LONDON: I did not expect that when I stopped washing my hair and transitioned to a baggy-clothes-only wardrobe that my love life would suddenly take off, but it has. I’ve been asked on more dates in the past two weeks than in the past two years.
And, conveniently for my new sartorial state, it’s all happening online.
Friends have reported similar surges. They are meeting more people, more often, and having deeper conversations that last late into the night. They’re watching movies and playing card games with dates on the living room floor.
If dating in the age of the “safe six” (the recommended number of feet to keep from other people) sounds like a return to a simpler, more chaste time, in some ways it is. But it has also upended the definition of what it means to “date” overnight.
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As London enters its fifth week of home quarantine, singletons running out of things to stream on Netflix are looking for love, and dating apps are booming.
Tinder has seen a 20 per cent increase in conversations since February 20. March 29 was the busiest day for swipes in the app’s history.
Dating apps are encouraging the move to digital courtship, advising against in-person meet-ups, in line with government guidance.
Hinge, an online dating app for those looking for something more serious than a hookup, now asks matched users whether they’re ready to take a relationship to the next level: a video chat.
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One friend plans first dates using Zoom and caps the meetings at 45 minutes, enough time to share one remote drink and check for a spark.
If the date is going well, the clock is reset for another 45 minutes and each pours a second glass. If not, there’s still time to watch Tiger King before bed.
ANYTHING BUT IMPERSONAL
I wonder if we have been unkind to social media, heaping blame on it for the increased isolation of millennials, who are marrying less and later than previous generations, and are more likely to engage in transient relationships.
Dating apps can be impersonal and superficial; initial interest is often predicated on physical attractiveness.
But in lockdown, online dating has become anything but impersonal.
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A conversation with someone sitting in their kitchen, living room or bedroom is intimate in a way that a first drink in a loud bar can never be. We see the pictures on their walls and the pile of laundry they thought they tucked out of frame.
Tinder reports that since the beginning of March there has been a 30 per cent increase in the use of “care phrases” in conversations on the platform, or questions such as: “Are you OK?” and “How are you feeling?”
But how long can video chatting stay exciting? Is it better to press pause on a new love interest before the conversation fizzles, or keep going?
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In news that will make your grandma smile, relationship experts say that being unable to do much more than talk with people we date in quarantine is, probably, a good thing.
Relationship therapist Jane Hammerslough says, “If you take away sex and attraction – all of these things that are a part of being young – it strips relationships really bare.”
Quarantine dating has pulled away the crutch of physical intimacy, a cover for all manner of incompatibilities. Instead of hoping that a strong physical connection will lead to an emotional one, we are forced to do the reverse.
Hammerslough says: “It offers the opportunity to think, ‘If all I could do is just talk to someone, is this someone I could just talk to? Would they be good company?’”
Dating from quarantine also means that it no longer matters where a love interest lives. Proximity matters less when east London might as well be Moscow, and vice versa.
To support distant socialising, Tinder has opened its “passport” feature, normally just for paying users, for finding matches anywhere in the world. People have been dating abroad with abandon.
I’ve never been to Perth, Australia, but that is where three of my potential boyfriends live.
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DIGITAL DATING AFTER COVID-19
Dating in quarantine can be fun. It provides routine, a reason to shower and put on real clothes – acts of normalcy that are a small rebellion against the pervasive fear we have learnt to live with.
This past weekend I excused myself from a jigsaw puzzle with my housemates to go on a movie date, using an app called Netflix Party that lets people stream films in synch.
We watched Groundhog Day. I washed my hair, wore my best black leggings and positioned my phone at an angle that gave me only one chin.
After the film, we ate chocolate eggs and wondered what new skills we might develop, the way Bill Murray did to pass his perpetual February.
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I wonder how elastic our life pre-COVID-19 will prove to be. Some people told me video chatting as a first “date” is such an efficient way to decide if they’re interested that they hope the practice will continue after the lockdown lifts.
Will we still connect remotely at first, to protect precious weeknights and save money?
Or will we run to physical contact with reckless abandon? Will we ever do that without niggling anxiety again?
Dating under quarantine might provide an effective short-term diversion from a global health crisis. But I suspect many of us are also keeping an eye out, as ever, for something with the potential to last beyond the lockdown.
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