How Coronavirus Is Changing the Dating Landscape
The silver lining? Removing the physical component and going deeper emotionally could be the key to finding a lasting relationship.
We're all getting used to the concept of social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, it means lots of QT trapped inside with your significant other, while others struggle to balance family life and homeschooling children while still carrying out their jobs from home. People who fall into either of those camps might be lamenting close quarters and endless distractions right now—but for singles, the self-quarantine situation is creating a different set of challenges.
"Two weeks ago, it might have been fun to be single, but now there's been a whole shift in perspective," says Lindsey Metselaar, New York City-based host of the relationships podcast We Met At Acme. "It's making people think, 'What am I doing?'" Being stuck at home and feeling lonely might be causing some serial daters to examine what they really want out of life, she adds. Instead of running around and going out constantly, people are starting to think about how they can find someone they really want to spend their life with and to get through difficult times together.
Dating App Habits Evolve
Jamie*, a 34-year old publicist in Los Angeles, was logging into dating apps like Bumble and Hinge several times a day and going out on a few dates a week before the coronavirus situation exploded. This month's events, however, have drastically changed her habits. For one, she's cut back on usage, swiping much less and only logging on maybe only once a day, she says. "I think this has ultimately helped me see how much unnecessary time I spend swiping and meeting people," she says. "I now look at a profile and think, do I really want to talk to this person endlessly for weeks? And most of the time, it's a no."
In a time when it's not acceptable to meet up IRL, it's understandable there's a certain "what's the point?" factor in starting up new matches—but limiting her usage has also had a positive side effect. For the foreseeable future, Jamie is focused on growing deeper relationships with matches she's already met or talked with and felt definite chemistry, often in messaging or phone conversations that take place outside the app.
Having someone to talk with about the current situation is comforting and meaningful, she says, but it does have a downside. "I am afraid [this situation] will make me single for longer because at a certain point you have to [be able to] physically hang out," she says.
People seem to be shifting to more of a "quality over quantity" approach to dating, according to Abby Lev, Psy.D. clinical psychologist, founder of CBT Online and Executive Coach and Director of the Bay Area CBT Center. "Single people are interested in finding someone, but they are approaching it with more intention and being more mindful about what they're looking for right now," she says. That means people are becoming less concerned with shared interests and more concerned with deeper qualities. "I think there's a way in which our core values are more in the forefront than they used to be," she says. "The more impactful this virus is, the more that we are looking for certain qualities like honesty, integrity, follow through. Those qualities are becoming more important."
A tricky part of dating has always been navigating how and when to ask certain questions: Do you want kids? Will you take an STI test? But now, a lot of people are also making a point to ask about whether a potential match wears a mask or follows social-distancing guidelines. "Now the way people approach the coronavirus is part of the dating criteria," says Lev. "There are certain people who do not want to be dating someone who's not very, I guess, 'COVID-ly responsible.' So people have to move much slower before making the decision to meet in real life."
Apps like Bumble do offer ways for users to facilitate deeper conversations in-app, such as voice calls and video chats, and are publishing guidelines on how to date during coronavirus (though pieces like this one get outdated very quickly as the situation rapidly changes). A spokesperson for Bumble says usage has remained steady and on-trend for this time of year, and that they've noticed users mentioning coronavirus more within their profiles. "It's one way to stay connected to real people without having to meet in the physical world," the spokesperson adds.
Which Apps (and Matches) Are Taking Hold
Another, newer dating app called S'More (currently available in New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C.) is reporting an uptick in usage statistics. "We're seeing 2x longer conversations on our app, so average conversations are now 30 back-and-forths, which is pretty substantial," explains Adam Cohen Aslatei, CEO and founder, who's worked in the dating app industry for a decade. Daily activity during the week is also spiking 30 percent, he adds—likely due to the fact that people are spending much more time at home.
It's worth pointing out that functionality is making some apps much more successful than others right now. For example, apps like Grinder and Tinder (which declined comment for this story) that have a reputation for quicker and more casual encounters come with a much higher risk because, at this point, it's not a good idea to connect with someone on an app and meet up a few hours later, says Cohen Aslatei. (Related: Dating Apps for Health and Fitness Enthusiasts)
S'More, on the other hand, has been called the "Love Is Blind" app, as users must first get into a conversation with a potential match and interact with their profile (by "winking" mutual interests, listening to their voice-recorded answers, and more) in the app for their profile picture to unblur. "As a generation, we've been making decisions based on a headshot, which could be old or inaccurate," says Cohen Aslatei. "We want you to be in relationships, and they start with communication, not judging someone by a photo."
In his opinion, there's never been a better time to start building a relationship using dating apps. He's anticipating the coronavirus situation to continue to drive more conversations where people feel free to express their feelings and their fears pretty early on in relationships. "In times of crisis, you tend to connect on a deeper level because you're more vulnerable, and we're all vulnerable right now because no one knows what's going to happen," says Cohen Aslatei. (Related: Why Your Anxiety Disorder Makes Online Dating So Damn Hard)
Feeling the Single-ness—and Taking Action
As a generation, millennials are overwhelmingly single: 57 percent have never been married, according to Pew Research—but 65 percent say they would like to get married someday. As the first millennials are about to turn 40 next year, many are feeling their single-ness and using this global coronavirus situation as an opportunity to take stock of where they are in their lives; as a result, many are choosing to invest in forming more meaningful relationships, with the hope of finding an S.O., says Cohen Aslatei.
Lola Méndez, a 30-year-old travel writer currently living in Uruguay, is experiencing this shift. She maintains profiles on the dating apps Happn and Bumble with the goal of finding a long-term connection. "I recently decided to move back to Uruguay where my father is from, and in an ideal world, I would love to build a loving and trusting relationship with an Uruguayan." But "this has proven to be a hilarious challenge so far," she adds.
Méndez suffers from asthma, so she elected to self-isolate in her home starting late last week. Right now, she's optimistic about getting to know a few people through the apps who seem interesting—without the pressure of meeting in person or physical intimacy. She estimates her usage has gone up by about 25 percent or so as of late. "A few matches have suggested meeting up and I've told them I won't be available until this is over," says Méndez. "Some stopped responding, but honestly that's a great way to weed people out who aren't interested in getting to know me." (Related: Why Dating Apps Aren't Great for Your Self-Esteem)
Virtual Dating That Goes Beyond Apps
Beyond dating apps, there have been efforts to continue some semblance of dating on social media. For example, this week comedian and matchmaker Emma Vernon launched an Instagram series called S X S (Social x Single), through which she'll be posting photos, interviews, and video clips of handpicked "singles of the day." Followers can send her comments if they're interested in dating someone from the series. And UpDating, a Brooklyn-based dating show that involves two potential matches getting to know each other while blindfolded in person, is experimenting with a modified version of the concept on Instagram Live.
Ultimately, virtually meeting and connecting in a time of crisis could be the way you meet someone with whom you're truly compatible—a silver lining to what's shaped up to be a truly traumatic situation around the world. At the end of the day, it's important to remember: We're all in this together.
"You should use this as an opportunity to get deep with someone on a level you probably wouldn't get to in-person until a third or fourth date, says Metselaar. (As a bonus, it's actually a really good thing for people who don't like the small talk of dating.) And how people respond in a time of crisis is a good relationship test, too. "If they are able to act in a way you agree with," shares Metselaar, "[they] could be someone who becomes truly important to you." (More here: 5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Sex and Dating, According to a Relationships Therapist)