Swiping left; swiping right. For years, commentators have lamented that courtship and dating have been replaced by a hookup culture among Millennials and Generation Z.1,2 The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home policies may be creating a new normal for dating.
In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, hooking up may have become a dangerous and difficult proposition. Hooking up may be the prelude to illness, respiratory failure, or even death. This risk is serious enough for John Haggie, the health minister of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, to make a plea for people to think twice before meeting up with an online date.3
Bars, coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, and parks are all closed. Meetups, trivia nights, and happy hours have been canceled. These closures and cancellations signal the temporary but indefinite suspension of the traditional dating scene. Even if people were to meet with a date, physical distancing discourages intimate conversation.
Under the circumstances, many are postponing/foregoing in-person dates.4 After all, those who are available for “in-person” hookups or dates may be a select group who are reckless or oblivious to the science of self-care and the calculus of personal risk
Online dating sites often considered to be the “primary facilitators” of the hookup culture (e.g., Tinder, Grindr) are also discouraging in-person meetings.1,5 Instead, they are organizing opportunities to meet online (e.g., online speed dating) or asking their clientele to keep the momentum going through video-conferencing technology like Zoom, Netflix viewing parties, and FaceTime dinner dates.5 Despite restrictions on in-person meetings, several dating sites have reported surges in online interaction. For example, Hinge and Tinder reported a 10-20% surge in their volume of messages sent during a week in mid-March.6-8 The rise in online interactions could reflect individuals seeking a temporary reprieve from social isolation or anxiety during uncertain times.
Others have predicted that courtship may make a comeback during the pandemic.9,10 We have seen several creative instances emerge already. In mid-March, as shelter-in-place orders were being implemented, a Google Form, entitled “Love is Blind B-School Edition,” was circulated among students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Inspired by the popular Netflix show, students could submit information and preferences, get matched to another person, exchange emails for a week, then communicate via video or text thereafter.11 In an even more nostalgic throwback to traditional courtship, “Cupid During COVID” matches individuals with a romantic pen pal.12 The creator, Anne Friedman, was inspired by her grandparents’ decades-long love story, falling in love through letters exchanged during WWII and beyond.
Will our criteria for what we deem attractive in a potential mate, or who we choose to interact with, change with these new dating behaviors? Will the probability of relationship success change as a result of these extended interactions prior to in-person meetings, if they lead to that? Could a possible silver lining of the devastating pandemic be deeper, more meaningful connections and relationships? Only time will tell whether the revival of more traditional forms of courtship is a temporary trend or a more sustained shift in social and cultural dating norms. Research may also reveal what effect, if any, stay-at-home policies have on longer-term quality, success, and viability of relationships. In the meantime, many individuals will continue seeking human connection and love in alternate ways.