HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC CHANGED DATING? HERE ARE 7 TIPS FOR GETTING BACK OUT THERE!
The coronavirus pandemic flipped the dating world upside-down. Instead of the traditional after-work drink, singles experimented with virtual dates and masked walks. Any physical touch, even a hug, required a conversation first. Many daters self-quarantined for weeks just to have a meal inside with someone.
It was a lot of work, but those rigid covid-19 dating rules did provide a framework for seeking romance during a pandemic.
Now that about half of American adults are fully vaccinated, the traditional in-person first date is returning and many of us are clueless. “How to date” was the most searched phrase in D.C. last week, according to Google. Nationally, searches related to how to date are at a five-year high.
Is the video date still necessary? How do you seem interesting on a first date after being confined to the couch for the past 16 months? Is it okay to ask about someone’s vaccine status?
We spoke with singles and dating experts about how to adapt what we learned from covid dating to the new normal. Here are seven tips for getting back out there.
1. Virtual dates are still a thing. Even though she’s vaccinated and bars are open again, Julia Capeloto, a 39-year-old marketing executive in San Francisco, still insists on video dates before most in-person meetups. It helps her gauge someone’s personality and whether there’s physical attraction. That’s one pandemic habit she’s keeping.
“Before covid, I wasted my time on so many bad first dates,” Capeloto says. Lately, there have been “far fewer bad first dates because I’ve been able to talk to them before.”
2. Be upfront with your date and slow down. Having honest conversations with a potential partner has always been important, but the pandemic made such talks even more essential. Capeloto has noticed that her matches are more upfront about what they are seeking — a relationship, something casual or undecided. She’s found that directness refreshing and hopes it will stick around.
Capeloto says covid dating has also taught her to slow down. “You don’t need to go on two dates in one week with someone new. Take your time, get to know them,” she says. “At the end of the date, think about: Do I want to see this person again or am I just lonely and I want some companionship?”
One of the tricks to finding the right partner is to not rush into a relationship, says Justin Lehmiller, a researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and author of “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.” “People don’t want relationships just for the sake of having them. They want to find the right relationship and the right partner,” Lehmiller says.
3. Find a way to talk about your values. During the pandemic, asking how seriously someone was taking the coronavirus and social distancing rules gave us a shortcut to assess whether our values meshed. Some daters may feel lost without such clear litmus tests.
Alison Wellington, a dating and relationship coach in Brooklyn, suggests making a list of what you’re looking for in partner — no more than six nonnegotiable character traits. “If you don’t have a clear vision as to what you’re looking for in a partner, it’s going to be difficult for you to find it,” Wellington says.
Before a date, think about how to judge if someone has the qualities you’re looking for. If you’re seeking someone family-oriented, for example, Wellington suggests asking your date about their childhood, or how often they see or talk to their family.
And conversations about vaccination status and covid anxiety are still relevant, she says. Even if both parties are vaccinated, Wellington says, it’s still a good idea to ask about what precautions your date still takes against the coronavirus. Basic questions about whether someone prefers indoor or outdoor dining “speak volumes to this person’s ability to be respectful and thoughtful with this person’s boundaries,” she said.
4. Keep the work talk to a minimum. Long before covid, matchmakers often emphasized that dates shouldn’t feel like networking dinners. After all, you’re auditioning someone for the role of romantic lead, not head of marketing. “If you start to go career-y on your dates, you’re friend-zoning. You’re taking the sex out. You want to talk about other things, like travel, hobbies and interests,” Patti Stanger, former host of the Bravo reality show “The Millionaire Matchmaker,” said in an interview. Try asking someone about the last book they read, concert or comedy show they attended — or what kinds of things they do with their friends. That way you can learn about the rest of their life, the part you might be spending with them.
5. Be curious about your date. Logan Ury, the director of relationship science at Hinge, has a motto: “Be interested, not interesting.” A lot of people try to entertain their dates by telling their funniest stories or talking about the cool trips they’ve been on. “But good dates are about connecting with another person, not showing off,” Ury writes in her book “How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love.” Ury suggests being an active listener, which can make somebody feel “interesting, desired and appreciated.”
How do you do that? Aim for “support” responses, Ury said in an interview, rather than returning the focus of the conversation back to you. If your date adopted a puppy during the pandemic, for example, ask why they chose the breed they did, or how the puppy training went — instead of telling them how badly you want a pooch. “By asking those support responses,” Ury says, “that person gets to dig into their own responses and that makes them feel really good in a conversation.”
6. Go ahead and be vulnerable on a first date. The heaviness of the pandemic had a way of stripping away any pretenses, making it harder for people to hide their true selves and easier to be open about their struggles.
This reporter has channeled that vulnerability into post-vaccinated dating. Recently on a first date, I erupted into tears over margaritas and appetizers — emotional spillover from a tough conversation I’d had earlier that day. My date handled it like a champ, moving to a seat closer to me, taking my hand and encouraging me to let it all out. He barely knew me, and yet his response was mature, accepting and understanding. It was as if we had been together for months. By the time we said goodbye, we both knew we wanted see each other again.
Being vulnerable doesn’t have to involve bursting into tears. Try asking your date about their toughest moments or who they leaned on most during the pandemic. People want to find somebody they connect with, and “being vulnerable is the way that you establish intimacy, through reciprocal self-disclosure,” Lehmiller says, adding that such openness “makes it more likely that something is going to arise out of that.”
