Coronavirus has made the stakes higher – we don’t have the luxury of feeling awkward about asking questions anymore
Wednesday, 3rd June 2020, 1:00 pm
At the beginning of coronavirus lockdown, everyone (including myself) felt that this may mark a new era of online dating. Previously, the grumbles had been that dating apps were a fairly disappointing place where the chat could vary anywhere between super sleazy to not getting replies. And that’s if you managed to get a date at all – given that many felt like matches didn’t really translate into IRL dates.
Although quarantine squashed IRL dates, that fatigue turned to tentative optimism because many of us noticed actual conversations taking place. For once, the conversations actually felt like they had substance, instead of just being used as the quickest route to sex. Given that sex was off the table unless you were seriously irresponsible, online romance seemed to revert to what it always should have been about: meaningful connection.
Even apps noticed a difference. Tinder and Bumble said chat times have been longer, while Hinge reported a 30 per cent increase in messages in March.
I get why people thought this was optimistic. The pandemic prompted soul-searching in a lot of us who looked at how we led our lives before lockdown. It made us question what really mattered. But at the risk of sounding like a right Eeyore, I don’t think the newfound engagement was because people collectively decided to mend their ways.
Before the pandemic, there was a vicious cycle many users like myself felt trapped in. You would half-heartedly use an app hoping to meet someone but expecting a crap experience. You might check the app when you’re bored, and even then, arranging a date seems like a faff when you could hang out with friends instead. If enough people use the app this inconsistently, it makes total sense that it’s a nightmare to date.
But in the pandemic, we all had oodles of time. There were no mates to hang out with or drinks with co-workers. So of course engagement went up, and people wanted to converse because there literally was nothing else outside of Netflix to do.
While all this chat was great at first, I don’t think the revolution we all wanted around online dating is happening. Sure, there is a massive pivot to video calls and Tinder is unveiling a new video function in the app this month. But some of us are finding lockdown chat as dry as a dog biscuit, with no real avenue for conversation to go down, given that life as we know it, has paused.
And there are bigger problems than dry chat as we ease our way out of lockdown, and meeting people outside for socially distanced dates is allowed.
I’m talking about the complicated quagmire of trying to figure out whether the person you’re chatting to is being sensible about lockdown or is trying it on with as many people until someone says yes.
It was hard enough trying to work out before the pandemic whether the person you matched with was secretly in a relationship or voted for Brexit, but the easing of measures is a divisive issue. You really cannot make assumptions about people being responsible, as I found out when a guy suggested meeting up.
I assumed he meant a socially distanced date and I agreed. It turned out he wanted to go to the beach and offered to pick me up. My mind exploded – this guy clearly hadn’t been social distancing. I realised that in addition to the standard chat, you have to add quarantine questions to that list.
Online chat can be delicate at the best of times, and you don’t want to say something that might put the other person off. But I knew this person was not going to be upfront about their situation, so I needed to be direct. I asked him whether or not he had been social distancing, and he started by saying: “I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint…”
It turned out that although he was furloughed, he was undertaking charity work which meant he was in contact with lots of people several times a week. Which is all fine and noble, but what shook me was the fact that he was doing this and wasn’t really that bothered about social distancing on our date. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with that, and he was polite about it.
While this does seem like a dark cloud over dating, as an eternal optimist, I think this may, in the long run, make us clear and more direct about what we want and need.
Online dating may never ever offer up the abundance of choice and possibilities as it once did, but if we’re been honest, that freedom of choice is also what made us numb to real connection. Coronavirus has made the stakes higher – we don’t have the luxury of feeling awkward about asking questions when we might be meeting someone whose approach to lockdown may be putting us at risk.
Some people have said it makes them feel like giving up dating altogether, and I definitely have felt like that. But it has also given me the time to actually sit down and think about what I want from dating rather than leaving it to fate and hoping for the best. It may not be a new era, but it could be an evolution, and hopefully one for the better.