How Will Coronavirus Change Dating?

With a highly contagious virus and mandatory stay-at-home orders around the country, dating app downloads are seeing record numbers. Many singles are turning to online dating in order to find love under lockdown—or to simply beat the loneliness of self-isolation.

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How Will Coronavirus Change Dating?

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Dating is hard enough in
the best of times.Throw in nationwide lockdowns and a
highly contagious virus for whichthere is no cure or vaccine.And, well, you'd expect dating to be
the last thing on people's minds.But dating is thriving.With bars and restaurants closed across
the country, some are getting verycreative in order to
find love under quarantine.Others are using dating
apps in record numbers.New dating platforms like OkZoomer, which
is designed to connect collegestudents, are being launched
to meet new demand.During school, you know, I had my
Polish club, and I had this volunteeringthing that I did, and I
would go to my job.And now I don't have any of that.Singles across the country, and even those
who may be attached, are turningto online dating to stave
off the loneliness of self-isolation.But the rules of dating are also
rapidly changing to adapt to this newclimate.In New York, the epicenter of the
COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., the city'shealth department put out a set
of guidelines entitled "Sex andCoronavirus Disease." One piece of
advice from the government?"You are your safest sex partner." So
now Zoom and Facetime dates are boththe state-sanctioned and the
cool thing to do.I have literally four dates planned
tonight because first of all, there'sno dealing with logistics, right, of having
to find out where to meet orbusy schedules.What place are we going to,
you know, pick to meet at?Are we going to have dinner,
are we going to have drinks?Who's going to split the bill?Or is he gonna kiss
me after the date?Am I going to invite
him into to my apartment?There's so many different things
that are very distracting.Some say this stop-gap way of
finding romance has the potential topermanently change the way we date
long after the lockdown's end.The situation is going to pass, we're
all going to get through it, butwhat's not going to change are the
behaviors that we're now adopting bynow being at home, by
having things done remotely.Whether it's through video calls, whether
it's working from, whatever thatis. So it's very
hard to break habits.We're not necessarily solving
a coronavirus problem.We're solving a problem of loneliness
that happens to be compounded rightnow because of coronavirus.But as novel as the
change in pace might be.Not everyone is optimistic about what
the future of dating holds.As the reality of indefinite isolation sets
in, experts worry the lack ofphysical intimacy isn't just an
inconvenience, it could cause lastingdamage. Others wonder how sustainable
is a connection made online?And perhaps the biggest
question on everyone's mind.Can you actually find love without
ever meeting somebody in person?Before the pandemic, online dating
fatigue was definitely a thing.Dating app downloads for the top 15
apps was shrinking globally, and someresearch showed that all that
swiping just made people lonelier.The pandemic, at least by some
metrics, has been great for business.A report by shows that global
online dating is up 82 percentsince early March 2020.And the U.S. takes the lead as
the most active country for virtual dating.Those forced to stay home, including
some without a job, are lookingonline for love or at
least a social distraction.As states across the country began
rolling out stay-at-home orders inMarch 2020, Bumble saw a 26 percent
increase in the number of messagessent on its platform.Tinder saw the length of conversations
rise by 10-30 percent, and elitedating app Inner Circle saw messages rise
116 percent over that same timeperiod. Hinge also saw
a spike in usage.Messages were up 30 percent in March
versus the first two months of 2020.So we definitely see
a spike in activity.Our biggest day is what we call dating
Sunday, its the first Sunday of theyear. And that's our biggest peak.And already we see its 25
percent more than dating Sunday now.So it is really a big thing.The Inner Circle attracts users in
the world's biggest cosmopolitan cities.Think New York, Hong Kong and London.The company's CEO tells us there was
an 800 percent increase in memberstalking about quarantine in those
first two weeks of March.Another top talking
point—toilet paper.To help users comply with social
distancing rules, some companies areadapting their business models to cater to
the new norms of dating whileunder quarantine. Hinge rolled out "Date
from Home"—a feature that letsusers launch a video chat if
both people agree to the call.The Plenty of Fish app launched
"Live"—which enables users to livestreamwith potential matches.And the League now hosts
"League Live"—video speed-dating platform.Bumble was ahead of the curve compared
to some of its rivals, offeringin-app video calls since 2019, a feature
that laid waste by many usersuntil now. Video chatting over Bumble rose
93 percent in the week afterTrump declared a national emergency.We're seeing that our users are in
fact adopting video calls and voicecalls, and they're using this feature
to have more engaged conversationsand more meaningful conversations and first
