How the Pandemic Is Affecting Dating Attitudes

Exploring new data collected by a popular dating app.

Posted Oct 11, 2020

athree23 courtesy pixabay | CC0 license
Source: athree23 courtesy pixabay | CC0 license

Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, I speculated about how the lockdown might affect dating. Now, some data is in. For its annual survey of singles, match.com surveyed over 5,000 singles about how their dating behavior has changed during the pandemic. In the first of two posts, I explore the results of this new survey.

Did people get more or less serious about dating?

In my previous post, I detailed how existential angst can cause people to re-evaluate their priorities in life. The pandemic literally has people thinking about life and death on a regular basis, and this causes people to reflect on what gives their lives meaning – reflection that could make people prioritize the search for a serious relationship. The data suggest that this trend did occur, with 53% of dating app users reporting that they had gotten more serious about their search for a relationship since the pandemic started.

Many singles also re-prioritized what they’re seeking in a mate. About 45% said they were putting less emphasis on physical attraction than they were prior to the pandemic. This could help people find partners more suitable for long-term relationships. While physical chemistry is important, physical attraction is only one piece of the puzzle — a piece often over-emphasized in online dating, despite its relatively lesser importance in overall long-term relationship satisfaction.

About half of survey respondents said that the pandemic was causing them to re-evaluate their dating checklist (52%) and to be open to a wider range of potential partners (59%). This change in attitude also has the potential to help people meet more appropriate matches. Research on online dating shows that we often search for objective criteria (e.g., education level, specific physical characteristics), even though these qualities are not good predictors of how successful the relationship will be. Perhaps broadening our search could lead us to meet people we’re highly compatible with, even if they don’t check all of our boxes.

Did being forced to date more slowly increase the development of intimacy?

With opportunities to get together in person greatly reduced, daters needed to slow down. As I discussed here, online communication can sometimes create a “strangers on a train” phenomenon, in which people disclose intimate details about their lives to strangers much more quickly than they normally would. This fast-track self-disclosure can cause relationships to become emotionally intimate more quickly.

The data suggest that many singles engaged in behaviors that could help them develop closer connections with potential partners: 63% reported spending more time getting to know potential partners, and 69% reported being more honest. Despite that, only 43% said they had a meaningful connection with a recent match. However, a sizable minority of singles didn't take this as an opportunity to connect more deeply with potential matches. And although it wasn't asked on the survey, it is possible that some of them felt less connected to their matches knowing that opportunities for in-person meetings were more limited.  

Slowing down the courtship process could mitigate some of the problems with online dating. Studies have shown that when daters go through large numbers of profiles, they pay less attention to each individual potential match, resulting in poor choices. Viewing larger numbers of matches at once also can cause daters to enter a “rejection mindset,” in which they become choosier as they go through photo after photo. Nonetheless, even in a slower-paced dating environment, the pressure to turn relationships romantic quickly still exists and makes it more difficult for relationships to develop slowly from friendship, as they often do offline.

Did people reach out to ex-partners during the lockdown?

In a previous post, I speculated that there are many reasons why people might want to reconnect with an ex-partner during the lockdown. The new data suggests that this was a significant trend: A full 25% of singles surveyed reported that an ex contacted them during the pandemic, and 10% actually ended up rekindling an old relationship.

This data provide a fascinating glimpse of how the pandemic is affecting dating. If the more serious mindset that many daters have entered lasts or causes them to enter a lasting relationship in the near future, it could have a dramatic effect on the dating landscape. The bigger question is whether these new attitudes will last once the crisis is over.

In Part 2 of this series, I discuss how singles feel about virtual dates and health and safety concerns as they resume in-person dating.

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