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Then the country went on lockdown in March, shuttering restaurants and bars and leaving singles without the typical spots to chat up new people or go on dates. Weighed down with worry about contracting a virus that has taken thousands of American lives, many daters swapped meeting in person for video chat and returned to phone calls to connect.
About five months into the coronavirus era, understanding the health crisis has lasted beyond a spring fling or even summer romance, some singles are showing signs they’re ready to date.
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“People are not taking 2020 off from dating,” says Logan Ury, director of relationship science for the dating app Hinge.
Dates among Hinge users in the U.S. increased 9% from May to June. The number of users on Coffee Meets Bagel who are venturing out on in-person dates is on the rise, too, says Jenn Takahashi, lead of communications and PR. In April, only 7% of U.S. users were meeting up in person, down from 22% the month prior. As of July 22, 36% of users had gone on at least one in-person date within the past 30 days, says Takahashi.
But that doesn’t mean dating is back to normal.
Inquiring “Have you been tested?” is likely to be about a COVID-19 test rather than sexually transmitted diseases. Video chats continue to gain legitimacy, with 37% of users on Hinge saying they’d exclusively date someone they’d only met virtually. Health-conscious singles who decide to meet in person are tasked with asking dates – who might be total strangers – detailed questions about their lives in to determine the risk of exposure.
Here’s how a trio of singles are navigating the next phase of pandemic-era dating.
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‘There’s no expectation about kissing’
Singles quickly adopted video chat as a way to connect when the country went into lockdown. Bumble, the dating app which lets women make the first move, saw an almost 70% increase in video calls in the last week of April compared to the week ending March 13, when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, says Priti Joshi, Bumble’s VP of Strategy.
Now, some also see it as a valid tool for advancing a relationship and don’t plan on ditching it anytime soon. Serena Kerrigan, a content creator who has branded herself the Queen of Confidence, is among those with a new appreciation for video chats.
“I would’ve never done it before,” she admits, “but now I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Pre-pandemic the career-focused 26-year-old neglected dating for its inefficiency, citing typically scant dating app profiles, followed by texts that aren’t “gonna show if you have chemistry,” and then a date that requires preparation and transportation.
Kerrigan says there’s less pressure on a video date because you’re in the comfort of your home, wearing your choice of attire.
“You can have multiple dates in one night,” she says. “You’re not paying for anything, they’re not paying for anything… There’s no expectation about kissing or sex.”
Instead the focus on the date is on a pair’s conversation and connection, says Kerrigan. And she would know. During a breakdown that took place at the beginning of New York’s lockdown in March, Kerrigan felt “very desperately alone.” In April, she jump-started her dating life by creating an Instagram Live dating show. Over three months, Kerrigan estimates she went on about two dozen dates. A second season is slated for Sept. 9.
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Despite a rise in video chat, Bumble’s says users are ready for face-to-face meet-ups. The app’s global communications director Emily Wright says the app has updated its virtual dating badge, originally introduced in April to signal a user’s interest in the in-person substitute, to advertise if a person is up for a socially distanced date. As of July, 80% of those displaying the badge say a date at a distance is preferable to a virtual date.
Social media influencer Maya Murillo, 27, knows about the complications that go along with in-person dates. During quarantine, she found herself in a “situationship,” a romantic scenario that has not yet become a full-blown, defined relationship. Though it has since fizzled, the Los Angeles resident describes the connection first formed on Hinge as “kind of a magical time” that reminded her of high school romances.
The threat of COVID-19 brought on a conversation of exclusivity not out of need for emotional security, as is typical, but out of concern for exposure risk.
“Very early on I was, like ‘Hey for safety reasons, are you dating other people?'” recalls Murillo. “And that’s for safety, that’s not just like jealousy or anything. At that point, I’m like, because I’m not trying to date you if you’re exposing yourself to all these different things.'”
Murillo says she spoke with her two roommates about adding her new connection to their circle, another step not necessary before COVID. The virus has also made Murillo – a self-described “touchy-feely person” – want to “hold back” and ask if people are comfortable with her touch and hugs. “I think it’s slowed down those kind of impulses,” she says.
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Still, virtual dating isn’t ideal
Bryan Martin, a 41-year-old director of animal care and training at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, lost his partner to a terminal illness in 2018. Despite working a second job to make ends meet and facing the pandemic, he’s been navigating the dating world. He’s been using video chat and plans to keep his distance from dates.
“I do have to be careful because I have to take care of animals, so my job is essential and that’s a huge responsibility,” explains Martin, who has asthma.
Touch is also something he plans to reserve for later dates. “Like six or seven dates in and you’re feeling comfortable and you want to hold somebody’s hand, (and) you’re wearing face masks (then) that’s cool,” he says.
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“You lose all of the norms that we’re used to so (it’s) like, ‘OK, well what about a Zoom date?” he says. “It feels like a last option, and it’s hard. It’s really lonely.”
But even virtual dates present the opportunity to be rejected. In May, Martin documented being stood up for a video chat in a TikTok which has been viewed more than 1 million times.
The two began messaging on Facebook, Martin says. Then the man proposed a video date, which Martin accepted.
“I got dressed and sat down and had the Zoom open, and I was waiting and there was nothing,” he remembers. Martin sent his date a text, which Martin saw he read thanks to read receipts.
But, “There wasn’t a response,” he says. “I tried calling, no response…There was nothing, and I was really mad. Who does this? This is terrible.”
Thinking of his lost partner, Martin adds that “Jumping out and getting to that point, it takes a lot of work and a lot of courage to do it.”
Martin says he eventually received a message from his date, who said he fell asleep. Martin isn’t buying it, but he is still hopeful. In responding to this interview request, he wrote “Maybe my future husband will find me because of your article. Wouldn’t that be a fun story!”
If any future husband is reading, Martin loves dancing, laughing and his favorite color is blue.
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