COVID-19 has changed the way people are online dating — and it might be for the better
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Even in the best of times, dating can feel like learning to speak a foreign language. From navigating the long list of unwritten rules to learning the wide array of dating jargon (am I being ghosted?), the whole experience is often dizzying and disappointing. Mix in the physical and psychological barriers of a global pandemic, and you might be tempted to throw in the towel.
But there is some good news: the COVID-19 pandemic may have actually made people more inclined to commit to long-term relationships. According to sex and relationship expert Jess O’Reilly, much has changed in the dating world in 2020.
“Situationships have become relationships. Cohabiting situations have evolved into engagements. Discussions of dating practices have become more detailed and straightforward,” O’Reilly told Yahoo Lifestyle Canada.
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Below, we asked O’Reilly and Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod about the ways in which dating has changed in 2020 and what daters can expect moving into the New Year.
Video dating isn’t going anywhere
In response to the pandemic, the dating app Hinge rolled out new features like “date from home,” where users can initiate digital dates prior to meeting in real life. According to data collected by the company, very few users had ever been on a digital date prior to the pandemic. Now, nearly half of users have been on a video date.
The rise, McLeod suspects, is due to fewer in-person meetings as COVID-19 continues to spread.
“With people feeling like they can’t meet up in person, or that they want to meet up with fewer people in person and be more cautious about it, video dating has definitely become a thing,” McLeod said. “Even more interesting than that, perhaps, is that more than half of the people who tried video dating stated it’s something that they want to continue to do after COVID-19 (is over).”
McLeod says an initial video date, before meeting in-person, can be much more effective because it acts as a screening tool. Users can determine if they have chemistry with another person before taking the next step.
“If you have a chance to get to chat with someone quickly over video, you can avoid that experience of walking into a (physical) date and knowing in 30 seconds that this was a total waste of time,” McLeod said.
Safety discussions are commonplace
Due to COVID-19, most people aren’t comfortable with meeting up with a random person they met online. There’s usually a pre-date discussion about the safety measures each party has been taking during the pandemic; questions about seeing friends, high-risk family members and chronic illness are all on the table.
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The first date concept has changed dramatically, too. Heeding advice from public health officials, many people are having physically-distanced outdoor first dates, opting to take a long walk or to grab coffee and sit in a nearby park.
O’Reilly says this open communication about health and safety precautions has likely extended to conversations about safe sex and consent — a change she hopes continues long after the pandemic is over.
“If we can talk about hand-washing, wearing masks, personal boundaries and physical distancing with strangers and potential dates, hopefully we’ll continue to have the conversation with our lovers about STIs, condom use, desires, boundaries and regular testing,” O’Reilly said.
According to O’Reilly, it helps that public health agencies have started to be more open about these topics.
“Public health agencies are getting more creative in their approaches: they’re talking about online sex, wearing masks, kinky sex and even glory holes,” she said. “The normalization of these conversations … is hopefully opening up new conversations for daters.”
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Ghosting could be a thing of the past
Hinge reported a 23 per cent decrease in ghosting on the platform since the start of the pandemic. This could be due to the physical isolation required by COVID-19, McLeod explained, which afforded users more time to pay closer attention to their online dating behaviour.
“I think people are just a lot more intentional and focused on their dating lives,” McLeod said. “People are reporting that (the pandemic) provided a moment of reflection for them, and they’re not (spending this time) chasing after people who aren’t interested in them.”
Instead, the vast majority of Hinge users are more interested in partnership.
“People are being more selective, more thoughtful, more focused,” McLeod continued. “(Users) are responding to messages in a way that I don’t think they were before the pandemic because they just don’t have the same level of distraction.”
McLeod believes (and hopes) that this will be a sustained shift, making ghosting and other frustrating dating faux pas obsolete.
“I do think (the pandemic) has changed a lot of people’s perspectives and rearranged what’s important to them,” McLeod said. “I think we’re having an acceleration of people’s recognition of their need for real, authentic human connection.”
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