“Will buy dinner in exchange for toilet paper,” reads one Bumble profile. “Let’s sanitize each other,” reads another.
Like dining out, attending events, and life in general, online dating didn’t slow down when the pandemic hit—it picked up. With more time on their hands, people flocked to dating apps. Some joined because they didn’t have anything else to do, while others stayed on just to see what would happen.
Maddie, a 20-something living in St. Louis, has used dating apps on and off for years. (Maddie is a local teacher and requested that SLM withhold her last name for fear her students’ parents would want to talk about her dating life at next year’s parent-teacher conferences.) “I’ve seen all sorts of weird behaviors,” she says. “I stayed on more out of curiosity than anything else at the beginning.”
And it proved to be entertaining during the pandemic. Hobbies changed from the usual—traveling, having drinks with friends, and watching the Cards or Blues games—to more quarantine-related activities. “I enjoy social distancing” or “buying toilet paper” became the new norm. Bathroom selfies were replaced with people hidden behind face masks. Pickup lines centered on cleanliness and sanitizer.
Maddie was traveling when the pandemic began, so a connection made in Tennessee ended up becoming a pen pal for several weeks. When prospects can’t meet in person, get-to-know-you chats turn into long phone calls—like “’80s-style, Sleepless in Seattle” phone calls. “I think the longest one was two hours,” Maddie says. “And my generation does not care for phone calls.”
There were even a few dates—on Skype. “It’s awkward as hell,” Maddie says. “I mean, it’s similar to dating in real life as far as the awkwardness of it all and the weird performance of dating and courtship rituals.”
And when your date knows you’re quarantined at home, how do you get out of a bad experience? “‘I think I hear my roommate calling’,” Maddie says, laughing. “Or ‘I think my grandma is calling,’ but you can’t really use that one at 11 p.m.” Early Zoom calls work as well, in anticipation of blaming your granny for the interruption.
But here’s the unexpected part of dating during a pandemic—people can really get to know one another. Even over Skype, you can see a person’s mannerisms and behaviors. When you remove the physical aspects of a relationship, you build a better emotional connection. Maddie found that she was able to focus on the things that mattered to her and ended up developing a real connection with someone…so much so that they decided to go on a social-distanced picnic in a park (with two blankets properly spaced, of course).
As social distancing eases and quarantine matches start meeting, it’s like St. Louis’ own version of Netflix’s Love Is Blind. Just watch out for the reappearance of exes sending reminiscent texts, apparently such a popular quarantine pastime that the internet is full of memes addressing it.
Sure enough, after a six-month ghosting, Maddie’s ex resurfaced. “Some used quarantine as an opportunity to learn to bake bread from scratch, while others got drunk during the day and starting messaging exes,” she says. Hers did the latter. “He was in the Central West End where we had a Notebook-level romantic date, and he sent me a picture and said [the setting] made him think of me.”
Maddie did what every person should do after a six-month ghosting. She deleted the text.