My friend was clearly — like me — starting to feel the effects of social distancing when she texted me in all earnestness, asking if it was “fatal” to try and date someone during the coronavirus pandemic. “These fuck bois never tell the truth,” she wrote, referring to the recent travel histories of men on dating apps she was using.
Since then, much of the world has gone into lockdown with enforced social distancing, including Delhi, where my friend is based. Physical dates are out. Some, like New Orleans writer and actor Kaitlyn McQuin, have suggested that it’s time for men to reacquaint themselves with traditional courtship. “Now, write me a poem,” she tweeted in March.
But what about millennials with no time — or skills — for love letters and poems? This is love in the time of coronavirus. And dating and romance are adapting. A growing number of apps and websites are now advertising virtual dating services aimed at keeping you safe, while allowing you to have fun and potentially, even find love. And because physical proximity is now irrelevant for dating, services are allowing you to find dates in other parts of the world more easily than ever before.
Many of the features these platforms are offering won’t be easy to roll back if they catch on. The result? A massive health crisis that has cut us off from even our neighbors could ironically be paving the way for online dating experiences that will be fundamentally safer and more global — even once the virus threat fades.
League Live, a video dating facility launched by popular app The League in late 2019, is typically a paid service. It has now added a feature that allows users to message “isoDate” to the in-app concierge and become a member for free for the period quarantine is required in that city or region. JWed, an online dating service for Jewish singles, has explicitly launched a video dates option in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Loko facilitates virtual dates before you decide whether or not to meet the person. Plenty of Fish, yet another dating app, has introduced a livestreaming feature called LIVE! that it plans to make available globally by the end of April.
We are providing users with a way to build deep and meaningful relationships during this challenging time.
Ben Rabizadeh, JWed
While it’s too early to know just how well these services do, even dating giants are changing their approach. Tinder has announced it is making its usually paid-for Passport service free for all users. The service allows users to search for potential dating partners in faraway countries — and is a particularly valuable tool in times when almost everyone is in quarantine, rendering geographic proximity irrelevant. Instagram has launched a service, @loveisquarantine, where interested users are matched through a Google Doc that sets up date nights — each person where they are.
These virtual dating services are convinced they’ve found a perfect match in these times when nobody can touch each other or meet strangers without worrying about getting infected.
“Social distancing can last for as long as 18 months. We are providing users with a way to build deep and meaningful relationships during this challenging time,” says Ben Rabizadeh, founder of JWed.
But they’re also expecting these services to transform online dating in the long run. “Once the virus situation abates, virtual dating with video chat can still provide value as an initial step before meeting in person,” Rabizadeh says. “By providing users the ability to date from home, JWed will continue to help users find their soul mates.”
Other dating apps are also rising up to the challenge. Bumble already has a video calling feature, and Tinder is warning users to maintain social distance.
To be sure, the idea of a virtual or video date doesn’t thrill all singles. Especially if it is for a first date. Grace Wilson, who goes by the handle @gwil17 on Twitter and Instagram, calls video dates a “nightmare.”
But dating experts argue that it’s the best solution. “I think this is a good idea because the video is the next best thing to being in person,” says Camille Virginia, author of the 2019 book, The Offline Dating Method. “You can read into someone’s body language, their tone, their facial expressions, and of course, they can’t lie about what they look like since you’re staring at them.”
That matters, given that romance scams went up 40 percent over the past year, with victims losing $201 million in the U.S. alone.
Dating itself won’t stay online once the virus runs its course. Virginia expects people will once again “want to meet each other more offline in the real world.” And while you’re likelier to get a truer sense of a person’s tone, behavior, body language and appearance on a video date than through text messages, Jeff Tinsley of RealMe, a platform dedicated to cultivating online safety, cautions against assuming that this method is foolproof. “Don’t expect people to be more honest just because it’s a video date,” he says.
Still, Tinsley acknowledges that “as face-to-face meetups become less common as we all take steps to ‘flatten the curve,’ video dates have the potential to become the norm for now.” JWed’s Rabizadeh says the firm plans to roll out other features — to use before and after video dates — “to replicate in-person dating as best we can.”
And while it might sound counterintuitive, experts say that being forced to connect verbally and in the absence of physical chemistry can actually help strengthen new relationships in ways that will outlast the virus.
Dr. Britney Blair, a clinical psychologist at Stanford and co-founder of Lover, a sexual wellness app, recalls how she recently worked with a couple who met online and started a long-distance relationship — one partner in Europe, the other in California. “It was remarkable to see the bond that developed over four months of talking for endless hours over phone or video,” she says. Before they had ever touched one another, “they had developed a deep and strong attachment. I feel they knew more about each other than many couples I have worked with who have been together for years.”
It’s that deeper connect that couples should focus on while in quarantine, says Virginia. It might be their lasting takeaway from a virus set to change online love forever.