Long gone are the days of aimlessly swiping through Tinder, exchanging a few messages, and grabbing a drink with a match that meets your taste, all within 24 hours.
For singles and couples separated by the pandemic, dating has taken on a new definition. It’s no longer going to movie theaters, sitting for hours at your favorite restaurants chatting, or just meeting up for a stroll around the lake. In place of those classic dates are now Zoom dates, more Zoom dates, and even more Zoom dates. And maybe hanging out in a park, talking loudly to each other from six feet apart.
Despite that, dating app usage has surged since COVID-19 began. According to a Bumble representative, between March 13 and May 1, there’s been a 16 percent increase in messages sent, and a 69 percent increase in video calls made within the app.
In a new world where there’s less to talk about, and even less to do, I was curious how online dating was going during COVID-19. I joined a few dating apps myself, stating in my bio that I was a journalist looking for sources for this story. It turns out that using dating apps for things other than dating is against community guidelines for almost every app. But, after asking how dating works during COVID-19 before an imminent ban, a message I received multiple times was simply, “It doesn’t.”
Zoom as a Dating App
Julia Shreve, 25, hasn’t found that to be the case. “I’ve been matching with more people than ever, and I’m not sure if it’s because they lowered their standards or I’ve lowered mine,” she jokes.
Compared to before, Shreve has found herself staying interested in talking with people on dating apps longer. And, she’s not the only one doing it. According to a Bumble representative, one in four conversations now have a large amount of messages sent between both parties.
“You don’t talk about like if you have a job, or if you’re in school anymore,” Shreve says. “If it’s an okay conversation, I’ll keep it going. I will keep it weird and interesting, and if they don’t respond to the weird and interesting, then I’m done.”
Unsurprisingly, some people feel limited by dating exclusively by phone. Dean Thach, 27, has gone on a few virtual dates with people he’s met on Hinge, but finds the process of getting to know people over video calls to be slightly awkward.
“I’m so used to dating before COVID… you could literally do anything that you want, you have so many different options,” said Dean Thach, 27. “But now, you’re pretty much stuck at home or wherever you are, behind a computer screen or your phone, and you can only do so much.”
Thach usually spends time getting to know his matches before meeting up in person—usually during a walk around one of the lakes, or while paddle boating. Unfortunately, those things don’t translate well into a Zoom date, like a virtual happy hour would. So, Thach has been trying new types of virtual dates.
“There was one time where we did do like a dinner thing–we both made dinner, which was interesting,” Thach said. “But at the same time, I would have rather made dinner in the same room as opposed to being in different areas.”
Social Distancing Before it Was Mandated
Mackenzie, 25, and Nate, 29, are well practiced in virtual dating. Mackenzie, who’s based in Denver, and Nate, who’s based in Minneapolis, started dating in January. “Our dates are always social distance,” Mackenzie jokes. “In accordance with social distancing restrictions, we are always 6 feet apart—always.”
Over the past five months, the long distance couple have tried a myriad of different ways to stay connected while apart. From sending each other care packages and food delivery, to cooking the same meal in their separate homes, they were able to grow closer in between their monthly visits. But now that travel is restricted, their dating creativity has only grown.
Between online picnics, having wine and painting nights, and doing virtual slumber parties, the couple has also started a two person book club. “We read the same book and then we talk about it,” Mackenzie says. “So far we’ve not even finished one, but we started it!”
When it comes to shifting dating to an online world, Mackenzie says that communication and creativity are the most important things.
“It hasn’t been too hard to do fun date things,” she says. “I mean certainly not as fun as they would be in person, but I feel like a lot of date ideas are easier to kind of modify.”
While many people have jumped head first into the virtual dating world, others have decided to skip the virtual date part entirely. But, they don’t always get the best results.
“Half the guys [I talk to] are like, we should hang out, and I’m like, ‘What? There’s a literal deadly pandemic,’” Shreve says. “I’m staying with my parents, and I’m not putting them at risk.”
Shreve has been getting to know people over messaging and Snapchat, but would be open to seeing people if they did it in a social-distance friendly way. “I’d be okay standing 10 feet away from you while we yell in a parking lot, because that sounds awesome,” she says.
Thach has been open to meeting up with matches, but only after having their first date be virtual. “I’ll do the virtual chat just so we can get to know each other, but we’re still distancing and we’re still away from each other,” he says. “But if things go well, then I would bring up the possibility of maybe meeting up in person if she feels comfortable, and I’m comfortable with it.”
What Happens Next?
Although living with parents or roommates used to serve as a convenient excuse to reject random Tinder dates asking to come over, today it’s become much more serious of a reason. Many Twin Cities singles aren’t willing to risk the health of the people they live with, or their own, leading some to wonder if video chatting is likely to remain prominent in today’s dating culture.
“I don’t know if people even want to go back to the ‘normal dating life,’ just because we don’t want to have anyone at risk,” Thach says. “I think we have to get used to the idea of virtual dating, at least for a while.”
That hasn’t stopped Thach or others from thinking about what kind of dates they’ll go on when they consider it safe enough to have normal outings again.
“A few of the girls I’ve matched with I recommended after this is over, we could have a picnic, because I bought a fancy picnic basket, and every single one of them said that was the cutest thing they’ve ever heard,” Shreve says. “So, everybody just wants to be outside with someone, I think.”
Like Shreve, Thach hopes to spend his first dates outside, whether it’s going around a lake, kayaking, or grabbing some food. In any case, even though he prefers in-person dating, he’s welcomed Zoom dating for what it is, and what it can provide in times where we can’t safely meet face-to-face.
“It’s a hard time, and people don’t want to be alone,” Thach says. “Just because this whole pandemic is going on, doesn’t mean we have to stop dating, or stop our own personal lives, or put it on hold. We still have to continue doing what we love to do, and doing what we want to do, and trying to meet that special someone.”