7. Follow up. Lately, I’ve received some extremely thoughtful post-date messages telling me that it was nice to meet but that we’re not a match. In fact, Hinge’s Ury says the dating app’s users have reported that ghosting appears to be down these days. Writing a kind and respectful text thanking someone for their time, and highlighting one positive thing you gleaned about them, honors the time and energy you both put into meeting up.
Harrison Forman, a 29-year-old comedian and producer in New York, knows how it feels to be ghosted, so if he’s sensing a “friend vibe” after a first date, he politely makes that clear. The dating scene feels more direct these days, Forman says, with a no-loose-ends energy in the air. “You can’t come out of covid and live the same life.”
RELATIONSHIPS DUREING A PANDEMIC: HOW DATING APPS HAVE ADAPTED TO COVID-19
The pandemic has challenged and changed how most people date and hookup.
“Monogamy is preferable at this time,” said Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s National Director of Public Health, during the height of the first wave. Government-imposed physical distancing measures, stay-at-home orders and other public health initiatives resulted in a shift toward online dating.
This shift has increased the number of dating app users and the amount of time people spend on dating apps. Tinder says its users had 11 per cent more swipes and 42 per cent more matches last year, making 2020 the app’s busiest year.
Since dating apps were created to help people connect online and then meet in person, how have app companies responded to the pandemic? And what does their role in helping people adjust to this new dating reality mean?
Three main ways dating apps have responded to the pandemic
As scholars who study how digital technology is changing dating and relationships, we noticed swift responses from dating app companies when lockdown measures were introduced.
From March to May 2020, we looked at 16 dating apps, their social media accounts and broader media coverage to understand their pandemic responses.
We shared our findings in the book The COVID-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives and consider whether app companies, as for-profit corporations, are best positioned to support people’s health and wellbeing.
We found dating apps made efforts to shape how people date during the pandemic in three main ways:
1. Communicating about health
Pop-up messages on dating apps encouraged users to stop meeting in person and engage with each other online. Bumble sent users direct messages while public service announcements from provincial governments showed up in Tinder’s swipe screen. Grindr told users “Right Now” can wait to disrupt the usual emphasis on quick hookups.
Dating apps operated as public health advocates: users were invited to stay home, wash their hands, practise physical distancing and consult a doctor if they had COVID symptoms.
2. Addressing loneliness and isolation
Dating apps also tried to foster community-building and address feelings of isolation or fear. Apps like Grindr, Lex, Bumble, HER and Coffee Meets Bagel hosted online events like concerts, speed dating and dating advice sessions.
On social media, dating app companies promoted self-care. Plenty of Fish made an Instagram post stating, “It’s important to isolate without feeling isolated … and we’re here to help you through it!” Bumble said that “If you’re just ok, that’s ok.” Coffee Meets Bagel told users in an Instagram story, “It’s ok to do less when you’re coping with more.”
These posts reflected the messages of support that circulated widely across social media from companies and people during the first few months of the pandemic.
3. Making virtual dating the new normal
Several apps created or unlocked features to facilitate virtual dating. More than simply meeting through apps, virtual dating took the form of multiple online activities and exchanges that people could participate in while physical distancing.
Match, Bumble, Hinge, Jack’d and Plenty of Fish offered free video services. Other apps like HER, Coffee Meets Bagel and OkCupid recommended their users connect via Zoom or other videoconferencing software, text messages and even old-fashioned telephone calls. Tinder made its passport feature free, which allowed users to geolocate themselves anywhere in the world, encouraging them to connect with people globally – all while staying home.
Company blogs and social media accounts provided ideas for virtual dates. From virtual museum tours to ordering UberEats for each other and sharing a meal over FaceTime. They also offered advice ranging from what to wear to how to adjust the lighting for a video date.
Dating app companies focused their efforts to convince people that virtual dating had its benefits. Depending on the app, keeping things online was seen as socially responsible, romantic or even sexy.
Should dating apps be taking care of us?
Our findings raise questions about what roles dating app companies should play in their users’ health, well-being and dating behaviours.
Dating apps can be important tools for establishing relationships in times of crisis. Even though new features and supportive messaging may help people feel more connected, app companies stand to profit from the pandemic. For example, the companies benefit from more paid subscriptions and greater amounts of user data when they keep people on their apps.
As for-profit corporations, should dating apps be taking care of us? Should they act as health authorities? If so, can their one-on-one matching features truly establish spaces for community-building? And do these companies possess the will and resources required to sustain communities over time?
These are important questions to consider, especially because provincial and federal health messages have often left people confused as to how to stay safe.
Scholars have pointed out that marginalized communities have not felt supported by health and governmental institutions during the pandemic, prompting them to search for information elsewhere. Non-profit organizations have rushed in to help while mutual aid initiatives pop up across the world, spawning a redistribution of care from national and international groups to local communities and even individual people.
The future of dating
Dating app companies are reporting success in the uptake of virtual dating. OkCupid found that 31 per cent of users liked engaging in virtual activities, 25 per cent preferred video chat over meeting in person and 15 per cent wanted to watch a movie or TV together online.
While this is good news for dating apps, these companies are also ready to get their users meeting in person again. Tinder recently gave away hundreds of free mail-in COVID test kits. Each kit included a pair of tests: one for the individual and one for their Tinder match.
As we move into the next stages of COVID crisis management, people who are looking to date will wonder what to do. If governments, health experts and community leaders do not step in with clear advice, the most prominent guidance daters receive may come from dating app companies.
And while it is certainly better for dating app companies to respond to the COVID crisis than do nothing, their efforts should not replace public and community-based initiatives that offer people free and reliable support to address risk, safety and loneliness in these challenging times.