ACROSS AMERICA — With restaurants and bars across the states closed for much of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, this would seem an unlikely year for a spike in romantic first dates.
Remember, though, that this is a year like no other. And, it turns out, not only are more people using dating apps, more people are entering relationships at greater speed because of the pandemic.
It’s what Susan Winter, a New York City-based relationship expert, calls “turbo relationships” — a term that’s been created specifically for dating during coronavirus lockdowns.
“A turbo relationship is a relationship that started either right before the lockdown, or during the lockdown and has gone at Mach speed,” said Winter, who advises hundreds of clients across the globe.
“These relationships have gone from kinda knowing someone to playing house in a very short time.”
Take Kristin Bolcarovic of New Jersey. She met her new boyfriend first on a Facebook dating app and just weeks later spent an entire week holed up in the same home with him as Hurricane Isaias ravaged the area.
But why are relationships moving more quickly during the time of the coronavirus?
It’s the speeding up of the “define the relationship” conversation, according to a GQ article detailing the fast-tracking of intimacy.
“The dire circumstances of COVID-19 present an opportunity to fast-track a new relationship to the next level of commitment, skipping the usual waystations — ‘Oh, hey, I got you a toothbrush’ — for an express train to Cohabitation Town,” the article said.
In an era of mandated isolation, loneliness is why so many relationships are taking off.
“We’re not necessarily solving a coronavirus problem. We’re solving a problem of loneliness that happens to be compounded right now because of coronavirus,” Quarantine Together dating app CEO Daniel Ahmadizadeh said in a CNBC report.
Bolcarovic said it was easier to find her new love while work was on hold for the first few months of the pandemic.
“It was kind of all we had to do,” she said. “We had the time, we were both single parents, and we had a lot to talk about.”
But boredom is rarely the reason couples have been finding each other in turbo relationships, Winter said. She, too, says loneliness is playing a big role in the need to find someone.
“People had the choice of being sequestered alone or finding a partner,” Winter said. “Then came all the ads on Craigslist and other sites with the tag ‘lockdown with me’ or ‘I don’t want to be alone.’ ”
For Bolcarovic, it was her boyfriend’s dating app headline, ‘Man with hand sanitizer looking for woman with toilet paper,’ that first caught her attention.
“I thought it was hilarious,” she said. “We’ve been together ever since.”
Bolcarovic is one of dozens of newly attached people who shared their coronavirus love stories with Patch. In nearly all of them, it was an online dating app that first connected the pair.
Sheri Lacasse and Shaun Murphy of Denver are among them.
Lacasse said she was “perpetually single” and “a longtime patron of every dating app that exists” before finding love on Tinder amid the pandemic.
“The online dating scene has changed for the better from my perspective,” she said. “Due to health concerns, it has weeded out the illegitimate-intended and preserved those genuinely interested in finding the ‘one,’ or to date at the very least.”
Most of the top dating apps have seen an increase in use since shutdown orders began in early March.
Dating.com reported global online dating was up 82 percent during the first few weeks of the pandemic, according to a CNBC report. A Match Group earnings statement shows significantly more people turned to online dating in the second quarter of 2020 than the first three months of the year.
Match Group — which owns Match.com, Tinder, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish, among others — says subscriber numbers have gone up by 15 percent between March and the end of June.
This is in clear contrast to the trend seen pre-pandemic, when numbers from 2019 show use on dating apps globally was trending downward.
April 5 was the “chattiest day” in the United States on Tinder, with members sending an average of 56 percent more messages than in early March, company spokeswoman Alex Daly said.
“Globally, more members are swiping right on someone new, having more conversations overall, and those conversations are lasting longer,” Daly said.
“People are reaching out to ask, ‘Are you OK?’ instead of starting with a wave.”
Bios on the site now include more “wash your hands” emojis and messages such as “Stay home, be safe, social distance,” she said.
Samantha Milano said she had long given up on dating apps before she changed her mind shortly after the pandemic started.
“I found myself to be more genuine, open, upfront and honest,” she said.
Showing an even sharper increase in new use than dating apps themselves is the video dating option many had considered to be a flop before the pandemic, experts say.
“Video dating has changed the course of dating, and that’s here to stay,” Winter said. More and more first dates are taking place via Zoom, FaceTime or the major dating apps that have “rushed” to adopt the video option.
Video dating has “really exploded as the only way to meet new people and to get to know them,” Winter added. She mentioned a few of her clients who would be as elaborate as to have dinner and a virtual cocktail hour with someone they have never met before.
But what happens when these coronavirus couples do meet in person? Are these the type of relationships that could actually work out?
Winter says the answer is largely yes, even as first dates now come more typically in the form of a walk by a river or beach than a night of fine dining.
“A lot of clients say that if they can survive the lockdown and still love that person, they are good,” Winter said.
Not for all, though.
“We’ve also seen clients who have had an ongoing, deeply connected virtual relationship, but now as these cities are coming out of lockdowns, it has not passed the test of time,” Winter said.
“It is hard to believe how powerful being alone is to driving people to a relationship. This is nothing new, but certainly amplified because of the lockdown.”