A few days before the coronavirus pandemic swept through New York City, transforming everyday life as we know it, my best friend went on a date. She’d hit things off with a guy on Hinge and they had plans to meet up at a bar for a few rounds of pinball — standard first-date stuff for the world of four weeks ago. But as she was getting ready to leave, she received a series of worrisome texts. Her date might have been exposed to coronavirus at his office and was waiting for his coworker’s test results. “I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you tonight and feeling perfectly normal,” he said, “but I’d totally understand if you want to reschedule.” She thought it over and agreed to see him anyway.
What followed was a sweet but strange evening: They greeted each other with an elbow bump, sanitized the pinball machine with Clorox wipes, and exchanged Purell instead of a goodnight kiss. The city shuttered bars and restaurants the next day, putting an end to traditional first dates for the foreseeable future. My friend still wonders if she should’ve asked for a rain check.
Flash-forward to April and nearly half of humanity has retreated indoors for an indefinite stretch of semi-solitary confinement. For the unattached, you’d think this would be a terrible time to meet someone new, but people are adapting to distance in creative ways: Virtual hangouts are the new house parties, and sending Seamless to your partner is the new romantic dinner. Since my friend’s Hinge date last month, the app has launched a “Date from Home” feature that allows users to notify matches when they’re ready for a 'digital date' to chat face-to-face.
We may be separated by six feet or hundreds of miles, but in a way, we’re more connected than ever.
So, what does this social phenomenon mean for the future of romance? How can we care for each other (and ourselves) in a healthy way — and stay relatively sane? We reached out to dating and psychology experts to answer these questions and more. Read on for their insight, and to find out how readers are navigating love in the age of covid-19.
To swipe or not to swipe? The pros and cons of looking for love in a pandemic.
Single life can be liberating, especially if you live alone. No one can complain if you load the dishwasher wrong, forget to fill the soap, or hog the TV all day. But as time goes on, some solo-dwellers like Jessica Adams are concerned about the impact of isolation on their romantic life. “I’ve always avoided dating apps because I like meeting in person, but now they’re the only option,” says Adams. “Part of me thinks that swiping could boost my morale, but it could also feel pointless after a while.” Lots of singles are facing the same dilemma as social distancing continues. With everything that’s going on, is it worth the effort to look for love online?
That depends on whether your desire for connection stems from a fear of being alone, says relationship expert and bestselling author, Susan Winter. “For some people, loneliness can translate into an obsession with finding a partner. Ask yourself: Is it possible that I want a partner way too much? If you suspect the answer is yes, take advantage of this time to be alone.” It’s not often that life gives us opportunities to examine ourselves to this extent. Identify what scares you about being alone and survive it; you’ll emerge from your self-quarantine with a sense of self-trust that will serve you well in your future relationships.
If you feel motivated to meet someone new and have time at your disposal, this could also be a great time to get to the heart of what — and who — you’re looking for. “This is an opportune time to create real connections with people because you can’t jump into sexualizing a relationship,” says Winter. “Really getting to know each other now will make your relationships stronger once restrictions are lifted.”
This rings true for Bumble user Jasmyn Ellis, who says she’s felt a “seismic shift” in online dating since the coronavirus started to spread. "I've noticed that I'm making deeper connections with people online and I've come across more people that I'm attracted to. I don't know if it's because the pressure is off to meet with someone in person, but I've noticed myself becoming more vulnerable with the people I'm meeting on Bumble since the quarantine began."
Taking charge of your dating life can also help you to stay positive in these uncertain times. “Focus on the things you can control and try not to make negative predictions about your future — romantic or otherwise,” says New York City-based psychiatrist, Mildred Borras Ph.D. “Be confident in your efforts and remember that you still have choices.”
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Dating apps are reporting a rise in activity — and meaningful connections.
If social distancing has revealed anything about us as humans, it’s our universal need to connect — and the evidence is unfolding on dating apps in real-time. Priti Joshi, vice president of strategy at Bumble, reports that the platform saw an 84% increase in in-app voice calls and video chats between the week of March 9th and March 23rd — the two-week period in which social distancing rules went into effect. For Joshi, this surge in communication confirms that users are seeking new means to engage with one another.
“I think this change in our lives has really put a spotlight on the tools that help you feel connected to others digitally,” Joshi remarks. “Bumble is seeing more than one in four chats turn into something more meaningful" — such as an in-app call or video chat — Joshi says, "and we’re expecting these trends to evolve as more people are looking for ways to combat isolation and loneliness.” The average length of Bumble voice calls and video chats is now 26 minutes, indicating that users are taking this time in isolation to get to know each other, perhaps on a deeper level than they may have prior to COVID-19.
Other dating apps are reporting a rise in activity as well. As of April 4th, OkCupid reports a global increase of 10% in matches, with a 30% increase in messages sent since March 11th. The app notes that women are also engaging more, striking up 40% more introductions than before. A recent study by Hinge also shows that 70% of users are interested in going on digital dates, so if you’re up for a virtual meeting with one of your matches, the odds are in your favor.
But coronavirus is changing how singles chat on the apps.
You’ve matched! So… now what? Chatting on the apps is a delicate art. It usually starts with a compliment or a cheesy pick-up line, and if the conversation makes it past this hurdle, there’s a bit of banter that either leads to a date or to radio-silence. At least, that’s how it was before the coronavirus changed the rules. Now chats are starting more frequently and lasting longer, so what are people talking about?
According to several users, conversations vary but COVID-19 is a main point of discussion. On Hinge, Haleigh Bernbaum finds clever ways to bring it up early on while expanding into other potential topics like entertainment and career. The last time a match asked her what she was up to, Bernbaum replied that she was trying to find a healthy balance between Netflix and productivity. (Aren’t we all?) “It’s a simple way to address the situation without getting too personal right off the bat,” Bernbaum explains, “and it gives us an opportunity to talk about something that feels normal.”
Rebecca Brown* recently started a Bumble account because she wanted to see how other singles were handling isolation. “Most conversations start with how we’re staying busy during quarantine,” says Brown, “But I’ve noticed that nothing kills a conversation faster than talking about my work and getting a response like, ‘I’m not working,’ or ‘I’m not essential.’ I’m lucky to have a job, but now it feels weird to mention it.”
Brown also notices a wide range when it comes to her matches’ level of coronavirus caution; some are afraid to leave their house while others still think it’s OK to have people over for a front-porch party. In either case, seeing how potential partners react in a crisis situation can be instrumental when deciding which ones to pursue further.
How to get creative with virtual dates:
Say you do meet someone and decide to connect virtually. How can you keep video chats interesting so that they feel more like actual dates? As the solitary weeks stretch on, singles are getting creative. Alisha Collins* matched with someone on OkCupid back in February and they went on a couple of dates pre-pandemic. Now that they’re sheltering in place, they set time for happy hours via video chat and watch movies “together” while texting back and forth. “It’s not the same as hanging out in person, but staying in touch with him keeps the spark alive,” says Collins.
As for the conversation, this is the perfect time to ask questions about your date’s life, passions, goals, and dreams. “Be sure to touch on both sides of the getting-to-know-each-other process; both the bigger issues and smaller details,” Winter suggests. Share projects with one another, swap playlists, take a digital tour of a museum or national park or make the same dinner in your separate kitchens. The creative options are endless, and actually kind of fun.
Nervous about your first video chat with a (literal) virtual stranger? Before going on a virtual date, the Bumble VP recommends that you charge your phone, find the right lighting, and wear whatever makes you feel your best, even if that means sweatpants and slippers — they won't ever know.
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