sadly, cheating is the most cowardly and immature way to do that exact thing.”
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