It's a tricky time to be looking for love.
Online dating is the way of the world, and as much as I like to poke fun at the swipe, tap, stalk, text monotony of it all, I have to admit—it’s completely changed the way everyone dates today. However, unlike last year or the year before, a match made in heaven (or in reality, on your smartphone) doesn’t lead to drinks, dinner, or a midnight kiss. With COVID-19, quarantine, and the regulations that come from a worldwide epidemiology pandemic, relationships are now starting based solely on text conversations, phone calls, and Facetime or Zoom dates. Even though restrictions have lapsed and some are heading out to meet their suitors in bars and restaurants, most are keeping their distance when it comes to meeting new matches, which is completely changing the way so many people are dating.
“Social isolation has led to vast societal shifts in how we communicate; it’s forcing us to rethink what dating may look like,” says Priti Joshi, Vice President of Strategy at Bumble.
It’s crazy to think that just a year ago, the thought of meeting a complete stranger you matched with online was a thing of the norm, from the U.S. to Singapore. However, thanks to the devastating effects of the coronavirus and rates on the rise in the U.S., the entire premise behind online dating has changed completely. Instead of swiping and meeting up instantly, today’s dating looks more like it did 70 years ago, with people taking their time to get to know someone before committing to anything.
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“We see that slow dating is continuing to be a trend, as people are showing slower and more serious dating behaviors and raising the bar on what it means to build trust online when dating. There are many new complexities to figure out before a date—like what people’s boundaries are when it comes to connecting virtually or in-person,” Joshi said. “We know that people are spending more time getting to know each other online before meeting up in real life.”
According to many experts, the pandemic came at just the right time—at least in terms of online dating. According to the PEW Research Center, a study done in 2019 found that out of all Americans polled who used a dating app, over 45% left their date feeling more frustrated than hopeful and more pessimistic (35%) than optimistic (29%).
“Yes, this is a scary and weird time but I think it can also be a great opportunity for us to break the same old dating app pattern [swipe > text > ghosted, or coffee/drink] we’ve fallen into that had a lot us feel so jaded about dating,” says Dawoon Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel. “This leaves us needing to be more creative and experimental about how we get to know someone.”
To streamline the process for daters, many top online dating programs have added video-chatting and video profiles to their apps, making it easier for users to connect with the people they’re matching with. Not only does video chatting in the app make it easier, it’s safer. Bumble’s call and video feature allow you to chat with your match without giving out your personal information—like your phone number or email address.
“We’ve [at Bumble] seen increased use of this feature across the world during the pandemic—in fact, as of March 27, we saw that the average time spent on a Voice Call or Video Chat is around 20 minutes,” Joshi said. “On a global level, we’ve also seen a 16% increase in Bumble messages sent during the week ending May 1, versus sent during the week ending March 13, which is when a State of Emergency was declared in the U.S.”
Bumble isn’t the only app with a video chat function, either. Match, Tinder, eHarmony, and even Facebook Dating have all integrated a safer video-call and texting option for their users. It’s also more than just dating apps. According to Today, new companies, like Quarantine Together, are emerging out of the pandemic woodwork. Quarantine Together is a text-based app that allows its 30,000+ users to have safe and socially-distanced dates via text. They’re messaged at around 6:00 p.m. and asked if they’ve washed their hands. If they answer yes, they’re matched with another user for a conversation. Think of it like speed-dating, but from the comfort of your home.
“Dating during COVID-19 is requiring singles to either sit on the sidelines or adapt, and apps like Quarantine Together, Zoom, Skype, and even FaceTime are becoming the new norm,” said Jason Lee, dating coach with BestOnlineDating.com. “This gives you, as the user, an awesome opportunity to slow down the dating process and put your ability to be creative and adaptability on display.”
Dating Around the Globe
How users date in the U.S. right now is surprisingly not too different from how others across the globe are dating, even with the U.S. reporting higher than ever cases of coronavirus. When it comes to dating in 2020, safety and health are the biggest concerns no matter where you are.
According to data by Coffee Meets Bagel, 70% of users in Hong Kong reported taking longer to decide to meet someone, with 56% in Singapore reporting the same thing.
