Among the multiple social cataclysms attributed to the pandemic is the death of one-night stands and the redemption of romantic love, or at least relationships with a journey time of more than 16 hours. The statistics from dating apps prove it: confinement increased the exchange of messages and the duration of conversations, while the number of users seeking longer relationships increased compared to those who wanted one-night stands. In general, the pandemic has forced us to take the matter of sex less quickly.
The culture of hook up, as the normalization of casual sex is known in the Anglo-Saxon world, it has just established itself in the last two decades thanks to the Internet, social networks and dating apps with their algorithms that theoretically broaden the horizon of potential partners to infinity, they reward compulsive activity with more visibility of the profiles and, therefore, a greater probability of interaction, and create the illusion that there are more fish in the sea. An algorithm that does the dirty work and allows, if necessary, to disappear without a trace.
The irruption of these algorithms in the intimate and personal lives of humans has changed our ways and means of mating. It was a goal of technology to a modus operandi that had been installed among us for several centuries. For Justin Garcia, a researcher at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, it is one of the two great changes that have altered human mating in the last four million years. “The first occurred between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago when the development of agriculture made humans sedentary and marriage was established as a cultural contract, and the second has come with the Internet”, explains the professor in an article, adding that as soon as people went online they started using it as a way to find a partner and sex. In the 90’s it was Craigslist and AOL chats, then Match.com and then the dating apps on the phone that made the process of looking for a sexual partner as quick and easy as ordering food or booking a cheap flight. “
Confined first dates
But 2020 arrived and suddenly everything changed. The coronavirus imposed hygienic norms, behavior changes and a social distance that called into question sexual practices with quasi strangers. The apps themselves advised caution and put the brakes on and some governments such as New York City gave explicit instructions on the practice of casual sex during the pandemic: “You are your safest sexual partner” or “Your next date is someone who already lives in your house ”.
Obviously, life on Tinder didn’t stop. The app that changed our sexual life in 2012 reached its peak of global activity on March 29, in full confinement, with more than 3,000 million swipes (movements to the right), in Spain the day of most movement was April 12 , but something had changed. Faced with the recklessness of having sex with a stranger in a pandemic, people began to chat. To those who do not know Tinder we warn them that it is a site where you speak with monosyllables and emojis. There is little to say and many people already notice in their profile that they do not want endless chats. However, on those busy days, the exchange of messages grew 76% and conversations were 26% longer. A trend that was repeated on Ok Cupid and Hinge, both with a 30% growth in text messages. People switched to the phone or video calling apps like Zoom to follow the conversations and stayed online to cook, watch and comment on movies, have wine tastings, and if necessary, have virtual sex.
Some varied and fun practices that tend to create other types of emotional bonds. A recent OK Cupid survey revealed that 85% of the 70,000 users interviewed considered it more important to develop an emotional connection than a physical one, it also observed a 5% increase in those seeking long-term relationships and a 20% drop in those seeking long-term relationships. looking for one night stands.
If before the pandemic the use of video chat was 6%, during the spring lockdown it almost reached 70%. There was no choice. A turn of the tables that companies took advantage of to reinforce their video calling capabilities and offer virtual happy hours and online consultations with experts on reinventing sexual life without physical encounters.
Hessam Hosseini, CEO of Match.com, the company to which Tinder belongs, acknowledged in an interview with Fast Company that video chat was not among its priorities before the pandemic because only 6% of users were interested in that feature. During the pandemic, its use has increased by 69%. Since October 27, Tinder extended the video chat function that it had tested in the summer in Spain to the whole world.
Rachel DeAlto, an expert at Match.com told the newspaper The Houston Chronicle that Covid 19 could be “responsible for a gigantic cultural change.” “This moment may be the end of the American culture of hookup (casual sex). DeAlto, who has been a senior executive in this industry for twelve years, believes that the pandemic is giving” an opportunity to singles to find meaning and a intention to their appointments ”.
A similar position has been defended by anthropologist Helen Fisher in The New York Times. Fisher has been a scientific advisor to Match.com. “The pandemic is changing courtship for the better, not only because people are forced to talk and get to know each other better, but also because they are forced to take things slower. Singles are getting back to the traditional game, meeting someone before going to bed with that person. Talking in a difficult situation, exposing feelings and fears creates the basis for a stronger relationship ”, writes the anthropologist.
Romance after the pandemic
The CEOs of companies like Hinge or Match.com more focused on solid relationships believe that this situation can be beneficial for them because, says Hosseini, relationships are created where sexual intimacy is for the moment out of the equation. “I think people are looking for another kind of connection and this can bring about a change in the hook up culture.” Hinge CEO Justin McLeod believes this is the time to plant the seeds of stronger relationships in the face of the instant gratification of fleeting physical encounters that now seem less safe, “he told Fast Company magazine.
While it’s difficult to make the right first impression on a video conversation that has its own mysteries, including audio quality and lighting that can spoil everything, dating app CEOs suggest using it as a first measure of chemistry. that it can exist between two people, and if it is worth going for a second chance. It is more difficult to sustain a white lie, say ten extra pounds, in a video than in a profile photo.
The preference for the use of video in the online dating universe is interpreted as an intermediate step between the text message and the ‘here I catch you here I kill you’ that, believe the executives of the industry, will improve personal relationships and will continue to be used by at least half of users when better times come. It would be one of the few times in which a circumstance of analog reality slows down an almost totally digitized process: looking for a sexual partner. Couples therapists add one more advantage: these video chats could reduce the hyper-idealization we make of people with whom we only communicate through chats. The idealization bubble is very common in the digital world and psychologists have been fighting against it for years. The video could be an intermediate step between reality and our expectations.
The industry now sees the world of online dating as a more diverse ecosystem where those who want casual sex and those who go slower coexist. Something that was already happening, but some were dragged by others. Or the algorithm left them no choice. Diversity requires a more versatile design that does not only apply criteria of efficiency and optimization to the search for a partner and that can adapt to our contradictions as a species, on the one hand placing a high value on intimacy and authentic relationships, and on the other , fall asleep before the novelty.
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