When it comes to love, Erin Jones has always had the motto: “If it happens, it happens.”
The 35-year-old Houstonian (with a big heart for her native New Orleans) married her college sweetheart at a young age, but they divorced a few years later.
Since then, she has tried to find meaningful connections through Match.com, Bumble and most recently, Facebook Dating. She’s never been in a rush to find love, but she said she’ll try anything once.
In January, Jones met someone — “a great guy.” On their few dates, she thought they had a good in-person connection and their texting rapport was light-hearted and fun.
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It felt like the beginning of something that could really be something. Then, the world flung headfirst into a pandemic.
“As coronavirus started, everything spiraled and fizzled out,” Jones said. “We still text each other with memes and joke about it, but we don’t have a firm relationship status. We were just dating, and now haven’t seen each other for long period. It’s hard to maintain.”
COVID-19 put the brakes on Jones’ fledgling relationship, and she doesn’t see it going anywhere from here. It’s not sad — it’s what modern dating has become for many young people, she said.
“It’s hard when you can’t see each other in person,” said Jones. “Especially without an established relationship of months or years.”
In the last 30 years, online dating has changed the way we meet people. In the beginning, singles could remain virtually anonymous until they were comfortable to show their face in a fuzzy webcam photo. Then came the proliferation of the dating websites — eHarmony, Match.com, FarmersOnly.com — in which users pay a service fee, answer a questionnaire and wait for an algorithm to select potential suitors based on history, geography, likes and dislikes.
Online dating changed forever in 2012 with Tinder, a dating service made specifically for smart phones. With the swipe of a finger, lovers could open a window of communication and physical intimacy.
Almost half of the country’s online users have met or know someone who has met a romantic partner through a dating website or app, according to a 2019 study by Statista, a statistics-gathering site. By the end of last year, 75 percent of adults who use the internet said they had gone on a date with someone they met online.
Technology’s tagline is that it makes everything easier. But Jones thinks maybe it has done the opposite for her love life.
“Dating has all changed. You can do it however you want – bar or online – you make your own rules for how you want to date,” Jones said. “It’s hard to tell people what’s the right or best way, because it’s different for everyone.”
About half of dating app users say they use the services to look for an exclusive romantic relationship, while 23 percent of survey participants listed sexual encounters as their main incentive.
But COVID-19 could be responsible for a giant cultural shift: Rachel DeAlpo, chief dating expert at Match.com, says this moment could be the end of America’s “hookup culture.”
DeAlpo, who has 12 years of experience in the industry, said the pandemic will give single people a chance to find intention in dating.
This is not the time to swipe and chat out of boredom. If you do happen to swipe on someone viable during these uncertain times, DeAlpo suggests segueing from text-only conversations to phone calls or use virtual conferencing services, like Zoom or another video chat software.
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“At the end of the day, this is not going to last forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, so use this time as an extra vetting period,” DeAlpo said. “See if this is a person that you will want to continue talking to until you can actually meet them in person.”
This is also an opportunity to slow down.
In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that 60 percent of adults said they “sometimes felt too busy to enjoy life,” while 12 percent felt this way “all or most of the time.”
This applies to dating, as well. Many people struggle to differentiate between the fast pace of their lives and a typical pace of courtship, squeezing in as many dates as possible in a regular work week or weekend, DeAlpo said. This strategy often means sacrificing compatibility for availability.
“What we have right now is unintentional dating with poor results. We’re not creating a funnel, we’re creating a fire hose of options,” DeAlpo said. “Create a funnel by thinking of what you need in a relationship and who you are looking for. Know your baseline non-negotiables.”
This challenging time may be the perfect opportunity for such a reset.
Even before the pandemic, Jones said her new relationship was suffering from work-love life balance issues.
“We’re both still trying to work and adjust to new norm. He has a roommate, and they were moving because their house was damaged during the (Gessner) explosion,” Jones said.
Mark Owen, founder of the social networking company Events & Adventures, has some advice for people who prefer to meet the old-fashioned way. You know, face-to-face.
“It’s important as a single person to make sure you’re not jumping into something because of this situation,” Owen said. Make sure the feelings are real, and “write their name on your forehead with pen, don’t tattoo it,” he added.
Owen launched his company, which hosts 30 to 50 local events each months at which adults can meet people with common interests, in 1987. Back then, he had no intention of it becoming a vehicle for people to meet their partners. It was a natural progression, he said.
“My goal was to go out and have a good time with a bunch of people. I didn’t start it to have people fall in love and get married,” Owen said. “That was just a weird byproduct of getting people together to have a good time.”
Though his company was founded on getting people out of their houses to meet new people, Owen said the call for Americans to stay home has increased its membership renewals.
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During this time, the company is offering video happy hours, webinars on dating and divorce and other virtual gatherings rather than rafting trips, movie screenings and cooking classes.
“You have physical distancing, but that doesn’t mean it has to be emotional distancing,” he said. “You can spend time together even if you can’t hug each other. You can still create emotional bonds with people thanks to technology we have access to.”
Last week, 80 members logged into a virtual comedy night.
“It doesn’t replace being in person, but right now it is what it is,” Owen said. “Humans are great at adjusting.”
As for Jones, who is adjusting to her new coworkers (her dogs Shelby and Jackson), she said she WILL talk to people through apps, like Facebook dating, but she can’t exactly date anyone until the world rights itself again. It’s nice to take a breather from that scene every now and then, she admitted.
“If I don’t like the guys I’m finding, I step away and not actively search. I always come back – I’m not going to give up,” Jones said. “It took me a long time to realize that I need to be happy with myself before worrying about someone else in my life.”
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