The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken our world upside down–and dating relationships are no exception. If being single was a challenge before the pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing guidelines have added a whole new set of rules that people must follow as they try to remain sane and healthy.
How COVID-19 is Impacting Online Dating
Dating apps and websites were popular before the pandemic. A Tinder review states that the widely used app has over 50 million members and over 10 million active daily users. People are looking for love, and nothing, not even a scary virus, is going to change that.
However, social distancing has created a new reality. While a mere few months ago, meeting for a coffee was the next natural step after getting in touch on a dating platform, now, people are turning to Zoom and FaceTime for virtual dates.
You can certainly find many advantages to a date on Zoom. Logistic difficulties are nonexistent. You don’t have to double-check directions, look for parking, split the bill, or wonder whether it would be appropriate to kiss your date at the end of the evening. And, most importantly, you can meet as many new people as you want without worrying about catching or spreading COVID-19 (or anything else, for that matter).
COVID-19 Brought a Popularity Surge for Dating Apps
Let’s rewind to the last days before COVID-19 hit our society. Although online dating has been on the singles’ scene for many years now, statistics implied that people were starting to become a little jaded. Dating app downloads were plummeting, and user surveys indicated that the ease and unlimited choice of online dating weren’t necessarily making people less lonely.
When you have been single for some time, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers and become inured to disappointment.
The onset of the pandemic, however, led to a new surfeit in popularity for online dating. According to Dating.com, online dating spiked by 82% worldwide in early March. People weren’t just signing up more for dating apps, but spending more time on them–the average length of a conversation on Tinder rose by up to 30% after the start of the pandemic. Tinder’s heyday was on March 29, 2020, when the app saw over three billion swipes.
This makes sense. The usual organic ways for singles to meet, like in a coffee shop, at a party, on a college campus, or at work, have become severely restricted. Many people have found themselves isolated at home, with plenty of time on their hands and a hunger for human companionship.
Riding on this wave of high demand, companies began to launch or promote in-app video chat options, such as League Live and Hinge’s Date from Home. Bumble saw a rise of 93% in the use of its live video chat. Apps have adapted to the new climate, and, now, they emphasize the convenience of having a virtual date from the comfort of your home.
How long do people spend on the average video-chat date? According to statistics, around 30 minutes, which is a reasonable time to get to know a person.
What Happened Next
Although the COVID-19 outbreak had initially led people to turn to dating apps in droves, as the weeks rolled by and it began to be clear that the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, subscriber growth started to decline slightly and the dating app revenue curve flattened.
There are two reasons for this. First, although video chatting is an acceptable option for a first date, once people pass this stage, they naturally want to take their relationship to a real-life level, which is much more challenging to do with social-distancing restrictions.
Second, the pandemic has led to a worldwide decline in disposable income. Our nation has experienced a massive loss of jobs, and more than 20% of Americans filed for unemployment benefits. When people have less money and worry about their financial future, they will naturally try to reduce unnecessary expenses. An online dating subscription is one cost people are likely to cut.
For now, however, dating app companies aren’t about to go broke. Match Group, the owner of Tinder and Hinge, saw an increase of 30% in net profit compared to the same quarter of the year before.
Can You Have Real Chemistry on a Virtual Date?
Can you fall in love over Zoom? It seems like the answer is positive. The feeling of being in love triggers the dopamine system in the brain, which is responsible for all those powerful feel-good sensations of elation, euphoria, energy, and an intense concentration on the object of love. You can have that addictive dopamine surge even with someone you have never seen in real life.
Nevertheless, two key ingredients of falling in love are missing on a virtual date: smell and touch. Your date’s smell can be a powerful attraction, even if it’s so subtle that you’re not aware of it. On a deep biological level, smell can be an indicator of genetic compatibility and subconsciously lead to heightened feelings of sexual attraction.
Complementing this effect, touch activates oxytocin, which is a hormone that triggers the feelings of affection, attachment, satisfaction, and contentment. The same hormone is at work when mothers are touching or nursing their infants. Oxytocin is vital to human development and well-being. In fact, babies who don’t get enough loving touch will fail to thrive.
So, while it’s certainly possible to charm your date over video chat, it takes a face-to-face meeting to gauge your real level of attraction to each other.
Dating: An Outlook to the Future
Although a FaceTime date can’t replace a romantic walk along the beach or holding hands over a little table in a cozy café, it can be a great way to get to know a new person, dispel loneliness and isolation, and gauge compatibility while complying with public health guidelines.
While it’s hard to know for sure that the person with whom you’ve just video chatted for 45 minutes is right for you, it’s easier to weed out the wrong partners. If there’s lots of awkwardness and little attraction over video, people are far less likely to proceed to a real-life date.
Many people believe that, even as we move into a post-pandemic era, a video-chat session will remain an established middle step between chatting on a dating app and meet in person.
For singles who live in high-cost cities, like New York, dating can be expensive. A video-chat meeting can serve as a preliminary check to assess basic compatibility and decide how likely you are to be attracted to this person.
This reduces the chance of a frustrating blind date where, after five minutes, you already realize that you don’t really like the other person but don’t feel comfortable to get up and leave. Not to mention that you’ll end up paying for coffee and parking. If you date a lot, these expenses may add up.
A Different World
The coronavirus pandemic has deprived us of many things we formerly took for granted: handshakes, hugging, kissing, and even seeing each other’s faces unobscured by masks. The same consequences apply to dating. Some experts believe that even after the COVID era (hopefully!) passes, the social conditioning of being physically reserved will remain.
COVID has changed the patterns of sexual activity among singles, too. For one, people are far less likely to engage in casual sex with someone they don’t know well. Generally speaking, singles are taking things slower and running fewer risks. They are more likely to stop and ask themselves, “Is this person worth taking a chance on?” Many would argue that’s not a bad thing.
With far less pressure to have sex quickly or impress your date with a meal in an expensive restaurant, people have a fantastic opportunity to connect on a mental level without getting sidetracked by exciting but dead-end physical relationships.
Some people go as far as making sure that both they and their potential dating partner test negative for the coronavirus before meeting in the flesh. To lower the risk of transmission, others insist on dates in the open air such as a walk in the park.
Because of the inherent risk in a face-to-face meeting, people are more likely to discuss things like potential physical contact online or on a video chat before they go on a real date: “Would it be okay for us to kiss when we meet? How do you feel about the possibility of getting intimate if the chemistry is there?”
Questions that would have sounded awkward before the pandemic now seem reasonable. People are protecting themselves, and as they are getting to know a potential partner, they both volunteer and expect a lot more information about their lifestyle, mask-wearing habits, and how many people they normally meet at work.
Hardly anyone doubts that COVID-19 has altered our world forever. We’ll probably have to wait a little longer to observe further trends and changes in the dating world, both online and face-to-face. One thing, however, is pretty certain—people will keep looking for partners, and no pandemic is going to stop them.
Author: Chris Muller
Chris Muller is a small business owner who started a digital marketing business that focuses on freelance writing, content marketing, and SEO — all while working full-time and playing dad to two kids.