dates, maybe second or thirddates. We fundamentally believe that digital
dating is not going anywhere.This serves a real, you know,
valuable place in people's lives, whetherit's love or friendship or business.We offer business connections.We offer friendship. And so I really
encourage everybody right now to leaninto these digital connections while we
all remain safe at home.But even as video chatting picks up,
there's one big looming problem usersrun into. How long can you
keep up a virtual relationship?I feel like while activity is is
maybe greater than ever before on thesedating apps, I feel like a lot
of that will not result in longer-termrelationships, which maybe at the end of the
day, that's fine for a lot ofpeople. And people are turning to
these apps realizing that if nothingelse, it's just more of a social
tool or a social network right now.That kind of sentiment is taking
a toll on some dating apps.Just take Match Group, owner of popular
apps like Tinder, Hinge and Plentyof Fish. Even though usage and engagement
numbers have been on the risesince the start of the outbreak, in
April 2020, the company started to seea slight decline in subscriber growth and
its average revenue per user wasflat. Which isn't all that surprising,
given there's less of an incentiveto pay for features or join an app
in the first place, when you can'tmigrate your digital connection into the
real world, while the impact sofar is minimal, this could end
up being a problem for Match.The company makes a lot of its
money from membership fees and paidfeatures, so retaining and adding more users
is kind of key to growing itsbottom line. Waning interest in paid dating
apps also likely has a lot todo with the fact that more than
one in five American workers has losttheir jobs and filed
for unemployment benefits.With experts now warning the country is
headed for a recession in 2020, andwith unemployment numbers growing by the
day, subscriptions to dating appsmay be one place
where people cut costs.The longer, you're kind of stuck at
home, the less likely you're going topay overtime. So people are
downgrading plans a little bit.They're buying a la carte features
a little bit less frequently.And that's having the impact of having
a little bit of pressure onsubscriber growth and a little bit of
pressure on revenue or ARPU growth.But for now at least,
Match Group is proving resilient.Its stock is outperforming the wider market
and the company beat its 2020first quarter earnings estimates.Its net profit grew about 30 percent
in March 2020 compared to a yearearlier. The CEOs of Match Group
and Tinder both declined to participatein this video. In February 2020, Netflix
released a dating reality TV showcalled "Love is Blind." The show
attracted a mass cult-following forweeks. Social media was flooded with
mentions of "Love is Blind." Thepremise of the program
is relatively simple.Young and attractive singles, unencumbered
by contact with the outsideworld, go on dates with each other
in isolated pods where they're unableto see or touch the other person.Sound familiar? Turns out dating during
a global pandemic and being acontestant on "Love is
Blind" aren't too dissimilar.Just take the case
of Serena Kerrigan.The 26-year-old New Yorker and creative
director trust her gut when itcomes to meeting someone new.You're going to know within the first
five minutes of meeting someone, likeI knew within the first five minutes of
you meeting you that I was—that Ilike you. The first
three seconds maybe.So when you're going on
Facetime, you're immediately having aconversation. The focus is on communication,
which I think is thefoundation of any great relationship.Kerrigan has started live streaming some
of her dates on Instagram, likethis one with Lucho.According to Kerrigan, there just
wasn't a spark with Lucho.Her experience begs the obvious question:
Can you truly gauge physicalchemistry in a virtual setting?Dating expert Charlie Lester
doesn't think so.I'll be completely honest, I don't think
you're ever gonna be able tocompletely replicate that physical chemistry
with someone have a videochat. But it is a great precursor.And it's a good litmus test, you'll be
able to work out if you don't likesomeone and if there's going
to be potential there.And I think the key really is to
keep that communication up and keep doingfun stuff and getting to know each
other until you're in a situation whereyou can be face to face and
actually see if there's chemistry in reallife. Emily Hahn runs a bespoke
matchmaking service in New York.Some of her clients have told her
that dating virtually has actually ledto more authentic connections,
right off the bat.You're forced to—you don't have
any distractions around you.You're forced to kind of, you know,
make actual eye contact and find realtopics to talk to each other about.Which is kind of nice, to have all
that external noise cut out and to bereally focused on your date.To try to more definitively answer the
question of whether you can fall inlove with somebody without ever meeting
them, let's turn to some science.Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist
who has spent 20 years studyingthe MRI scans of people
who are madly in love.Her mission? To figure out
how love affects the brain.Just because you can't touch somebody does
not mean that you can't fall inlove with them. People for generations
have fallen in love with somebodythat they've just heard about.They've never met them.