“These numbers don’t surprise me at all,” said Kang. “In this swipe-based world, we’ve become so used to writing someone off within the first few seconds. Maybe taking the time to go deeper with one person at a time and give them a proper chance. Slow dating can be a faster way to get to the type of genuine connections you might be looking for.”
Dating hasn’t just changed for single people, either. The pandemic has changed the entire relationship building and fostering paradigm entirely. According to Lisa Conception, a certified love life strategist, dating, relationship expert, and founder of LoveQuestCoaching.com, people in long-term relationships found themselves rethinking entirely what matters to them in a partner.
Instead of swiping and meeting up instantly, today’s dating looks more like it did 70 years ago, with people taking their time to get to know someone before committing to anything.
“I have one client who ended a two-year relationship after just three weeks into the COVID-19 quarantine because her boyfriend wasn’t ‘Lockdown Material,’” Conception said.
In a global health crisis, most people are rating that it’s more important than ever that their partner—whether now or future—take the COVID-19 precautions seriously, according to statistics provided by Coffee Meets Bagel. Ninety-five percent of both Hong Kong and Singapore daters think it’s at least somewhat important that their date takes COVID-19 precautions seriously, and 94% of U.S. daters think the same.
“From my experience working with single clients, there are a lot of fears around contracting the virus, particularly in more populated areas. However, not everyone is fearful. Some people have put a pause on dating until there is a vaccine, while others have not changed their behaviors whatsoever,” said Michelle Herzog, LMFT, CST, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. “A major hurdle is trying to determine if people are being honest about their social distancing/mask-wearing behaviors, leaving some singles anxious about risk calculations.”
So how can you tell if your match’s precautions are lining up with yours? For one, Bumble recently launched a new dating badge that gives its users the chance to limit their matches based on what kind of date they are comfortable with.
“Our new dating badge gives people the opportunity to indicate what kind of dates they’re comfortable going on—whether that’s virtual, socially-distanced, or socially-distanced with a mask,” Joshi said. “This means that people who add one of these badges to their Bumble profile can easily filter and find other people who want to connect in the way that feels best to them.”
Even though the idea of starting a new relationship can seem impossible, that hasn’t stopped some users, who are making even the longest distances work in a time of physical distancing—all the way from the U.S. to Australia!
“One of my clients in the District of Columbia, a 40-something male client, met a wonderful woman in Australia. Despite the pandemic, they are smitten with each other and are trying to make it work by spending a lot of time on Zoom!,” said Amy Schoen, MBA, CPCC, PCC, Professional Life Coach, and Dating and Relationship Expert. “Given the travel restrictions, they are working on a plan to meet this fall.”
Some other clients of Amy’s have met during socially-distanced hikes put on by their churches while others have met successfully online and have socially safe hangouts on their porches or in their backyards.
How to Safely Date Now
So how can you safely date in a time of such constant uncertainty? Like the experts stated above, it might involve changing your perspective on online dating entirely. However, it’s not impossible and involves just a little bit of creativity and a new-normal that most are finding it easier than they thought to adjust to.
If you’ve made it past the initial texts, Zoom dates, and phone calls and are ready to take your new relationship to the next level, you might consider a socially-distanced hang—there are ample ways to do this that don’t just involve a patio hang or a six-feet-apart walk around the block. You can picnic in the park (socially-distanced, of course), go grocery shopping together, paddleboard, kayak, or canoe (if you’re near water), hike, or even go to a drive-in movie.
“Pandemic-driven lockdowns and subsequent social isolation have created a new normal where your first meet-up isn’t in a bar or in a movie theater. Instead, it is substituted with virtual dates or co-Netflixing,” said Robert Thomas, a men’s health and relationship expert.
This idea has caused everyone to slow down, but especially those in the dating pool. “Instead of exchanging a few messages and then meeting up for a drink, some people are having video dates first and then meeting up for a more low-key socially-distanced date, such as a walk around the neighborhood. Social distancing has forced many people to slow down and genuinely get to know the person they’re speaking to or messaging with,” Joshi said.