Welcome to the special hell that is virtual dating right now.
It probably won’t take long for you to find a Tinder or Hinge profile that mentions the coronavirus. (I’m on dating apps for a brief respite from our current horror show of an existence, OK?)
Even worse are the people taking dating apps to a more dangerous place than simply talking about the coronavirus: They want to meet up. During a time when a large swath of people have been mandated (or at least strongly encouraged) to stay in their own homes or at least six feet apart from anyone they don’t live with.
None of this is surprising. People are, after all, a little bit lonely. Lack of sex and intimacy has led to an increase in sexts and nudes as well as a boon for the sex toy industry. To some, it might seem perfectly excusable to go to someone’s house for a quickie — even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said people can hook up with their Tinder dates “at their own risk.”
But being lackadaisical about social distancing puts other people’s lives at risk. And then there are some people — specifically men — who are going to lengths to harass and gaslight women to try to convince them to meet up with them, or to shame them when they refuse.
Samantha Rothenberg, an artist known as @violetclair on Instagram, has been using her art to bring the issue to light for her more than 200,000 followers.
“Since social distancing has been mandated, I’ve received hundreds (possibly thousands) of submissions featuring screenshots of people who are not only attempting to meet up right now, but who are also actively shaming and harassing those who turn them down,” Rothenberg told Mashable.
Rothenberg has been collecting screenshots of dating app conversations since 2018 for a series called Screenshot Stories, where she creates art from the messages. Once the pandemic hit, almost all her submissions were conversations centered around it.
“It’s hard not to feel completely helpless in the face of so much tragedy, and as someone with an audience who looks to me for dating-themed content, I knew that going for something in that vein is where I could be most impactful,” she said.
One such COVID-related submission is from Emily, a 35-year-old living in Richmond, Virginia, who wished to only share her first name:
Emily, who referred to herself as a “serial single gal,” initially laughed at these Facebook Dating messages, but then she got angrier. She blocked him and posted the screengrabs to Facebook, where they sparked a discussion that led to a friend finding the guy and contacting to call him out. After a lot of back and forth with Emily’s friend, he apologized, which Emily is happy about.
“I am so over men online talking to women in this manner,” Emily said. “I know that the guy has the issues, obviously, but I do wonder what detrimental effects these comments and treatment have on the inner psyche of women.”
In early March, before Virginia’s governor issued a stay-at-home order until June 10, Emily went out with another man on three in-person dates. He worked for the hospital system and told her he wanted to find a partner for quarantine and be exclusive right away. Due to where he worked and the pressure he was putting on her, Emily felt uncomfortable with that arrangement. “The whole thing just rubbed me the wrong way,” she said, “why so much emphasis on hanging out?” She offered instead to get to know him more over the phone or FaceTime, but he stopped responding to her messages.
“I believe that we ended things due to the fact that we disagreed on social distancing,” Emily said. Now, she continues to use dating apps to get a sense of normalcy and connection with others — but she deleted Facebook Dating. She commented that she can’t explain it, but it “just has a different kind of guy on it than I’m looking for.”
A Facebook spokesperson told Mashable that the company has been notifying Facebook Dating users that they can access its Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information Center, which includes news updates and tips on staying healthy, including instructions from users’ local governments about staying home and social distancing.
Fed up by messages like the ones Emily received, Rothenberg started a petition, now with around 1,800 signatures, to hold dating apps accountable for enforcing social distancing (dating while at home). While major dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have issued messages to their users about the importance of staying home, some users have chosen to blatantly ignore the warnings.
Rothenberg believes the apps should do more to enforce social distancing, including adding a feature to report users for “irresponsible behavior” and sending warnings to users who violate social distancing recommendations. But it’s a tricky situation.
A Tinder spokesperson told Mashable that the app cannot control specific individuals’ behavior. They emphasized that Tinder issued guidance from the WHO stating that users should implement measures such as washing their hands frequently and maintaining social distancing in large gatherings as early as March 2, and users can unmatch or report others if they feel uncomfortable.
“I asked him if in his honest medical opinion he thought it was a good idea, and that’s when he said ‘Yes, doctors orders.'”
Hinge introduced features such as “Date from Home”, which makes transitioning from app messaging to video chats easier, in order to empower their community to embrace digital dating. The app also has in-app notifications emphasizing the importance of staying home right now.
“If a user feels pressured to meet up in person by a match, they have the ability to report that user in the app,” Hinge told Mashable in a statement. “If we start receiving an influx of reports around users ignoring social distancing guidelines, we’ll determine if any additional steps are needed to keep our community safe.”
