For Hong Kong resident Alessandra Tinio, the coronavirus outbreak brought heartbreak.
The 35-year-old public relations consultant returned from visiting family in the Philippines at the end of February to find the city implementing measures to curb the spread of the virus causing Covid-19.
The next thing she knew, the man she had been dating for two months wanted out of their relationship. Among other things, he was stressed at work.
“It was such a complicated time. He just couldn’t be in the relationship,” she says. “It was a tough pill to swallow.”
How to date during the coronavirus pandemic
The Covid-19 outbreak, with 1,035 confirmed cases and four deaths in Hong Kong as of Wednesday, has battered the economy and left many struggling to cope with losing their jobs and taking pay cuts. Worldwide, there have been more than 2.5 million confirmed cases and 177,000 deaths.
The pandemic has also taken a toll on the love lives of singles. Social-distancing restrictions, the need to be masked in public, and increased awareness of avoiding risk have all put a damper on the dating game.
“Even if you’re just holding hands, it’s at the back of your mind – am I doing the right thing, is this actually safe?” says William Wong, a 29-year-old recruitment consultant. “You don’t want to create another wave of cases and you certainly don’t want to catch the virus yourself.”
Business development manager Alan Francis, 29, recalls how he met his girlfriend in January and went on a date to a bar in Central, only to have a rude shock the next day, when the bar informed patrons that there had been a case of Covid-19 in the building.
“We had a bit of a scare,” he says. “We realised we had to be a bit more creative about our dates.”
The pair are still dating, but have been going on hikes, avoiding crowded places and staying home. “I’ve had to polish my cooking skills,” Francis says with a laugh.
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Singles are also behaving differently on various matchmaking and dating applications. Where they used to take only seconds to check photos and profiles before deciding whether to contact a prospective date, many have now slowed down.
Dating app Tinder has reported that daily conversations between users last longer now, increasing by an average of 20 per cent around the world. It has also added a new feature to allow users to check out matches anywhere in the world, not only the people near them.
Wong says he has spoken to app users overseas, including in the United Kingdom.
“It’s mostly friendly chat, just trying to keep each other motivated and checking on each other during this tough time,” he says, explaining that this kind of interaction is helpful at a time when people are trying to minimise face-to-face contact with strangers.
A survey by dating app Coffee Meets Bagel found that more than four in five Hong Kong users have changed how they date because of the pandemic, with two thirds saying they have stopped meeting in person.
“People have just disappeared,” says office administrator Louis, 24, who is gay and uses the app. “Even if you want to go out to have fun and meet new people, others think it’s quite dangerous. So people are just staying at home.”
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Dayoon Kang, founder and CEO of Coffee Meets Bagel, believes now is the time for people to have virtual first dates, meeting online or chatting in video calls.
She says a Hong Kong survey done on the app found that more than half of the singles who responded were open to going on a virtual first date. In the United States, where there are stricter lockdown measures in several states, almost nine in 10 said they would go on a virtual date.
However, Tiffany Choi says video calls are no substitute for meeting in person.
The 26-year-old researcher met her boyfriend in January but they have been meeting only once in two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We do talk to each other through WhatsApp video calls, but it feels very distant,” says Choi. “When you want to nurture a new relationship, you have to see the person face-to-face.”
It does not help that Choi lives in Fanling while her boyfriend lives on Hong Kong Island. “It is very lonely. It feels like we’re so close, in the same city, but cannot be together,” she says.
Matchmaker Anita Cheung wai-ping, founder of HK Romance Dating, which helps people get to know one another in person, has seen a sharp drop in interest since the Lunar New Year, and has cancelled all speed-dating events for now.
There are still some one-on-one dates happening, but people turn up wearing masks and prefer to avoid having meals together, she says.
“Now people have switched to having afternoon tea or attending workshops, where they do not have direct face-to-face interaction,” adds Cheung, whose matchmaking company has about 20,000 members mostly aged between 28 and 36.
The company has begun bringing singles together at weekly online sessions using the Zoom video conference platform, with 10 members gathering before pairing off for one-on-one chats.
“It always fills up very quickly,” Cheung says.
Coffee Meets Bagel’s Kang says she has also noticed a shift to a “slow dating approach” compared with the way app users glanced at profiles and wrote off prospective dates in mere seconds.
“Now there is no rush to move on to the next person and you also can’t meet physically anyway, so there is time to dig deeper with one person and get to know them a bit better,” she says.
Dating coach Valentina Tudose, who helps single women work out what they are looking for in a relationship and how to attract their ideal partner, says many of her clients are not looking to date now.
Tudose, who also helps couples work out their relationship issues, sees an opportunity in the dating crisis brought on by the pandemic.
“Whereas earlier there might have been a tendency for people to seek instant gratification, to go straight into the physical side of relationship, now people can give each relationship or match a chance to evolve a little bit more,” she says.
That is what Alessandra Tinio discovered as she picked up the pieces after breaking up with her boyfriend. She returned to using dating apps, and was pleasantly surprised.
“Generally, the people I have connected with are a bit more real,” she says. “There is a lot less superficiality. Covid-19 has reminded me that there actually are nice people out there. I have hope now.”
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This article Love in a time of corona: Hong Kong’s dating scene slows down as cautious singles avoid face-to-face meetings first appeared on South China Morning Post
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