Okay, we get it. The words “romance” and “pandemic” don’t exactly sound as if they belong in the same sentence. In fact, one might assume that dating is the last thing on people’s minds during the COVID-19 outbreak. But dating apps like Hinge and the League, which have recently added a video option for people to talk face to face, would have to disagree: They’re seeing such an increase in traffic that they’re scrambling to find ways to adapt to the changing needs of users. As overwhelmed as people are by the pandemic, let’s face it: We’re also stuck inside, which can be a lonely experience. People are looking for ways to make meaningful connections without going outside and putting themselves or others at risk. When you look at it from this perspective, the online dating boom actually speaks to a collective sense of social responsibility of young people. That virtual dating is becoming the “new normal” is a testament to that fact.
The Perks of Being an (Involuntary) Wallflower
Before we discuss different dating apps and the unique experiences they’re providing, let’s talk a bit about the impact of a shifting dynamic. Before the COVID crisis, the main objective of online dating was to meet in person, thereby getting to know the other person more intimately. But now people are challenged to reach that next level online, making meaningful connections without meeting in person.
Although doing this without the natural flow of face-to-face contact can be daunting, research shows it’s not impossible. In fact, many psychologists now theorize that people can truly get to know each other and make meaningful connections without meeting in person. For introverts, virtual dating can actually reduce interpersonal anxiety by allowing time to think before answering questions.
It’s also worth noting that people like to move forward with potential love interests at varying speeds. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard girl friends- and sometimes guy friends, too- lament that they would rather get to know someone slowly, but invariably give in to the pressure to meet up right away. Let’s face it- it’s easy to make assumptions from the distance of virtual dating. When a love interest takes time to meet in person, the object of their would-be affection often cuts it off before it has time to bloom. The assumption may be that the other person is “playing games”, “wasting time”, or simply isn’t interested. But for those who aren’t in a rush, virtual dating without the potential to meet up within the next few weeks offers an opportunity for relationships to develop more naturally.
And while we’re on that topic, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. I think we all can agree that no decent human being would pressure another person for sex. However, the reality is that it’s impossible to fully know someone before spending a significant amount of time together. Disappointments and even scary experiences happen all the time, creating both real trauma and stigma around virtual dating.
Right now, sex with someone you just met if off the table (don’t worry, it can be on the table later, and will be much sexier without the threat of contracting a novel coronavirus). Meeting up for dinner and drinks is also off the table (unless you want your meal with a side of potentially deadly germs). The intention here is not to be gross, but you get the drift. Without the possibility of sex or even seeing one another in person, it’s easier to weed out the people who were just looking for one thing. (Disclaimer: If you are just looking for one thing, there’s nothing wrong with that- except, of course, during a pandemic).
Naturally, the end game is still to meet in person at some point down the line. But when it’s not possible- such as for virtual long-distance lovers or, say, pandemic survivors seeking a mate to survive the apocalypse with- online connections offer possibilities. Let’s explore some of them.
Interest in video dating has understandably increased during the self-quarantine, and dating apps like Tinder and Match are adapting creatively. For now it’s out with long walks on the beach- and in with virtual happy hours, online speed dating, and one-on-one video chats. It may not have the same traditional appeal as dining by candlelight or those long, cliched walks on the beach, but dating experts say there are positives. People are learning to take initiative in their dating lives; they are forging their own patterns toward intimacy rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all structure that definitely doesn’t fit all. Without the pressure to follow that preset path, people are getting to know each other through video chats, which are more revealing than text. (Match.com has a video feature aptly called “Vibe Check”).
Tinder and Hinge have similar interfaces. Essentially, you match based on pictures. Hence the inevitable hookup culture that these apps are often criticized for exacerbating. Somewhat ironically, there has been concern among the dating masses that dating from home further diminishes traditional romance in society. As often is the case, technology has been dubbed the villain, but people are nonetheless turning to it. For many, video chatting has begun to look better simply because it’s the only option. Be that as it may, dating through technology is at least partially reviving romance. It may not be happening in the traditional sense, but by relegating hookup culture to the backseat, this new structure is shifting the focus to genuine intimacy- the kind that results from getting to know one another without expectations getting in the way.
