How online dating has changed—maybe for the better—in the the coronavirus era

April 13, 2020, 11:00 PM UTC

Fifty strangers who use online dating app Coffee Meets Bagel logged on to a video chat after the first week of “shelter-in-place” restrictions in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were there to meet new friends and, if lucky, find love.

Most participants sat at their desks at home or on their living room couches. But one person quickly captured the room’s attention. “Is someone on a motorcycle?” one person asked.

And sure enough, in one of the Brady Bunch-like boxes in the video conferencing window was a man wearing a full-face helmet and motorcycle leathers, zipping around the streets of San Francisco. After briefly logging off, he rejoined the chat and apologized, saying he had really wanted to join the call, but had to drive home first. 

During a global pandemic, in which meeting people in-person is challenging to nearly impossible, some online daters are continuing their search for romance, but through video chats instead of meeting in person. And they’re having to be more creative, more patient, and better conversationalists—skills that weren’t previously as important.

Jasmyn Ellis, a 28-year-old Vancouver resident, said men have stepped up their game since the outbreak. Compared to before the coronavirus, suitors are seemingly more committed to their matches and are making more romantic gestures. “There was this one guy I met, and he’s a DJ,” she said, referring to a recent video date. “He played the piano for me one night.”

On the Coffee Meets Bagel meetup, conducted over video conferencing service Zoom, one male dater suggested to the group that he may send food delivery to his next date so they can virtually have dinner together. It’s unclear whether he actually followed through with the plan.

Whether it’s due to boredom, loneliness, having more free time, or some combination of the three, many online daters say they’re increasingly using their apps for a reprieve from solitude in addition to finding dates. “There’s really nothing else to do right now,” said Jasmine Kennedy, a New York resident who typically uses a dating app called Ship.

A survey by Coffee Meets Bagel of 1,140 of its users following the outbreak highlighted some of the changing behavior. It found that 39% of respondents planned to text their romantic matches more while 29% planned to call and 28% said they would video chat more.

In response, Coffee Meets Bagel in March introduced conference calls, now called Coffee Talks, and has hosted one or two every week since. In addition to would-be daters, the calls include a company moderator who’s there to get the conversation started and make sure there’s no harassment or nudity. Though it’s early, Coffee Meets Bagel, hasn’t had any problems during the calls. “People are just craving connection,” said Dawoon Kang, co-CEO of Coffee Meets Bagel. “This actually is a time when it calls for an out-of-the-box approach. How do we help our users stay connected in times like this to make sure they don’t feel isolated?”

A 33-year-old San Francisco resident, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, uses the Coffee Meets Bagel group video calls to broaden her circle of friends, considering that she can’t visit bars and restaurants until the city’s shelter in place order is lifted. During the recent call, she made two new friends. “Part of my day-to-day is going out and meeting new people,” she said about her lifestyle before the outbreak. “The new normal may be finding creative ways to meet people. So I appreciated the option.”

On April 7, dating service Hinge introduced a new feature called Date from Home that lets users tell the app that they’re ready to take their conversations with a match off the app and into a video call. If and when both daters select the option, they both receive a notification and can arrange to talk.

Last month, dating service Plenty of Fish, also owned by Match Group, gave users the ability to video call their matches or speed date with potential matches through 90-second video calls. In light of the pandemic, the company also made free a previous paid service that let users connect online with users worldwide instead only people in their areas, thereby expanding their pool of connections.

Daniel, a 27-year-old Los Angeles resident who didn’t want his last name used for privacy, has used Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble over the past year. Since the coronavirus outbreak, he said his matches with women have increased 10-fold. And while he has more opportunity to meet others, he’s been more challenged to fill the video dates with conversation instead of relying on distractions like a movie or a meal. “This is a new thing for me,” Daniel said. “It makes me feel pretty vulnerable.”

It’s unclear whether video dating will make meaningful in-person relationships more likely, if and when the shelter in place orders are lifted. On one hand, daters will know each other better when they finally get together in the same room, but on the other, they risk losing interest in each during the weeks or months of waiting for it to be possible.

Still, Ellis, from Vancouver, said the new style of dating is somewhat a relief from what she said is usually a “rushed” and pressured experience before the outbreak. And now that she knows that men her age can raise their games, she said her opinion about dating has changed. “People are going to do have to do a lot more once this is done now that I know everybody has the ability to act like this,” she said. “The standard is high.”

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