As coronavirus cases climb in the United States, temperatures are dropping in many areas. This is a “double whammy” of sorts. While it’s difficult to predict anything these days, it’s likely that this winter, Americans will spend much more time at home than usual.
Dating apps, however, are booming.
Between September and October, according to data from Adam Blacker, VP of . major dating apps grew considerably. Apptopia reports that Match grew 21 percent; OkCupid grew 21 percent; and Bumble grew 16 percent. Other big hitters like Tinder and Hinge grew as well, but more modestly. Black singles app BLK grew the most out of Blacker’s sample with 23 percent month-over-month growth.
This could be caused by factors unrelated to actual dating. Before the election, for instance, , using them as a way to reach swing state voters. But with numbers like this, “Hinge-banking” probably doesn’t account for everything.
Dating app use is (still) soaring
In fact, Hinge saw a 17 percent increase in dates (both in-person and virtual, Hinge doesn’t track them separately) over the summer, according to Logan Ury, dating coach and director of relationship science at Hinge. This fall, the app that’s “designed to be deleted” has seen the highest level of user engagement they’ve seen all year. “We can definitely support that kind of hypothesis…that this is a really active time for dating,” Ury told Mashable.
Match CEO Hesam Hosseini shared similar insights with Mashable. While users sat out IRL dating March through May, that shifted in the second half of the year.
The dual blow of COVID and the cold winter months may mean more social distancing after a more relaxed summer and fall. “As people become more isolated, the desire and need to establish some sort of intimacy may also be increasing as a coping mechanism,” said Dr. Ash Nadkarni, MD, Associate Psychiatrist and Instructor at Harvard Medical School.
“As people become more isolated, the desire and need to establish some sort of intimacy may also be increasing as a coping mechanism.”
It makes total sense, then, to download a dating app when the dating landscape has been completely upended. It’s inherently human to want connection and to search for a coping mechanism to fill that void.
New positive dating habits are emerging
Increased engagement, however, isn’t the only trend Hinge and Match have noticed. Match’s Hosseini foresees singles taking their dating app usage more seriously. Match was already seeing a slower shift from hookup culture to more intentional dating, he told Mashable, but events like a pandemic can accelerate trends that were already percolating — and that’s what Match has witnessed over the last six months.
Two other related trends Hosseini pointed out are that users are talking about more serious issues earlier on and, for obvious reasons, spending more time dating virtually before jumping to an in-person date. These behavioral changes lend themselves to relationships more so than hookups, Hosseini argued.
Match’s most recent survey, released last month, confirms Hosseini’s assessment. In the scientific study of over 5,000 people, Match found that 58 percent of single app daters shifted toward more intentional dating due to the pandemic. Sixty-three percent said they’re spending more time getting to know potential partners, with almost 70 percent saying they’re being more honest in their interactions.
“Recent cataclysmic events have led singles to want more from dating: a desire for a relationship over casual dating; more meaningful conversations, and more honesty and transparency during a date,” Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and Chief Scientific Advisor to Match, said in the Singles in America press release.
Hinge’s data echoes the idea that people are getting more intentional about dating. Ury sees both cuffing season and the pandemic as motivators to get on the apps, but she also believes staying at home made users reflect on what they want from a partner and who they are themselves. Ury’s hypothesis is reflected in the numbers: 45 percent of Hinge users reported developing new healthy dating habits during the pandemic, such as being up front about what they want.
At the same time, users are breaking bad habits, like chasing someone who’s not interested. One habit in particular that Hinge daters are kicking is ghosting, which is often the top complaint from users. While dates went up 17 percent this summer, ghosting went down by even more at 27 percent.
“For me as a dating couch, I know that the foundation of a great relationship is strong communication, and it’s exciting to see that people are forced to have these conversations early,” said Ury, “because it speaks to the fact that they can get a sense of [if] this a person I can have honest and open communication with.”
While it may be a bit awkward to have those frank kinds of talks up front — How many people are you seeing in-person? Are you diligent in mask wearing? — it can lead to better foundations.
“Before COVID-19, someone could go on three first dates in one evening, and decide from there who they wanted to take on a second date. Now, we’re looking at community and personal risk for every date and time you leave the house,” said Sofiya Alexandra, co-founder and co-host of the podcast , which explores stories about love and sexuality around the world.
Date hopping is no longer in vogue amid the coronavirus pandemic. Alexandra continued, “People aren’t going to take that risk unless they have connections both mental and physical, and that’s where we’re going to see an increase in pre-date online communication, unlike the previous ‘hey, we’re both attracted to each other, let’s grab a drink and see if we hit it off.'”
Courtney Kocak, Private Parts Unknown’s other co-founder and co-host, believes that being more conscious of your actions now could help you break out of those bad dating habits. She said, “Yes, it’s a strange new world for dating right now — but navigating it with a renewed sense of purpose and intention just might lead you to the love of your life.”
WATCH: How to go on a virtual date during the coronavirus pandemic
What happens to cuffing season in a pandemic?
In terms of , the time where people cling to one person for the cold winter months and typically break up once the weather gets nicer, Hosseini believes that this year’s will be (like everything else) unprecedented. “I’m not sure it’ll be sort of cuffing season as in a winter fling,” he said. “I think people are probably going to go into it with a bit more intention of finding a partner.”
Ury agreed, saying Hinge is predicting this cuffing season will be the app’s biggest — and won’t lead to spring breakups, either. “People really have spent the pandemic getting serious about who they want to be with, stop playing games, stop chasing after someone who’s not interested in you,” she said. “So that seems like a really good sign.”
Not only, then, are people looking for more connections online but they’re also looking for meaningful ones. This makes sense given our psychology: Human health and survival depend on meaningful social connection, according to Nadkarni.
This need can also account for other trends Ury noticed, such as video dating. The majority of Hinge users said they’ll continue using video dating no matter what happens with the pandemic; this makes dating possible no matter what’s going on outside.
Another trend that may account for app increases — and one that’s well explained by our need for connection — is that people who’ve resisted joining apps in the past are doing so for the first time. Ury and her team consistently heard from users that they’re on an app for the first time, or their friends are, or someone they spoke to is a first-time app user.
“There’s a new wave of daters.”
“There’s a new wave of daters,” said Ury, “which is generally exciting because it’s injecting new people to the community.”
Hosseini hesitated to make any predictions for the future in terms of whether these trends will continue, which is sound considering that 2020 has been wildly unpredictable. Ury, however, thinks the , how people are most likely to adopt new habits on the first of the year, month, etc, will take even more hold going into 2021. With COVID cases rising once more, dating apps may continue to be the safest way to meet new people through at least some part of next year.
“This [the fresh start effect] happens every year,” said Ury. “We think it’ll especially happen next year because people are just so sick of 2020.”