I would consider myself to be a hopeless romantic, both in the face of a global pandemic and a digital world. I’ve had my fair share of relationships, all of which have started on social media platforms. Although these apps have been helpful, I often feel ashamed to admit that I use them to spark romance. Over time, I’ve come to accept online dating as a beneficial part of my life.
For many people in 2020 who are adjusting to life in a socially-distanced world, dating apps have become more normalized. Since lockdown orders began in March, OKCupid has seen a 700% increase in the number of virtual dates. Similarly, on March 29, Tinder saw more engagement than ever before with 3 billion users swiping. Many people are embracing digital platforms as a means of connecting with others.
In order to understand the prevalence of online dating platforms, I turned to my followers on social media. I created a series of polls that questioned their relationship status and their overall perception of online dating. My polls targeted an audience aged 15-24, and I received several hundred responses. Approximately 88% of respondents had been in a relationship before and nearly 80% of these relationships began in person. These numbers don’t necessarily surprise me, as it’s often easier to meet people while in high school or college. In addition, 70% of my followers have used a dating app before, and 40% of these users have found dating apps to be beneficial in some way. Of course, the benefits of online dating vary according to the user. Many people create a dating profile to develop a long-term relationship while others prefer to participate in in-person hookup culture.
Despite the somewhat negative outlook on online dating, over 70% of my followers view dating apps as helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. I asked one of my friends for clarification. He told me that he prefers to meet a partner in person, yet dating apps are the only way of meeting people during this time. It’s fair to say that young people dislike the apps, yet we reluctantly use them to connect with others during the pandemic.
Online dating platforms, however, have become essential for socially-distanced relationships. In response to the pandemic, the apps are encouraging new forms of online dating. Bumble’s in-app video feature saw a 93% increase in usage between March 13 and March 27, according to Forbes. Similar apps, such as Hinge, also provide a video chat option. Hinge encourages users to engage with the video function in the chat section, their app stating that, “70% of Hinge Members would be up for a phone or video call right now. No pressure, just keep it short and fun!” With virtual experiences becoming the new norm, relationships are changing drastically.
Virtual dates prolong the introduction of physical intimacy early in the relationship. This can be beneficial in that it allows individuals to deeply connect with one another beforehand, increasing the “courtship” stage. Courtship often refers to the period of time in which two people got to know one another and determine whether they had a connection or a desire for physical intimacy. Ironically, technology has brought us back to more gradual relationship development. The slow courtship encourages people to be more open about their feelings and priorities in the beginning.
Of course, this may not be the right option for everyone. The limited, virtual dating has the potential to make users feel even more isolated than before. Coronavirus lockdowns can exasperate feelings of loneliness, and online dating can also lead to burnout. With unlimited access to technology and a new lack of separation between work and home, we feel obligated to be working constantly. When you add online dating into the mix, it can feel like a secondary job. Dating platforms are added to the extensive to-do list of life and we often treat dating app matches like clients, us juggling multiple conversations and coordinating schedules. In order to eliminate dating app burnout, Ann Helen Peterson from Buzzfeed recommends putting down the phone and meeting people in real life, which can feel impossible during a pandemic.
This begs us to question how the pandemic will change our perception of online dating for future generations. Ultimately, there will always be pros and cons to the situation. I can see the potential for romance and the historical significance of a COVID-19 relationship. However, I can also see the challenges of online dating, from the superficial and disingenuous interactions to the lack of immediate physical intimacy. As we navigate this socially-distanced world, we must reflect on what we need out of a relationship, whether that be romantic or platonic. Online dating apps can be a useful tool to bring us together in a virtual space. It’s also important to understand whether we are genuinely interested in a person rather than just the idea of a relationship.
Illustration by Naomi Desai