Gery Karantzas Ph.D.

The Science of Love

Online Dating in a COVID-19 World

Despite this being a time of social isolation, online dating usage is up.

Posted Apr 21, 2020

 Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

In a time of social isolation and distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, people are reportedly turning to online dating in increasing numbers to create human connection. Statistics released by Tinder and other dating apps highlight a 10-15% increase in use from February to March as well as increases in messages sent (DW, 2020). For those social dating apps that have in-app calls functions, the length of conversations has also spiked in recent weeks.

There are various takes on the issue of online dating during COVID-19. Some see it as a real opportunity to “connect” with someone while others see it as the chance to get off the dating merry-go-round. Then there are others who are quite unsure as to what to do; how does one go about pursuing a connection if it means that a physical meeting may not occur for weeks, if not months?

Before discussing online dating during a time of COVID-19, let’s put things into context. Although online dating has become the most popular way to enter the dating scene, various sources (data published by dating sites themselves, market and consumer research, national surveys, and scientific studies) suggest that the chances of finding a partner online is no better than about one-third; the conversion to a long-term relationship such as marriage is less than 10%. For social dating apps such as Tinder, the success of finding a match that converts into a relationship is even lower—10% for women and .06% for men (Tyson et al., 2016).

But why such low success rates if there are so many potential matches online; and many within a person’s close vicinity? Well, there are a number of reasons that I’ll briefly outline here.

A large pool of potential partners doesn’t make finding a match any easier. It just involves more information to process, more profiles to view, and the sheer volume can have a person either not pay much attention to profiles or become paralyzed, if not overwhelmed, by the sheer number of potential matches (de Vaus, 2008; Finkel et al., 2012). For these reasons, people either do not make the best decisions when seeking out a match or do not commit to a match.

Trying to develop a first impression about someone by way of a profile is a lot like reading someone’s resume. The resume doesn’t tell you the whole story about the person, and it’s certainly hard to get a sense of how the potential partner will interact with you face-to-face (Finkel et al., 2012). In fact, most of the information that is communicated between people is non-verbal (Matsumoto et al., 2016). So it’s actually hard to get an accurate first impression of some people from their profiles. Because of this, there is a chance that a likely match flies through the radar. 

Many sites and apps use algorithms to assist with helping people find matches. However, these algorithms rely too much on factors such as similarity and complementarity that modern science suggests should not be weighted so heavily. Also, the algorithms assume people have good insight and are being truthful when responding to questions (whether it be their personality, likes, relationship goals, or swiping behavior). If people lack insight or aren’t truthful about their dating goals and intentions, then these algorithms are unlikely to help a person find a match.

Finally, interacting with a potential match is heavily driven towards messaging in the early stages of making a connection. Although this can be good initially, doing this for too long can be a problem as people start to question why the communication hasn’t moved to a proper conversation or actual meeting. Staying in this messaging phase for too long can also increase the chance of messages being misinterpreted and the development of false expectations about someone (Finkel et al., 2012).

COVID-19 is a potential game-changer for the dating world—but not in a new way. It’s what I call “back to the future.” In days gone by, the idea that you would seek out multiple potential matches at the same time and go out on multiple dates was not the norm. In today’s dating world this is far more common—the drive to meet and to test the physical and emotional chemistry amongst a number of suitors is a powerful force for some. But once upon a time, accessibility to dozens of potential mates was not an option. You would meet someone, either on a night out, in a workplace, or at college. And often, this occurred through a friend, family member, or acquaintance. Although some dates may have felt like a waste of time, you took the opportunity to chat to someone, learn about them and for an attraction to develop not only by what they said, but by what they didn’t say; their emotional expression, body language, social etiquette, values and alike.

The current climate brings us somewhat back to this way of seeking out connections. Yes, the pool is larger than yesteryear, and we still scan dating profiles. But with the pressure of face-to-face meeting taken off the table, people have the opportunity to take the time to speak to a potential mate. There is the opportunity to pay more attention and concentrate on what they are saying rather than being distracted because of who else one is trying to meet at a given time. There is nothing new to taking the time to have a proper conversation with someone to find out if it may be worth going on a date with them. It’s just not what is typical in the online dating world. Rather, people are distracted, chasing multiple opportunities, and often ceasing a potential connection after a single chat with a person.

With the stress of meeting someone on hold, there is time to have multiple conversations with a person; there is freedom to shift from messaging to talking because a physical meeting is not on the table (at least in the immediate future). And as I noted, in the past, people met first, chatted as part of a first meeting, and possibly had a few subsequent meetings before deciding on whether this was something to pursue. People invested time, effort, and resources into developing a connection with a potential partner. In fact, these are three key features (time, effort, and resources) that are important in predicting a person’s relationship commitment (Rusbult et al., 1998). Ask yourself, how does the sea of choice and the instant messaging afforded by dating apps foster a commitment to finding a real connection?

Well, in this uncertain world, bring certainty to your approach to dating. Take the time to slow down when it comes to reviewing profiles, reduce the number of profiles viewed, and take the opportunity to talk with those you wish to pursue by phone and video chat. Go for quality, not quantity. You never know what may come of this.

If you need to re-focus on what it is that you are truly looking for, then click here to access the survey that helps you understand what you want in that special someone.

References

DW [Sullivan, A.] (2020). Love in the time of coronavirus: COVID-19 changes the game for online dating. DW, https://p.dw.com/p/3a6I5

de Vaus, D. (2012). Social trends and their impact on couple and family relationships. In P. Noller & G.C. Karantzas (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of couples and family relationships (pp. 25-35). United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing. 

Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public interest, 13, 3-66.

Matsumoto, D. E., Hwang, H. C., & Frank, M. G. (2016). APA handbook of nonverbal communication. United States: American Psychological Association.

Rusbult, C. E., Martz, J. M., & Agnew, C. R. (1998). The investment model scale: Measuring commitment level, satisfaction level, quality of alternatives, and investment size. Personal Relationships, 5, 357-387.

Tyson, G., Perta, V. C., Haddadi, H., & Seto, M. C. (2016, August). A first look at user activity on tinder. In 2016 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM) (pp. 461-466). IEEE.