Are Romantics the New Rebels?
According to a Pew study done in 2010, a meager 36 percent of adults say marriage is one of the most important things in life. That statistic may speak partially to the reduction of societal pressures to have a nuclear family, and not underscore a lesser value placed on love and intimacy. But that same study revealed that only 28 percent say they believe there is one true love for every person- and men are more likely to believe it than women. Thes stats give new meaning to the old phrase, “Romantics are the new rebels”. They also arguably justify the looks-based platforms of Tinder, Hinge, and other modern dating apps.
We’re not saying that these are negative developments. The emotional freedom to live a life that is true to oneself is one of the perks of being a millennial for many of us. But for those who still prioritize romance, there are some definite perks to being a government-mandated wallflower. Okay, so that works better in theory than it sounds out loud, but you get the picture.
How Can You Make the Most of Virtual Dating?
Unsurprisingly, dating from home requires us to be a little more creative. When hearing the words “dating from home”, many will cringe at the thought of asking the same old “What are you doing?” question day after day. What is anyone doing? Most of us are Zooming through a confusing maze of boredom, anxiety and concerns about toilet paper. In this vein, you can also try the old standby “How are you today?” But this will likely yield similar variations of “bored, anxious, and concerned about toilet paper”. If we want to get beyond the banal, we have to take a risk and share deeper layers of our thoughts and feelings. Breaking down barriers to intimacy doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time, and for many of us, it’s the one thing there is no shortage of.
Collectively, there has been an important shift from external routine and responsibility to internal feelings. Simply put, we are sitting with ourselves. We’re living in the moment to the best of our ability in a culture that normally places emphasis on the future. The fact that we’re all navigating this new territory, together but apart, should at the very least inspire some new thoughts and ideas.
It’s important to know that there are no right or wrong questions. Simply taking a risk and speaking candidly about small parts of the day is usually more than enough. You don’t have to dive right into the abyss and share the existential fears that have plagued you since the first Dunkin Donuts drive-thru closed. Sharing the small stuff may not feel like the stuff of Harlequin romance, but it’s enough to spark a real, meaningful conversation- the sort of which we miss out on often during our regular routines.
And don’t be afraid to call in the experts! More and more, Zoom sessions with psychologists and dating experts are cropping up online to offer support. Jane Dutton, professor of business administration and psychology at the University of Michigan, places value on authenticity. She points out that letting others see the messy reality of daily life may actually be more conducive to intimacy than presenting a “perfect”, curated image.
According to Statista, 53% of people lie about their height, weight, or job on their dating profiles. Although eharmony reports that 40% of Americans use online dating, Statista reports that 1 in 5 have had negative experiences with it. There is a whole litany of potential reasons for this, but it may have something to do with the way we relate to one another online. According to Statista, 53% of people lie about their height, weight, or job on their dating profiles. As dating culture becomes less about marriage and family, and more about fun and enjoyment, one result is that some people base their choices on looks (at least initially). But a decreased focus on convention and family doesn’t apply to everyone- in fact, 1 in 3 marriages begin with online dating! And for those it does apply to, dating isn’t necessarily a more superficial experience. Sometimes the cultural change in focus means that people care more about the connection and quality of the relationship than meeting traditional expectations. And that can be a very positive thing.
This time presents an ample opportunity for people to take control of their online dating experience, and start setting their own standards. It seems there are more creative ways to do so circulating online than ever before. During her own teaching session on Zoom, Dutton tasked them with an interesting request: Write one word into the chat about what they were feeling right then. She gave them a moment of silence to read through what others had written, which she says helped them feel connected from the start.
The bottom line? Only you know what feels right to you, but it might be refreshing to know that dating platforms are creating more options- and that these options are more geared toward genuine intimacy than the old standard for online dating. There’s no doubt about it: Dating in the age of COVID-19 is a challenge. But if you’re up for it, you may be pleasantly rewarded by a positive experience. At the very least, it’s possible to make genuine new friends and widen your network- which, for those of you who still believe in such a thing, bodes well for meeting “The One”.