By Karen Tong
Dating apps like Hinge and Bumble are helping to make a self-isolation love life possible, albeit from a distance. (ABC: Tara Cassidy)
For single Australians looking for love, social distancing and self-isolating rules have drastically altered the dating scene.
Instead of getting drinks at a bar, going for a walk in the park or meeting up for coffee, they’ve had to keep it to sending flirty texts and arranging virtual dates.
“There’s so many awesome things about having a first date by video chat,” says Carissa Bennett, a women’s mentor and life coach from Melbourne. “For starters, you can wear your pyjama pants and do it from the comfort of your own couch.”
With the exception of a recent six-month relationship, Carissa has been single and “on the apps” for the past seven years. When the coronavirus restrictions were announced, she had a moment of panic.
“The part of me that’s been single for years doesn’t care, and the other part of me is 34 years old and really would like to meet somebody.”
So, Carissa is still on the apps — and she’s not alone.
As many as 70 per cent of users on the Hinge dating app have expressed interest in going on digital dates during the pandemic, according to a spokesperson.
The company is encouraging people to “date from home” using phone calls and video chats, and have even provided backgrounds to help Zoom dates feel like real dates.
A Bumble representative says that globally there has already been a significant rise in the numbers of messages (by 23 per cent) and in-app video calls (by 31 per cent) between users since mid-March.
More Tinder users are beginning to mention the coronavirus pandemic in their bios. The app has made their Passport feature available to all members, allowing users to meet anyone, anywhere in the world, and connect in this time of isolation.
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People on the apps are also using the pandemic as a conversation starter.
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“Because of what’s going on in the world right now, we’re so deeply connected by this situation that’s happening and we instantly have something in common to talk about,” Carissa says. “Very quickly you learn their political views, are they a pessimist or an optimist, are they open-minded.”
Carissa matched with someone on Bumble who works at a major Australian bank, and who did not think that banks should be supporting businesses that were struggling because of the shutdowns.
“His perspective on what was happening was so different to mine, and I would never be interested in dating someone with that perspective,” she says.
Another person she met on an app about a year go — and went on “a really amazing date” with — recently reached out again to see how she was faring during the pandemic.
Carissa suggested a video date, and he said yes.
Coronavirus means going on dates in the real world is a thing of the past for Carissa Bennett but the pandemic has proven a great conversation starter. (Supplied)
Because they live in different states — she’s in Victoria, he’s in Queensland — they had kept in touch by text, and they couldn’t believe that “neither of us had thought about a virtual date before.”
“I think we will probably talk and maybe have a wine,” she says.
Dr Maria Scoda, a clinical psychologist who specialises in relationship counselling, says virtual dating may provide an opportunity for people to take things slow and get to know each other on a deeper level.
For people who are genuinely interested in developing a connection with someone, Dr Scoda suggests creating parallel dating scenarios within the home like having dinner, playing a board game, or watching a movie together while on a video call.
“Even just talking about the mundane things together, describing your day or week, that’s part of a normal relationship,” she says.
Carissa, centre right, uses social media like Facebook to socialise during coronavirus.
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The “big unknown” is whether a relationship built in the virtual world will translate in real life, Dr Scoda warns.
Psychologist Maria Scoda says people need to take care of their safety in the virtual world just as they would in person. (Supplied)
“Once they meet in person, everything they’ve created may fall flat,” she says. “I know people don’t want to hear that, but it’s a possible reality.”
May*, a 31-year-old musician from Melbourne started chatting to a woman on the dating app Raya a week ago, and they’ve already gone on three virtual dates.
“We’re always texting and calling,” May says. “It’s offering companionship and it’s adding value to my isolation.”
For their first video call, May decided to lay down in a local park and talk to her. They spoke for an hour.
“The time actually flew past, she says, “I almost forgot that I was just lying there completely on my own.”
They talk about everything from what they did that day, to dreaming up things they want to do together in the future.
“The fact that we enjoy talking to one another and keep having things to share despite the fact that there’s no physical affection is a really good sign,” she says.
“But looking into the future too much is not really the best thing to do because there’s so much uncertainty and it feels like I probably won’t see her for months and months.”
It’s not just social distancing that’s keeping May and her Raya date apart. May was meant to move to the US in April, where her Raya date lives, but the move has been put on hold indefinitely.
“I think we’re trying to be as casual as possible, just enjoy it for what it is and not put too much pressure on it.”
While this new dating paradigm can feel exciting, Dr Scoda says it important to understand that the risks and dangers of dating in person also present themselves when dating from home.
An advertisement on Tinder shows the app is warning people about the risks of Coronavirus. (Supplied: Tinder)
“There will be people who take advantage of others and may move a video date in a sexual direction that the other person doesn’t want.”
If this happens, she advises to disconnect immediately.
“Trust your gut feeling if it doesn’t feel right,” Dr Scoda says. “People need to look after themselves while virtual dating as they would in real life dating.”
There will also be single people who don’t want to date right now, and Dr Scoda says this period of isolation may be a good time to reconnect with yourself.
“Start looking at the things that you enjoy doing that you haven’t had the time to do,” she says, “like reading a book, or doing a project, or deepening existing relationships.
Adam, a 50-something university lecturer in NSW and father of two, describes his pre-pandemic love life as “very sexually active” with “a few different lovers”.
The last time he met a lover in person was mid-March, just before the government started rolling out social distancing rules.
“Whatever we were doing just a few weeks ago now feels like an outrageous risk,” he says.
Adam’s older daughter in her early 20s found an “isolation buddy”, a guy she’ll stay at home with for as long as the stay at home directive is in place.
While he’s maintained contact with his lovers through texts and phone calls, they’ve all decided to not meet up.
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“It was suddenly a good time to have one person you could bunker down with,” he says. “That’s when I got that feeling of playing musical chairs and the music stopped and I didn’t have a chair organised.”
Adam’s working from home and living with his teenage daughter, who is also staying at home and doing school online.
The energy he used to put into planning dates is now being put into other things like gardening, meditation and building an extra room onto his house for his daughter.
“I’ve been a sexually active person all my life so maybe there’s something to learn from a period of abstinence,” Adam says.
“I’m able to really spend time with my daughter,” he says, “it’s just a whole lot more quietness, a whole lot more time together, a whole lot more connection than is possible in the non-stop rat race, really.”
*Some names have been changed.