Jeffrey Hall, the director of the Relationships and Technology Lab at the University of Kansas, is not surprised by these promising trends. “When you take a single person who is not getting their social needs met by all of the people who they would normally see outside of their home, they actually have emotional bandwidth to engage in a much deeper way,” Hall told me. “So I would guess that slowing down is a representation of a greater level of need, and a lot more energy to be able to invest in those types of conversations.”
My friend Eric Nentrup, of Indiana, told me that he realized how busy he had been keeping himself before the pandemic, and decided to spend the summer thinking about his life. When he returned to dating this fall, he found “everybody else doing their version of reflection and introspection, grappling with the large issues” and “much more humane, much less superficial dating opportunities.” He credits his break with helping him find a promising new romantic connection.
Even before the pandemic, kindness was the top trait that men and women wanted in a romantic partner. And the importance of kindness seems magnified now, in how people portray themselves and in what they are looking for in a partner. In my own dating, I’ve seen more signals of kindness on men’s profiles since the pandemic. Sometimes the clues are less obvious, such as one man who wore an American Red Cross shirt, but sometimes people directly mention their favorite charitable causes. I asked Melissa Hobley, the global chief marketing officer at OkCupid, whether my impressions match their data. She found that from the spring into the fall, the presence of terms such as caring, compassionate, and empathetic increased 3 percent on OkCupid profiles, along with a 5 percent increase in mentions of volunteer. More dramatic, mentions of donate and donating increased 29 percent from April to June, and another 10 percent from October to November. People may be prioritizing giving because of the pandemic or the national reckoning on racism, but being charitable also may have a nice side effect when it comes to dating. In my scientific research, I’ve found that people rate those who give their time or money to causes as more physically attractive than those who do not.
Since the pandemic began, singles have also been more likely to branch out from their usual type of partner. A friend from Washington, D.C., told me that her new boyfriend is “incredibly funny, warm, sexy, and smart,” but unlike her typical partners, “he’s not a flashy guy.” OkCupid data confirm an increased openness to different partners, showing that people are now more likely, for example, to connect with someone of another religion. But people have notably been less open in one area: In this time of polarization, people are less willing to date someone with different political views.
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