With social distancing measures in place, and sex out of the question for many, dating is yet another activity rendered frustratingly complex by COVID-19. But as self-isolation causes people to feel increasingly horny, dating apps are reportedly blowing up, leading many of us to consider new, inventive ways of getting to know people without ever meeting IRL.
Virtual dating – via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom – is becoming the norm for those wanting to take things to the next level after interacting via an app. Sade, a 30-year-old screenwriter from New York, says that she is not normally “a dating person” and that prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, she’d never been on a virtual date. When we speak, she’s already met with six guys in the space of a few days – three in a single evening – all from her living room.
Sade says she hasn’t met anyone she’s serious about yet, but finds it easier to let her dates know if she doesn’t see things going further “between screens” than in-person. “It saves you wasting weeks of time and money,” she explains, “and it's helping me come out of my shell.” Not everyone feels comfortable speaking over video chat, compared to being in a bar or restaurant where “it’s loud, and you can get a little drunk. I have a glass of rosé by my computer and encourage them to grab whatever they need to relax – weed, beer – and to just have a chat!”
Like Sade, 19-year-old college student Danny has found that meeting guys virtually while in self-isolation in Utah has taken some of the pressure off dating. “Sometimes, when you try to have the most perfect date and put in a ton of effort, it just never happens,” he says. “When you’re at home FaceTiming someone, it’s a lot more laid-back and I think you can be yourself more.” Dates, on the whole, feel more casual, allowing him to “meet a lot of people, without putting in much commitment”. Both Danny and Sade reckon they’d like to continue virtual dating, even after social distancing measures are lifted. “I hope the pandemic kind of normalises it,” says Danny.
Thor, a 35-year-old sports writer from Minneapolis, has taken a less scattergun approach to virtual dating. After speaking to Jessica* online for almost a week, he suggested going on a Skype date – a first for them both. While the first ten minutes of the date were spent trying to resolve some technical difficulties – “I remembered I’d put tape over my camera,” Thor admits – the rest of the date went “really well”. Thor and Jessica have already made plans to see each other again virtually this week. “Skype kind of introduces this lightness where you can laugh at the situation, which is the other end of the spectrum to the pandemic.
“In quarantine, you’re only usually speaking to people who are in your pre-existing friendship circle or, in my case, from work,” Thor continues. “We’re deprived of meeting new people. So to speak to someone new and get a new perspective on things, felt like a real treat.”
For other virtual daters, it’s about maintaining burgeoning romances that might otherwise have died in quarantine. Cilla, a 25-year-old marketing consultant from London, went on a first date with Sam* a few weeks ago after the pair met on Hinge. But instead of going on a second date in-person as planned, Sam suggested they move things to FaceTime. He then Monzoed her £15 to buy a bottle of wine.
After three hours spent talking and playing drinking games, Cilla and Sam set up another virtual meeting for later this week. “We’re going to send Deliveroo to each other's houses, pick a restaurant and surprise each other,” she says. In keeping with the big slumber party energy, Cilla says that she hasn’t felt the need to get dressed out of her pyjamas for dates. “I just put on a bit of make-up, and arranged the lamp in my bedroom so it had a nice glow on my face.” Sade has also been seizing the opportunity to dress down on her dates: “I’ll just be in sweatpants and slippers – it’s a relief not worrying about what you’re wearing from below the top.”
For others, virtual dating has been a more sombre affair – an acute reminder of the loneliness inflicted by government-enforced physical separation. Jess, a 25-year-old trainee barrister from London, met Ruth*, 26, from Cambridge, for the first time last month at a pub: “We sat on stools less than two metres apart, not realising how good life was,” she laments. “Last night was our second date, sitting at our kitchen tables, this time with 60 miles between us.”
After arranging to meet on Skype at 8PM, Jess showed up to the date 15 minutes late: “I clearly didn’t leave enough time to get from the bedroom to the kitchen,” she says, before explaining how Covid-19 has had “an intensifying effect” on their fledgling relationship. “Our first date was very casual. On date number two, we were supporting each other through a global health pandemic.
“Our connection cut out just as I told Ruth I would like to see her again. I’m not sure she heard,” Jess remembers. She’s looking forward to their next date, however far off in the future that might be. “Never again will I take for granted two stools in a pub, less than two metres apart.”
* Names have been changed to protect identities