They've never seen them.They don't know very much about them.But their older sister said, "that that
boy is going to be perfect foryou." And all of a sudden
they get their imagination going.Maybe they see a
photograph of the person.And even that can trigger the
brain circuitry for romantic love.Whether they remain in love after
they've met the person, after they'vegone out with a person for a
few months, that's a different issue.What role does dopamine
play in attraction?The dopamine is what gives you
that elation, the giddiness, euphoria, thesleeplessness, the loss of appetite,
the focus, the motivation, theoptimism of intense romantic love.But it's not just the dopamine system
at work when we're falling in lovewith somebody at a distance.Fisher says we're picking up on all
kinds of cues about who they are.Just take facial symmetry.Lots of animals, including humans,
are hardwired to find symmetryattractive because it's seen as
a sign of strong genes.We also look at what people are
wearing, examine their body language andlisten to voice tone, all to try
to piece together who exactly we'redealing with. But visual and auditory
cues only go so far.When you're on a virtual date, you're
missing out on your sense of smell.And for women, it's a major
way we judge genetic compatibility.Another key ingredient of the initial
stages of attraction that's missing,is oxytocin. It's activated by touch,
something you obviously aren't ableto do when you're talking
to somebody on Zoom.This particular neurochemical is known as
the love hormone, and it'sintegral to forming an attachment
to another human being.Sociologists have long warned of
the dangers of prolonged solitaryconfinement because of
this very thing.Touch isn't just good for forming
bonds with other people, it's alsophysically good for you.Among other health benefits,
it reduces stress.But public health experts aren't just worried
about the fact that lots ofus are experiencing a
lack of physical intimacy.It's actually the loneliness that can take
a major toll on our well-being.Studies have tied extreme loneliness to
rising stress levels and increasedinflammation throughout the body.The long-term effects of an
entire society in isolation—even scarier.An April 2020 poll from the
Kaiser Family Foundation showed that nearlyhalf of American adults said their
mental health has been negativelyimpacted due to worry and
stress over the virus.In 2004, a study looked at
the psychological effects of quarantine duringthe SARS epidemic.Over 30 percent of respondents
reported struggling with depression, andnearly 29 percent said they
were struggling with post-traumatic stressdisorder. So that's a big part of
where online dating apps come into thepicture. Even if you're not destined
to find your soulmate, the bottomline is that you will find
a human to talk to.That's a big part of what motivated
Daniel Ahmadizadeh to start his owndating app. Quarantine Together has no
pictures, no bios and no screeningmethods. You get randomly paired with someone
every day at 6PM, just solong as you've washed your hands.Quarantine Together and that Netflix show "Love
is Blind" share a lot ofsimilarities, which to me begs the
obvious question—can you actually fallin love with somebody without
meeting them in real life?The number one problem that
we're solving is actually loneliness.It's not romance.Romance is our hook.
Dating is our hook.But more people just want
to lean into humanity.But what I do think is interesting is
what "Love is Blind" is able to tapinto is a combination of that
anonymity that we've identified as well.But it also adds to what we've
done, actually, which is there's also thiselement of curation of people that are
vetted and things that, then it'ssecure. As states begin to relax
quarantine guidelines, some think therules for dating during
a pandemic will stick.Pre-pandemic, dating in cities like
New York was really expensive.Virtual hangouts are saving singles in
Manhattan hundreds of dollars, atrend that will likely continue as
unemployment tops 38 million Americans.No money can also
level the playing field.Fisher thinks COVID-19 has given way to
a new stage in the courtshipprocess. Whether this leads to a
wedding boom post-quarantine remains tobe seen. But one thing that we can
be sure of, the kind of physicalintimacy we're used to may be severely
handicapped for at least a year ortwo. Top White House
health adviser Dr.Anthony Fauci thinks we should
never shake hands, ever again.People's faces across the country
are obscured by masks.And even after there's a vaccine or
a cure to coronavirus, some think wemight all be socially conditioned to think
twice before risking a kiss oreven a hug with a relative stranger.But not all post-pandemic dating
habits are dread worthy.It's also ushered in a new mindset,
one where people are more willing tobe open. People are taking
a lot more risks.They're putting themselves out there.You know, I used to be someone
who was very picky about the swipe.Now it's like you're cute, let's
do it, let's do it.What do I have to lose?I have nothing to lose.It's super fun. And and
also, you never really know.And I really do think that,
again, it takes that superficialness outbecause you're gonna
meet them immediately.Some singles I spoke to said they're
more open than ever before to trulyblind dating. No pictures, no tag
lines, no height or age filters.They just want to form an
authentic connection with someone without thepretense of checking boxes first.I think that, you know, people are more
open to trusting us and letting usdo our art, so to speak, and
really match them based on intuition andenergy and astrology and all of that
good stuff, rather than just acertain bucket list of on-paper things
that they might think they'relooking for.

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