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How Is the Pandemic Affecting the Way People Date?

Part two in a series exploring new data collected by a popular dating app.

Athree23 on Pixabay | CC0 license
Source: Athree23 on Pixabay | CC0 license

In this second of a two-part series, I explore new data from a survey conducted by the dating website on how singles are dating during the COVID-19 pandemic. My first post explored changes to singles’ attitudes toward relationships and what they were hoping to get out of online dating. In this post, I focus on how dating itself has changed, from virtual dates to health and safety concerns.

How did singles feel about virtual dates?

Without the opportunity to get together at a bar or restaurant, singles could turn to virtual dates via video. Fewer than 20 percent of daters, overall, had a video date. However, younger people were much more likely to have tried video dating. A full 50 percent of GenZ respondents (those 18 to 24 years old) went on a video date.

How did these virtual dates go? Overall, daters’ experiences were mixed. On the positive side, 56 percent felt romantic chemistry during a video chat, 59 percent had meaningful conversations, and 65 percent felt that the chat made them like their date more. On the negative side, 54 percent felt that video chatting made them like their date less, and 56 percent found it to be awkward. A surprising 50 percent claimed that they “fell in love” on a video a date. It would be useful to compare this data to people’s reactions to their offline dates, to determine if these experiences were more or less positive than typical in-person first dates.

Will this affect the future of online dating? It might for those who were inclined to go on virtual dates in the first place. Some 58 percent of those who went on a virtual date said they were likely to do virtual dates in the future before meeting in person, even after the pandemic is over. But since only 20 percent of daters tried video dating during the pandemic, that suggests that only about 12 percent of all daters will continue to do virtual dates once the pandemic is over. If this does becomes a continuing trend, this could help virtual daters fare better when they move their dates offline. Research shows that going on a virtual date before a real date may increase how much daters like each other when they do meet in person.

Health and safety as people return to dating

In addition to preventing people from pursuing traditional avenues for dating, the pandemic has also ushered in a new set concerns that could affect the way people date. This has left some daters reluctant to re-enter the world of in-person dating, while others are eager to jump back in. The majority of singles surveyed were ready to get back to dating in person. And 29 percent reported they were somewhat ready but wanted to take precautions, plus 20 percent reported they were very ready. An additional 5 percent reported that they had already resumed in person dating and another 8 percent had never stopped. Overall 38 percent reported that they were still not ready.

Boomer women (aged 56-74) were especially likely to say they weren’t ready for in-person dating (68 percent). Given the greater health risks that Covid-19 poses to older adults, it is likely that health concerns among this group are contributing to their fears of returning to in-person dating.

Not surprisingly, GenZ men were the most ready to resume in-person dating with 50 percent saying they were very ready. We should expect men to be particularly eager to return to in-person dating due their tendency to put a greater emphasis on passion in their relationships and their greater concern with mates’ physical attractiveness.

A sizable minority of singles planned to make COVID-19 safety a priority as they return to traditional in-person dating. Some 21 percent planned to discuss with their date whether or not they had been practicing social distancing. A similar proportion (20 percent) said they would insist on mask-wearing during dates. A smaller group of singles (10 percent) said they would only go on an in-person date with someone if that person quarantined for 14 days before the date.

The idea of masked dating is interesting in and of itself. It could lead daters to place less emphasis on physical attractiveness. On the other hand, new research shows that we tend to find masked faces more attractive than unmasked faces, particularly for average-looking people. Does this mean that people will be unpleasantly surprised when they finally move to mask-less dating? Masked dating is also likely to hamper the smoothness of communication when many aspects of daters’ facial expressions are concealed.

Has dating really changed?

The survey data I described in these two posts gives us a glimpse of how the pandemic has changed the way people date. But is has some important limitations. First, it only surveyed adults who are using online dating sites or apps. While online dating has become increasingly popular (30 percent of all U.S. adults report having used it at some point with 12 percent having started a relationship via a dating site) online daters may not be representative of all daters. In addition, these data only tell us how singles feel about these issues now, in the midst of the pandemic; we really don’t know how their attitudes will continue to evolve over time.

It seems that dating will not return to “normal” for at least some time. Only about 60 percent of daters are ready to date in person, and of those, about half are still being cautious in their approach. Whether or not attitudes toward dating have been altered in ways that will go beyond the pandemic remains to be seen.

More from Gwendolyn Seidman Ph.D.
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