Dating is, notoriously, not great. But during the coronavirus pandemic, dating has become a gauntlet of risk and questionable reward. People looking to meet up with others romantically are faced with a mountain of challenges, beyond the usual sexually transmitted diseases, weird politics and hoarding habits.
“Ugh, dating during this sucks,” said Kamran Aryah, 33, of Portland.
First, Aryah said, there’s the fact that all the couples he knows seem to be blissfully baking bread together. And then there’s the fact that he was finally ready to look for a serious relationship after his last breakup. Then COVID-19 happened.
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“On top of that, I just got this adorable dog, and she doesn’t even have the chance to play matchmaker for me,” Aryah added.
For many women who spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive, the frustration is expounded by the behavior of men on dating apps.
Bree Henry, 33, also of Portland, said she’s been receiving a higher than usual number of unwanted adult pictures.
“It’s like they gain your trust on the app, get your number, and then it’s male genitalia everywhere,” Henry said.
Relationship expert Sarah Sloane, who works with the inclusive dating app #open, said Henry wasn’t the only person reporting this trend.
“Some women report that random ‘dick pics’ and harassing or abusive messages have gone up,” she said. “This is happening primarily in apps or dating websites where there are not solid consent policies or mutual-match requirements for messaging others.”
Sloane said this behavior was probably related to stress and the fact that some people don’t have healthy ways of handling pressure, and are “much more likely to lash out and/or violate boundaries.”
“However, there is definitely some bright sides to this,” she said.
Sloane said people were finding more authentic connections and looking past things like proximity and a very narrow set of physical qualities.
“And it does appear that even more casual conversations with potential partners are creating some great feelings of interconnectedness for people,” she said.
It looks like even more people are looking for that sense of connection.
According to a Tinder spokesperson, since March in the United States, “conversations have been up an average of 19% and the average length of conversations is 8% longer.”
Globally, according to Tinder, “more members are swiping right on someone new, having more conversations overall, and those conversations are lasting longer.”
Bumble is reporting increased traffic too, especially on its video and voice call features.
“We’ve seen a 69% increase in video calls during the week ending May 1, versus video calls during the week ending March 13,” a Bumble spokesperson said.
The average length of video and voice calls is 28 minutes, Bumble said.
Both Aryah and Henry said they had found ways to transition from apps to in-person meetups, and have enjoyed those connections.
“I’ve gone on a few walking dates, and that’s been really nice,” Henry said.
And Aryah said he managed to have “a nice FaceTime and distanced park meetup with a match recently.”
Sloane noted that while COVID-19 is a challenge for people looking for partners, “I actually believe that this time can be a ‘pause’ in our old habits of dating and can give us a chance to find better ways to connect.”
“I’m guiding people to think of this as a chance to get to know ourselves on deeper levels,” she said. “We’re already shifting away from a busy social calendar, so we can separate out what we’ve been doing from what would be truly nourishing and create successful connections.”
Mikayla Krause, 20, of Corvallis, has created one such successful connection, even though it’s been from a distance.
She was using dating apps but deleted them after reconnecting with an elementary school friend on Tinder and then Snapchat.
“We have been FaceTiming as well as playing Xbox games together,” Krause said, adding they haven’t met up in person yet, but plan to as soon as it feels safe.
Safety is, of course, a looming concern for everyone in the world, but for people who are dating, it’s at the forefront of their minds.
“As we learn more about what ‘safety’ looks like in the coming months, we can have those big conversations earlier on with our new dating partners,” Sloane said.
“I do think that in a weird way it puts the concept of consent even more in the forefront of people’s minds,” Aryah said. “The consent conversation now includes even breaking a person’s surrounding personal space bubble.”
For her part, Henry always asks potential walking dates if they’ve had any COVID-19 symptoms before she’ll go on a stroll.
Still, even the outdoors in-person meeting doesn’t feel as safe as it used to.
“For some reason,” Henry said, “I still prefer those over a virtual date. It’s sort of like inviting someone in your home that you don’t know, so I don’t feel the most comfortable doing that. It’s strange.”
But, it’s possible the looming danger might force people to communicate more openly.
The questions people must ask each other now mirror how “people who are active in consensually non-monogamous or kinky relationships have discussed overall risk and safety for decades,” Sloane said.
“Discussing STI risk when there are multiple people who can be affected and making decisions together with our partners to ensure that each person feels safe, are hallmarks of healthy communication for polyamorous folks,” she said, “and there’s a lot to be learned there for all of us having the big conversations that we’ll need to have in the times to come.”
MORE ON CORONAVIRUS:
Gov. Brown’s road map to reopening Oregon
Coronavirus map: Track new cases in Oregon and U.S.
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