When Ileana Valdez, a Dallas-native and junior at Yale University, found out she wouldn’t be going back to campus after spring break due to the COVID-19 outbreak, she and her friends created a dating site, OKZoomer.
It began as a makeshift effort. “My friend and I posted a Google form — we were like, ‘Hey, you didn’t get to shoot your shot before we got kicked off campus? Sign up and we’ll match you.’ It kind of blew up,” said Valdez, 20.
In a matter of two hours, the form they posted on Facebook received around 4,000 signups, according to The Dallas Morning News. Since then, it’s grown into a website with over 18,000 subscribers. Throughout the country, 150 schools are represented, with some students from Australia in the mix too.
The site matches subscribers based on personality; each person fills out a questionnaire and photos are not included. Every Saturday night they find out who their matches are. Then they go on Zoom dates.
“We call it ‘Zooking up,’” Valdez said. “They can only Zook up. They can’t see each other in person. You have to have actual conversations.”
Even outside of college circles, Zoom dates are becoming the norm. Marivel Garcia, 23, a real estate agent who moved to Dallas last September, had her first virtual date in late April. She said it went well and was somewhat interactive.
“I was making drinks at my apartment; he was showing me how he was making his drinks,” Garcia said.
She said she felt less pressure than she does on in-person dates — it was comfortable.
“I didn’t have to think about, ‘What if I don’t like this person and I have to leave, but I have to wait because I’m being respectful,’” she said. An easy out? “Oh my gosh, my Wi-Fi went off,” Garcia said jokingly.
For others, socially distant nature outings are an option too.
“We’re taking things slow, getting to know each other,” said Portia Thompson, 35, who works in HR and met someone new about three weeks ago. “It’s been, ‘Hey, let’s go for a bike ride, or let’s go walk,’” she said, “things that we can do together and still maintain social distance.”
What glimmers is a small silver lining during a public health crisis. Everyone has been forced to slow down and get creative in seeking connection.
As for what OKZoomer has done for relationships, “It’s building a lot of deeper connections than we would have built on campus, which is really beautiful,” Valdez said.
Although she can’t say anyone has been married or engaged just yet after finding each other on the platform, there have been a few heartwarming stories.
“There was a guy who reached out to us saying that he talked on the phone for six hours with his match, and that they were going to keep talking,” she said.
Even as restrictions loosen in Dallas, some remain wary about meeting in person, meaning screen dates and socially distant walks might be around for some time.
Thompson said she won’t feel comfortable about in-person dating until next March. She’s worried COVID-19 cases could take off as businesses reopen.
And Garcia has plans to meet her beau in June. But she said the number of coronavirus cases will need to drop before she feels good about dating in person.
“This is our new normal,” Garcia said. “Thank God for Zoom, right?”