The weekend that everything started shutting down in Washington, D.C., Kelley, 28, had plans to hang out with someone she’d started seeing a few weeks earlier, a guy she’d met on Bumble in late February. He ticked all the early-stage boxes: they both wanted the same thing (a relationship), shared an interest in debating politics, and were in a regular groove of seeing each other a couple of times per week.
On March 11, Kelley got word that her grandfather in New Orleans died; with only two reported cases in Louisiana at the time, she decided to fly down for the funeral. By the time she got back to D.C. on March 16, New Orleans had emerged as a national hotspot for COVID-19. She told the Bumble guy she thought it was best that she self-quarantined for two weeks after traveling and suggested a FaceTime date, an idea he was extremely not interested in. “He told me, "Oh, I really, really, really hate FaceTime, I'll see you when your quarantine is over,” Kelley, who asked to be identified by first name to protect both her and her date’s privacy, told VICE.
Kelley’s budding relationship with Bumble guy was basically dead in the water. She hasn’t heard from him in weeks, and never saw him again after leaving for New Orleans. She’s bummed but fine with this outcome; she said that conversations they’d had via text while she was self-quarantined revealed differences much larger than a refusal to video chat. Kelley’s is just one of countless relationships—both brand new and well-established—that was understandably unable to withstand the extreme stress of… *grandly sweeps arms around* everything that’s happening. These odd circumstances have revealed differences in ideology and personality that may have gone unnoticed for a lot longer during normal times.
But other people, able to maintain an almost preternatural devotion to socializing and to horniness, have seamlessly transitioned dating over to FaceTime and Zoom, and are even using their newfound downtime to meet entirely new romantic prospects. Humans are highly adaptable creatures, as evidenced clearly by our ability to carry on swiping and flirting as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in all 50 states and bars and restaurants closed, dating apps have been urging users to video chat and avoid meeting in person. Kelley’s date wasn’t amenable to working within these new confines, but plenty of others are carrying on.
Alex Williams, 28, went on a first date “literally two days” before his office in Los Angeles closed due to concerns about coronavirus. “We knew we wanted to see each other again, so basically our options were to talk on the phone, via text, or on Zoom,” Williams told VICE. They ended up playing Boggle over a Zoom call, an of-these-times innovation Williams said he’s mastered (“you have to hook up a tablet and position it in a way where you both see the Boggle board”). This, their second date, lasted upwards of three hours—universally acknowledged to be a sign that things are going well, even if there is nothing else to do—and they’ve since had a third Zoom date.
Three dates in is a little early to define a relationship, and Williams said he doesn’t currently feel comfortable with the idea of putting a label on something with a person he’s only seen in person and made out with once. He feels like they have good chemistry, their texting is easy and nice, and they find each other attractive. He even went as far as saying sexting “is definitely on the table.”
“In three months, who knows?” he said. “It’s probably progressing at roughly the same, if not a slightly slower, pace than an in-person relationship, during not an apocalypse.” There are certain benefits to getting to know someone during a global crisis, and exclusively through a digital representation on a screen; Williams said there’s an added intimacy, knowing you’re bonded by this unprecedented, weird experience. “We’re able to talk more profoundly about fears, our parents, our family, or whatever else—the end of the world,” he said. “But the drawbacks are more significant.”
For instance: Ending a date that’s a dead-end. Williams had a first date with someone else scheduled the weekend most places started closing in Los Angeles, a few days before the official shelter-in-place order was issued. “Obviously I wasn’t trying to go to a bar, so we rescheduled it as a FaceTime date,” Williams said. His date was down with this, but just as things would happen in-person, Williams realized within about an hour that he wasn’t feeling it.
“I knew I was not into her, and the process of extracting myself politely was a little awkward,” he said. “Typically, like, the night’s over and you either go home together or you go home alone. And now it’s more nebulous; no one wants to be the first one to say we should call it.”
To be fair, this is true of literally all Zoom/FaceTime/Skype interactions; the excuses to dip when both parties know you have nothing else to do (shower? wash more dishes??) are few and far between. Kassidy, 25, had her first and only lockdown Zoom date in mid-March, the first week of her self-quarantine in New York City. “Had never met her before, we were talking on Hinge and had a drinks date set up right before the stay at home orders,” Kassidy told VICE. They decided on drinks from their respective bedrooms, over video chat. Kassidy knew pretty quickly that there wasn’t a vibe.
“I went into it thinking about, like, how do I politely end this,” she said. “I’m an asshole, and said I had another Zoom party to go. Which was true.”
Sarah Pendley, 33, joked with a recent FaceTime date that saying your computer is about to die was maybe the only acceptable coronavirus-era excuse, right before her own computer was indeed about to die.
Pendley, who lives in Austin, has gone on FaceTime dates with three different people since the city closed nonessential businesses on March 17. Her first date—the one ended by her computer battery—was with a guy she’d met in person last year on a trip to Atlanta. Pendley told VICE she normally wouldn’t consider going out with someone who doesn’t live nearby, but given the situation of literally not being able to go anywhere, she was game when he reached out during quarantine and suggested a virtual dinner date. Williams echoed this sentiment, saying that if he opened Tinder in LA right now, it would be “full of people who are using the passport function to get on Tinder from Europe, almost everyone would be 2,000 miles away.” (Tinder recently waived fees starting on March 20 for its Passport function , which lets users swipe in other cities, states and countries, due to coronavirus.)
To create an air of normalcy in otherwise abnormal times, Pendley said she still puts on getting ready music, does her hair and makeup, and gets dressed in regular date clothes (minus the shoes) for each date. Before the pandemic, Pendley said she’d never FaceTimed or even phone screened a date before meeting in person. Normally she walks her dog to a nearby coffee shop/bar for dates, but she’s taking the directives to stay home and stop the spread seriously. Not everyone on Austin Hinge is doing the same. “I will say, about a third of the people I’ve been chatting with have still tried to meet in person, which is a little disturbing and, to me, a huge turnoff,” Pendley said. “There’s one guy—such a douche, for lack of a better word—you could tell he’s basically just trying to get laid, so I basically had to tell him off.”
Pendley’s used a person’s willingness to meet up over FaceTime—a sign they’re also taking social distancing seriously—as a sort of of the times litmus test for compatibility. One of the three guys she’s dated in the past month initially suggested going out for a walk around the nearby lake (even socially distanced, this is not a loophole worth pursuing), but he was up for meeting up digitally, instead. “That tells you so much about a person, I think it’s a great indicator,” she said.
After a good first date with this guy, Pendley set up a second date on the Houseparty app, where users can play games together from afar. “We were doing a date night game thing and I forgot that in Houseparty, you have to lock the room [so other people can’t join],” she said. “One of my friends from Houston jumped into our date (he didn’t know it was a date), and just kind of stuck around. I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re just playing this drawing game… do you want to play?’ And he was like, ‘Sure!’ So we all ended up playing for an hour. He totally crashed it. If I was out at a bar, that never would’ve happened.”
Pendley said that the best date by far she has had during quarantine was her most recent one, during the second week of April. Gauging chemistry is harder when you can’t physically be around someone, but she said she’s still able to assess who she “vibes” with. “We did a charcuterie and wine date; he had charcuterie, and I had some wine,” Pendley said. “We ended up talking for like, three hours—I don’t think I’ve talked to a guy I’ve never met on the phone for that long, ever.”
They talked about everything from COVID and how they were each coping to more rote first date things, like work, volunteering efforts, family, and music. Like on any good in-person first date, Pendley felt an indefinable spark. Nothing worth breaking social distancing protocol for, but definitely something worth continuing over FaceTime, from their respective quarantine bunkers.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.