The coronavirus outbreak has spawned more meaningful connections online, say experts. Romantic dinners have moved to Zoom and no one worries about who is paying the bill.
Slide or swipe. That’s what it takes to find a date online. And in these Covid-infected times, it seems, the love bug is also in the air.
Popular dating app Tinder reported that “quarantine became the world’s largest icebreaker” with 52% more messages being sent between users since early March.
“The combination of being stuck at home and the fact that we were all going through the same thing at the same time led folks on Tinder to get chattier than ever,” Tinder said in a press statement.
There are other platforms that echoed this reality through lockdown.
DatingBuzz Africa is an online dating site primarily used in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia but is very popular in South Africa, in three of its big cities: Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. The site saw a spike in its activity on the app as well as in the duration of time people are staying online. Pre-Covid, the app saw about 60,000 to 70,000 active users online a month. CEO and Founder of DatingBuzz, David Burstein, says since the beginning of lockdown, there has been a 25% increase.
“Within a few days of the initial lockdown being announced, we suddenly started seeing a rapid rise in numbers. So on the first day or two of lockdown, people were wondering what is happening with the world. And shortly thereafter, we noted a definite upward trend,” says Burstein.
So what do these figures suggest about online dating during Covid-19, when social interaction has been at an all-time low worldwide?
“Some of the potential criticisms in the past [for] online dating is that it becomes very rapid that you exchange messages online, and then people want to meet, and that the slightly old-style of courtship has disappeared,” Burstein explains. “So, what we see now is greater messaging volumes, which implies that people are exchanging more messages with each other. And that’s because it’s not easy to now just say ‘okay, we’ve chatted online for a week, let’s do coffee’.”
The figures for Lisa50, an online dating site for people over the age of 50 primarily based in Africa and the United Kingdom, also show there has been a significant increase in the number of people using the system and that could be due to several factors.
The first is that internet usage around the world has soared as more people have had to stay home for longer periods. The second is being isolated for months. The final factor that CEO and Founder of Lisa50, David Minns, notes, is that there is less pressure for people to date.
“As many people are restricted in physically meeting people, there’s less pressure to arrange a date and meet up. Making that transition from chatting to someone online to meeting [them] is difficult, even for the most confident people. With this pressure removed, I feel it makes online dating sites less intimidating,” Minns says.
“There is now a tendency for a lot of people to be cautious. They don’t want to just rush into meeting someone and therefore, chatting online makes sense. It’s a comfortable, safe space,” Burstein adds.
According to Cape Town-based relationship expert, Dr Marlene Wasserman, the rise in the usage of dating websites and apps could be because those who are single “were cut off from their usual behavior”. Dating apps in the last few months have become the only safe and social place to gather publicly without fear of catching a deadly virus. She further elaborates that people are more inclined now to talk more than before as this unpredictable time has left them wanting to form more meaningful connections.
“So instead of just swiping, going to have a drink, going back, swiping, have a drink, what people are doing is lingering for longer with one person. And not only do they linger longer, but they also found that the levels of conversation got deeper. So it wasn’t just like, ‘what are you wearing?’ It’s more about ‘how are you feeling now, especially during this time of Covid-19’, which is profound,” Wasserman says.
Dr Letitia Smuts, a lecturer of sociology at the University of Johannesburg, whose research interest is (Hetero)Sexual Identities, Heteronormativity and Gender, agrees. She, however, adds that because human beings crave and need social interaction, having it taken away can be difficult. This difficulty has led to people finding innovative ways to connect with other individuals.
“For instance, a lot of people are trying to help those people who never wanted to join online dating sites. We have seen an upsurge,” Smuts says.
Those used to frequently meeting at restaurants or nightclubs, are now trying new things like Zoom dinner dates or going to the botanical gardens where they can ‘social distance’.
“They are finding other ways of dating. One of my female participants actually said ‘now, we don’t have to worry about who pays the bill’,” Smuts laughs.
Both experts state that intimacy has found new meaning.
“The intimacy is about a connection. So, in many ways, what’s happening now is people are establishing a connection through communication, through action, getting to know each other rather than rushing into any type of physical relationship. So in many ways, it’s actually contributing to a more healthy type of intimate connection,” says Smuts.
“It has now gotten to a deeper level of intimacy and that’s been very positive for many people who now feel like they are being held and being seen and noticed in a place and time which can be extremely lonely,” Wasserman adds.
This closeness has also increased between those already in relationships, according to Wasserman. She adds that this period has proven that people just want raw honesty when it comes to having or making connections.
“There was this fear of the unknown, but I think we all started looking and reflecting a little more and saying, ‘what is it that we really want out of life, out of a relationship and what is our purpose’,” says Wasserman.
Hinge, another dating app, notes their statistics show users want to form long and meaningful connections with people before meeting them, especially with their video chatting options.
“Hinge Labs uncovered from their first study that 44% of Hinge users have been on a video date, and of those users, more than 52% say they are likely to continue incorporating video chat into their dating process even when they can meet safely in real life,” Hinge says in a press statement.
It may be a while before the cozy candlelight dinners return to an offline world.