The coronavirus self-isolation has come down hard on all of us. We’re suddenly holed up with parents looking for a nagging target, flatmates whose only cooking skill is making instant noodles, partners who’re on annoyingly loud video calls all the time, or simply the solitude of our own company. But even while social distancing has been disconcerting for most of us, it’s the single people who’re really feeling the loneliness of our times.
If you find yourself all alone and aren’t using self-isolation as an excuse to embrace your inner introvert, the quarantine can seem like an unending dry spell. Luckily, even though dating IRL might’ve been cancelled, there’s always digital dating to fall back on. Dating apps are the silver lining on this cloudy shitstorm that has become our routine. There’s nothing like thirst-trapping when you’re trapped indoors, and with COVID-19 lurking around, these apps have seen a surge in their usage, assuming an even more empowered position on our phones.
Which is why most dating apps are going all out. They’re not just warning frustrated fuckboys or girls stuck indoors to avoid stepping out and encouraging them to wash their damn hands (things they probably need to be told even without a quarantine), but they’re also incorporating guidelines by the World Health Organisation and the Center for Disease Prevention and Control into the opening pages of the app to remind users just how serious the situation is. In fact, each app is making alterations to suit the spirit of the times. To maximise the user experience, Tinder has made some paid premium features free, like their ‘passport’ option, which allows access to singles dealing with the same problem of self-isolation all over the world. In fact, many users have reportedly changed their bios to a question that suits the situation instead of a statement that spells out their own personality. Meanwhile, Bumble is relying on its video calling feature to keep the connection thriving, while apps like OkCupid and Hinge have incorporated questions on coronavirus into their interface. Even popular dating website Dating.com has put out tips on how couples can keep the spark alive by recommending that they watch movies together or even cook together via video chat. Meanwhile, apps like League Live and Plenty of Fish are even encouraging speed dating, a livestream feature in which users can chat with multiple people for 90 seconds and then decide if they want to move it to one-on-one time.
And this evolution isn’t only limited to apps specifically designed for dating purposes. Even Netflix (which should just be a dating app already) has taken the chill to a whole new level with the option to let users watch stuff simultaneously.
However, considering the quarantine means that most people who match online probably won’t be able to meet for the foreseeable future, it can potentially make online dating seem like a trivial dead-end. But even in the face of frivolousness, bored young singles are stepping up their game and adapting to the altered environment with their own rulebook.
“I now have a rule that I won’t be meeting any new people I match with, no matter how hard we vibe,” 22-year-old Sakshi, a model who has spent a year swiping through dating apps, tells VICE. “I don’t mind meeting someone I’ve already met many times before and maybe going for a drive in my car, but otherwise it’s ‘talk to me online till this coronavirus thing gets better or bye, boy'.” While Sakshi says that the social distancing scene hasn’t been able to reduce the fuckboy population, it has made it much easier to filter through them. “It makes people’s intentions more clear because now the other person has to talk to you for a while before you have a chance to actually meet. So you’ll know if someone is just being a softboi to get laid or if they will actually stick around.” However, she points out, it still hasn’t stopped those on the prowl from using cheesy pick-up lines that reference the situation created by COVID-19. “Guys have asked me if I want to ‘quarantine and chill’ or be their ‘self-isolation partner’ and a lot of them are using it as an excuse to call you over since going out isn’t exactly an option.”
While Sakshi prefers to keep the serenading in the online space, many dating coaches and matchmakers advocate shifting dates to video calls, even if it’s just a reason to get you to change out of your pyjamas for the first time in a week. They also recommend minimising conversation around coronavirus and making the effort to ask the people you’ve matched with about their own lives and interests, acknowledging that while this quarantine may make hookups harder, there’s no reason the romance can’t stay alive.
However, Nihal, a 27-year-old financial analyst feels that the overload of emotional sentiments that people face in self-isolation can actually become an advantage. “Everyone is feeling more lonely and vulnerable, which makes it way easier to pick up people because they’ll kind of settle for less,” he claims. “I think physical appearance stops mattering so much when your conversations only exist online, and you genuinely get to know the person for who they are.” He also encourages unloading all your horny emotions via sexting or video call. “I’ve managed to have some really hot, fuss-free phone sex. It’s great because instead of an awkward morning-after, I can just cut the call and it’s done.”
While some are capitalising on the loneliness that social distancing may bring, others are pulling all the stops to stay safe in their pursuit for a partner. “I’ve made a check-list of sorts to make sure that if I’m meeting someone, they aren’t showing any possible symptoms, haven’t travelled abroad anytime recently or been in contact with someone who has,” says Aisha, a 24-year-old writer who has been a regular on the online dating scene for three years. “This really reduces my options though, and even if someone swears they haven’t, it’s still hard to trust people. So my best option is to just keep chatting online and hope this whole nightmare ends soon so I can meet the people I genuinely connect with.”
But even as most people continue to use these apps in an attempt to stumble upon their significant other, some are content with just using them to make the lonely days easier. “Dating apps are all about virtual validation, the easiest way to get attention from people who don’t know you otherwise,” says 31-year-old Aniruddha Mahale, a writer and LGBTQ dating expert who also goes by the moniker Guysexual. Mahale, who is currently working on a book on the queer dating app experience, says that not everyone is on these apps to actually meet people. “It has made it easier to reject people without hurting their feelings. Instead of ghosting them, you can just say that you can’t meet because of the coronavirus quarantine.” However, Mahale points out, dating apps remain an essential element for the queer community. “If I was at a party, the chances of me walking up to someone and flirting with them would be less because I don’t know their sexuality. So online dating becomes an important avenue to heighten your dating experience.”
Even as dating apps and the behaviour they prompt evolve and adapt to the zeitgeist of the times, many are also using self-isolation to take a step back and focus on themselves. “The second we were advised to self-isolate, the first thing I did was delete all my dating apps,” says Shruti, a 22-year old student who claims she couldn’t be bothered with keeping up conversations with random strangers when she doesn’t know how long she’ll have to wait to meet them. “I don’t want to waste this time sexting someone I’ll probably never meet. I’d rather just focus on my friends, family and most importantly, myself.”
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