Why young people are virtual dating now more than ever

With Covid-19 came increased swiping on Tinder, online blind dates and even Animal Crossing meet ups to abate our loneliness IRL.

by Mary Retta
15 April 2020, 6:27pm

As social distancing has become the new norm over the past few weeks, and as the coronavirus quickly spreads across the country and across the globe, it’s no surprise that we’ve become increasingly lonely. It has become virtually impossible to see friends or family in person for the time being, but people have found many creative solutions to combat the loneliness that staying inside can bring -- such as facetiming loved ones, zoom happy hours and even virtual Netflix and chill hangs. Interestingly, people have found ways to keep things spicy while social distancing, too.

Dating apps across the board such as Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Lex and Her, have reported an increase in the amount of time users spend on the app since social distancing became our new reality. Some applications even created new features that reflect user’s needs, with League Live adding a video chat option and Tinder creating “Tinder Passport,” which lets users match from any location. Additionally, several new apps and dating services specifically catered to those quarantining have been exploding across the internet.

Love Is Quarantine is an Instagram-based dating service that matches people up for phone and FaceTime dates in the spirit of Netflix's original reality series Love Is Blind. It has surpassed 17,000 followers on Instagram and matches up new virtual couplings every day. On April 11, one user Alyssa posted a video summing up her experience, stating that she had “another amazing date” with her quarantine boo Roy, furthering that they talked about favorite foods and board games for “over an hour.” Zoom University, a dating service created by three students at the University of Southern California, has similarly set up thousands of college students over the last few weeks, and has attracted over 5,300 students at over 70 colleges so far, according to their website.

“Honestly I had just finished watching Love is Blind and thought I might as well try out virtual dating,” said Ines Purcell, a senior at Bryn Mawr who has been going on online dates through Zoom University. “Even though I will probably never meet these people in person, it’s really cool to meet people at different universities. We are living in a really weird time and I have a lot of free time on my hands and this is a nice way to meet new people and have new conversations.”

People have also started using online services that were not officially created for dating to meet people as well. Aside from the obvious DMs, teens have reported meeting new potential partners on TikTok and even Animal Crossing. Another prime example of this is the use of Glimpse, an app originally created for two minute live video chats, for speed dating -- to quickly meet several new potential love interests in one night. Co-founder Helena Merk told i-D that after she posted an advertisement for the app in a Facebook meme group several weeks back, it quickly grew in popularity among college students in particular, with people coming back three or four nights in a row on average to meet new potential dates.

“Since the video chats are only two minutes long, people leave the conversation wanting more, which makes Glimpse a perfect site for speed dating,” Merk explains. “We’ve seen insane success since the outbreak of the coronavirus and everyone has had to self quarantine. It’s obviously sad that people are so lonely, but we’re also really happy that we can be providing this service.”

Sarah, a 19-year-old from New Jersey, has been using Glimpse and dating apps like Lex and Bumble to meet people while on quarantine. “The biggest reason I'm using dating apps more is because I noticed a sharp uptick in other people using it since Covid-19 broke out, so there's more people for me to meet, girls are more responsive to messages and from my perspective, the scene has been more active and more populous than it was pre-quarantine,” she says. “I'm happy to make friends, but I'd love to find someone to go on a real date with once this is over. A relationship would be really nice.”

While it may seem odd that so many people are online dating during these chaotic and uncertain times, this behavior also makes a lot of sense. An online date every once in a while gives people something to do with their seemingly endless free time at home. In a lot of ways, the coronavirus outbreak has also allowed people to speak more openly about their loneliness and be more honest about their desire for romantic or platonic companionship. Research shows that a scary amount of Americans already self-identified as lonely even before the coronavirus outbreak, with millennials and young people in particular feeling burnt out, despairingly depressed and friendless at frighteningly high rates. The coronavirus did not cause a loneliness epidemic in this country, it merely brought the problem to light, and oddly allowed people to express their loneliness with less shame or stigma attached.

While loneliness seems like an unfortunate side effect of the times we’re living in, social distancing is of the utmost importance right now to flatten the curve and decrease the number of cases everywhere. This is the premise behind Quarantine Together, another popular new dating app created in light of Covid-19. The app sends you a daily reminder to wash your hands and once you confirm that you have, will set you up on a virtual blind date for that night.

“We wanted to find a way to help people stay safe by staying home, washing their hands and doing these practices that have been recommended for us to stay healthy, but also finding a way to reward people with a match or a date,” says Daniel Ahmadizadeh, one of the founders of the app. “People are lonely right now, and yes, they want dates and matches, but what people are really looking for right now is a source of human connection. It’s been great that we can provide people with a way to feel less lonely while also encouraging them to stay at home.”

A global health crisis and a loneliness epidemic is a lot for us to take on, so maybe everyone deserves a little online romance, as a treat. Yume, a 22-year-old from New Jersey who has been active on Tinder since the outbreak of Covid-19, wholeheartedly agrees. “I’m mainly online because I’m bored, but also I’m yearning!” she said. “Being in quarantine has made me pretty lonely and super nostalgic for meaningful connection, human interaction and intimacy. Being online and messaging new people brings about a sort of excitement for what has been lost in the face of this pandemic.”

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