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How The Pandemic Is Changing The Way We View Dating

Young woman sitting at her desk on a video call
Image by Mihajlo Ckovric / Stocksy
May 14, 2020

There's no doubt life changed when the pandemic hit. For single people, dating took an especially different turn. Whether you were an avid dater, too nervous to put yourself out there, or too busy to even think about dating, your actions and views on dating have probably changed.

Dating during COVID-19 is radically different—and not just because we're doing a lot more virtual dates. A recent survey conducted by Plenty of Fish suggests singles are more optimistic and serious about dating now, despite the general anxiety about the state of the world. In fact, of the 2,000 single men and women Plenty of Fish surveyed, 51% of online daters said COVID-19 made them want to take dating more seriously, and 72% believe it's possible to start a romantic relationship amid isolation. 

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A more clear-eyed perspective on dating.

Several dating apps reported seeing a notable increase in downloads, usage, and in-app messaging since the pandemic lockdown first kicked off in March. The Plenty of Fish survey similarly found 38% of singles reported spending more time on dating apps over the past three months.

That said, while the accessibility of dating apps probably added to the spike in usage, dating coach Clara Artschwager thinks it has more to do with the collective vulnerability we're all experiencing right now. 

"For the first time ever, we're being faced with our own mortality in a way we never have before," she says. "The frailty of our lives was always there, but we're waking up to it in a new way that calls into question: What in my life am I doing that really matters? What do I want to keep, focus on, or change?"

Those epiphanies may be broad, for example, realizing you want to dedicate more time to dating. Or they may be more specific, by pointing out who you want to date and what you want out of a relationship.

We're also being faced with a greater loneliness right now. There's a greater quiet that has crept over us, which we used to mask with social interactions, work, or street noises, Artschwager says. That loneliness can make us recognize the value of social connection, and even the most independent of people may be longing for a partner when isolation ends.

Easier first dates.

First dates can be nerve-wracking. According to the survey, 67% of singles say dating gives them anxiety. On the date, 69% report being anxious about how their dates will perceive them, 64% are anxious about keeping the conversation going, and 64% worry about what their date will look like.

Having your first date on a video call can relieve some of those jitters. For starters, there's far fewer decisions to be made—where to go, what to wear, and whether you'll meet over coffee, drinks, or a full-on dinner. "Not that these are inherently stressful things, but there are a lot more decisions to be made," Artschwager says. "Since many of us are alone at home, it takes a lot of that angst out of planning."

Sex and dating coach Myisha Battle tells mbg that being home rather than going somewhere unfamiliar and searching a crowd for your date can also make you feel more comfortable. If you follow sports, think of it like the dating version of a home advantage.

Moreover, many apps have rolled out new features specifically catered to dating in this new environment: Hinge developed a video date feature, for example, and Tinder made Tinder Passport—a feature that allows users to match anywhere in the world—free to all users. The Plenty of Fish survey found just 26% of singles had video chatted with a prospective date before isolation, whereas 60% say they're more likely to try it now.

Virtual dating also dissolves the fear that you may never meet someone. Since opportunities to ask people out in real life are limited, even those who were previously opposed to dating apps are suddenly more interested. "There is a sense that we are all in this together," Battle says. "In terms of numbers, it's a great time to be actively dating."

(And as far as the physical stuff goes: 79% of singles say they will not date someone who isn't taking social distancing seriously, and 34% say they actually don't miss hugging, kissing, sex, and holding hands. And if you do—phone sex is definitely still a thing!)

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A lasting impact.

The survey findings suggest many people are optimistic about forming romantic relationships in this strange period of our lives. This may be because they're having nuanced and deep experiences in life that they hadn't anticipated, Artschwager says.

Even once the lockdown eases, the experience of seeking partnership throughout COVID-19 may change many people's view of dating in a lasting way. "For those in search of partnership, this will have a real, long-standing impact on how they date from now on," Battle says.

Artschwager hopes the uncertainty of our current circumstances, and this sense of collective vulnerability, will encourage singles to tap into their genuine desires and go after what they want. 

She notes: "My gut feeling is we have a long road of video dating ahead of us, and I think that's great. It provides an incredible opportunity to slow down our lives, get to know people in a different way, and feel into what we want these deeper connections in our lives to be."

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