The statement continued, “We will continue to listen closely to our community’s needs to ensure they feel supported during these unprecedented times, along with updating our Help Center with the latest best practices and guidelines from the World Health Organization.”
It’s not just laypeople who are ignoring guidelines. A 36-year-old woman who wished to remain anonymous shared that an ICU doctor wanted to meet up. She had first dated him two years ago, but the timing was off; they reconnected the weekend their city went on lockdown, and he suggested they hook up. “I knew it was a bad idea, but I figured he might have known something I didn’t,” she said. “So I asked him if in his honest medical opinion he thought it was a good idea, and that’s when he said ‘Yes, doctor’s orders.'”
“I almost fell out of my chair,” the woman said.
As it turns out, there are gender differences when it comes to risk-assessment in dating. “In general, men and women tend to think about casual encounters through a somewhat different lens,” said Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire.
Women tend to be more cognizant of risks because they’re at higher risks for assault, according to Lehmiller. Furthermore, women disproportionately have to deal with the effects of an unintended pregnancy.
Lehmiller suggested that might awareness might make women more risk-averse in this specific scenario — meeting up with people during the pandemic. “The fact that women tend to be a bit more risk-aware when it comes to casual sex might actually really helps to explain what’s going on now,” he said, “where this pandemic is heightening that perception of risk even further.”
What’s more, men who don’t care about public health can simply be a turn off.
“Mostly what I’m getting is guys saying they want to hang out and asking me to come over, meet them out, or just start off by asking if I want to meet during all of this,” said Diana Edelman, a 40-year-old in Las Vegas, where there’s a stay-at-home order in place until April 30. “And then when I say no, that’s it.”
Bumble, the app in Edelman’s screenshot above, declined to comment.
Edelman believes wanting to meet up right now is a red flag. “It’s really disheartening to see so many guys who just don’t care about what’s going on with our community,” she said, “and can’t fathom other ways to get to know someone when near instant gratification isn’t an option.”
Sera, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, said that men are trying to get her to meet up by taking advantage of a loophole in the city’s “stage three” lockdown. Residents can still get coffee to go and walk 1.5 meters (around five feet) apart.
“I’ve been called things like sassy, stupid, and a bitch for refusing.”
“Naturally, I have never had so many guys in my life ask me for coffee and a walk,” Sera, who requested to only go by her first name, said. But she’s living with her parents and doesn’t want to put them at risk. Further, six feet is the minimum distance that should be upheld, according to some scientists, and it’s not a safety guarantee. While she’s willing to go on virtual dates — and has already gone on several — some men on apps (whom Sera referred to as fuckbois) aren’t satisfied with that prospect.
“I’ve been called things like sassy, stupid, and a bitch for refusing,” she said.
In India, where lockdown was just extended through May 3, 22-year-old Urvashi was pressured by a man she knew through Instagram. Urvashi, who only wanted to share her first name, had agreed to meet-up before lockdown began, but then backed out. He tried to push her into meeting him since, he said, she’d promised they would, and said that they wouldn’t have to touch — and they could even wear masks if that’d make her feel safer.
When she still said no, he said that she was just using lockdown as an excuse. “He was making it all about his insecurities of being rejected when it wasn’t even that,” Urvashi said, “and then I understood it’s futile to try to explain it to him what’s happening in Italy because we weren’t hit that hard yet.” That was around the end of March; she stopped responding and blocked him.
For Krissy, a woman in Birmingham, Alabama, who requested to share only her first name, this is just another way for men to be shady on apps. Birmingham has a shelter-in-place order until April 30, but she’s encountered men who refuse to do a Zoom date and want to meet up in real life. “The sketchiness is still there, just in new ways,” she said.
Those who are properly social distancing know the hardships: We miss our families, friends, and human connection on a whole. Also, let’s face it: We’re horny. But the consequences of not social distancing include not only overloading the healthcare system, but also the loss of countless lives.
By badgering and gaslighting women, these men show their disrespect for women’s boundaries as well as their callousness toward the health and safety of others.
“We’re at the point now where the gravity of this pandemic is widely understood, so while this type of manipulative behavior might normally be considered awful, now it’s just flat-out deadly,” said Rothenberg.
She added, “Anyone who wants to meet up right now is basically saying that they don’t care about the health and safety of their community, and that alone should be a dealbreaker.”