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How COVID-19 Will Change How We Date

With a light flickering oh-so dimly up ahead signaling the end to our days in isolation, a new question is emerging:

Will dating — specifically how we get dates — be the same?

As someone who runs a singles events business and works as a dating coach, my answer is no. Things will not be the same. We are entering into a new normal as far as how singles searching for love. 

Trauma and triggers

It’s important for people — all people — to recognize how traumatic this experience has been for many of us. The financial, emotional, mental and physical toll this scare has taken will last for some time. As someone with chronic depression, isolation has always been one of my biggest triggers. I imagine that has been the case for a large number of singles that suffer from mental illness. The fear of the unknown — and of coming in contact with a virus we still don’t fully understand — weighs heavy, opening up portals in our minds that we have tried hard to keep closed. These doorways lead to places so triggering that venturing into them could undo all the work we’ve done to combat anxiety, negative thought patterns and obsessive thinking. It’s impossible for things to stay the same after what we’ve endured these past several weeks. 

Even if someone doesn’t have mental health struggles, they’re still going to adjust to the changes in their routine. Some may never return to their jobs or their offices. For almost two months, they will have performed all of their regular responsibilities and habits by themselves or online. Their social outlets have, for the most part, been conducted via the internet. As a result, new habits and comfort zones have been created.

Swiping Right

Right now, many singles are in a holding pattern. Should they bother using dating apps or online dating sites?

Yes. Here’s why: because — finally! — people are hungry for real connection. Our attention spans had shrunk so drastically that we got bored after exchanging one or two messages. Now, people want to make substantive conversation. Users have one very big commonality — they’re all stuck at home. There’s a camaraderie bonding them, providing them with a topic to discuss. Because many singles now work remotely and have adjusted to using platforms like Zoom and Group Hang Outs, they’re more comfortable with having video chats, something we previously avoided.

The thing that makes dating so hard — in addition to the lack of accountability many possess — is the frequency with which we experience disappointment and rejection. Exchanging messages for days (please don’t do that) and having your hopes built up just to find out you’ve been unmatched or have the person ghost can be soul-crushing. Propelling that behavior — I think — is a false sense of abundance. Many believe there’s a neverending stream of options from which they can choose. They’re always going to be able to dip their toe back into the pool whenever they want, so what’s the rush?

That is, until a global pandemic shuts everything down and forces people to stay inside their homes. Hooking-up, having drinks, finding love all became impossible to do. That stream ran dry literally overnight. And it could again in a few months when we deal with a possible second wave of shut-downs. That possibility looms, and we all know it. Time is of the essence. Carpe that diem, kids. 

The New First Date

What’s the most frustrating thing about First Dates? If you’re like most singles, it’s investing time, effort and money into getting ready and Lyfting to a bar only to have one drink and stale conversation. People were getting sick of traditional first dates long before they had to put on rubber gloves and a face mask just to take a walk around their block. 

From interacting with many of my customers during our virtual parties and activities, I’m sensing that on-site first dates will become less common. In their place will be video first dates. Less muss, less fuss, and cheaper, too. I feel bad for those guys who liked to suggest coffee dates because they refused to spend more than $5 on a date. Now how will they test women?? 

I’m excited for this change not only because I think it will slow down dating burn out but will provided a much needed level of comfort and safety for women. And…no pants required! We’ve all become newscasters: business up top and party down below. 

If you're worried about cleaning your apartment, you can use Zoom's Virtual Background option. You can upload your own background, say of a restaurant or coffee shop, if you wish to create a more date-y vibe. Pour a glass of wine or make yourself some tea, play some music (you can share screen your Spotify playlist if you use Zoom) and pretend you're out at a cozy lounge having drinks.

Forget Happy Hours

It might be some time before people willingly gather in a large herd anywhere, let alone a bar. Offline events are likely going to become more intimate, with ten to fifteen people in attendance at a time. Because we’re all forced to stay inside to work and to play, we’re being conditioned to socialize in smaller groups.

While younger singles might still prefer to find love over salty margaritas and a thumping bass, us olds are more likely to prefer the quiet and simplicity of private get-togethers. I still plan to add offline events to our calendar, but I’m not sure they will comprise the majority of our offerings like they used to. 

What I’m seeing on our virtual murder mystery, trivia and game nights is people opening up more. One event that I call Group Date involves playing Table Topics. We go around the group and I pose an intriguing question to each guest such as, “What’s your go-to karaoke song?” or “What fictional character would you invite to a family gathering to shake things up?” The smaller group allows for people to be more vulnerable, as there’s less risk of being mocked or rejected within the confines of a moderated hang-out.

Virtual Speed Dating

The core of my business model has always been speed dating. Those events had a high profit margin. They also came with an insane level of stress. Did the host arrive to the venue on time? Was the venue ready? Just booking one of these spaces was a chore, as most speed daters don’t drink. They’ve already paid a fee to attend. Spending another $12-$15 on a drink isn’t something many wish to do, understandably. As a result, bars aren’t exactly welcoming speed dating events with open arms. 

When the lock down started, I was forced to re-evaluate everything, including my event roll-out. How was I going to survive financially without the one thing that made me the most money?

Enter online speed dating. A little angel sent a programmer my way via Facebook. He’d developed a platform where singles could log on, have face-to-face video chats with potential matches, select with whom they’d like to stay in touch after each round, and get their match emails a few hours later. After a couple rounds of tests without experiencing any technical or privacy issues, we scheduled some events. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. My concern was that people might not be hyped about the new format since they couldn’t see their potential matches in person. But guess what? People are way less shallow than I thought! 

The Change Dating Needed

Let’s be honest: dating has been a chore for awhile now. The fun is gone for many. As traumatic and drastic as this pandemic has been, it very well might be the thing that gets finding love back on track. Many singles are accustomed to spending their weekend nights on their own, streaming or scrolling through social media, reading, chatting with friends or just re-charging. Isolation, for them, is just another weekend night. But for others, namely the ones who match, un-match, swipe right, match and un-match infinitum, their eyes are being opened to a possible new reality. One where they will be alone with their thoughts. 

For those who lack self-awareness, this is a terrifying thing to consider. The whole reason they were constantly searching for a partner (and often failing) was because they didn’t want to be introspective or tyake responsibility for their mixed messages and ambivalence. They needed to occupy their thoughts lest they be forced to look at themselves and their behavior and acknowledge that, well, they’re kind of a douche. Or their expectations aren’t realistic. Or their personality - how do I put this? - sucks . 

Performing personal inventory is daunting to those of us who are capable of being honest with ourselves. Imagine the muck less accountable people have to wade through to have an epiphany. I’m not suggesting that the grifters and trolls will wake up and realize how draining they are. Douchebags gonna douche, amirite? However, I do think this forced alone time is going to make some people ask themselves what it is they truly want and confront their own emotional unavailability. They’re going to see that what they’ve been doing hasn’t served them, as it’s resulted in them being alone during a time when companionship is much needed.

For these reasons, I say — Get Back Out There! So what if it’s going to be a couple weeks until you can meet in person. You can meet online immediately and gauge the chemistry and possible compatibility. Forget calling people. What is this, 2009? 

You’ve survived a pandemic! You’re a warrior. Ghosting, love bombing, scammers! They’re no match for you. (See what I did there?)

Now go swipe! 

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