COVID-19: Dating in a Socially Distanced and Masked World

COVID-19: Dating in a Socially Distanced and Masked World

COVID-19 dating, a phrase we never could have imagined on New Year’s Day. Flashback to January 1st, 2020. You may have found yourself surrounded by family as you welcomed the new opportunities and challenges that would arise in 2020. Or maybe you found yourself on an exhilarating New Year’s Eve date filled with the excitement and anticipation as you anxiously waited for the magical first kiss that would occur right when the clock strikes midnight. Now fast forward eight months to a world where a celebration with family, a hug, or a magical first kiss could lead to catching an infectious disease, COVID-19. Over the past eight months, our world has drastically changed, as the ways in which we used to interact have ceased to exist. Finding a romantic partner pre-COVID was challenging. Add a pandemic and it may feel impossible. Many have found themselves struggling with how to date during a time where our civic responsibility involves wearing a mask and remaining six feet apart in public settings.

The Cautionary Tale of Online Dating

The bright side for anyone looking for love amidst these challenging times is that all the major dating sites (e.g. Hinge, Match, OKCupid, and Plenty of Fish) are reporting an increase between 10% to 15% in usage since physical distancing began (Karantzas, 2020). Although online dating has become the main avenue to safely date during COVID-19, several studies have debated whether online dating benefits or harms romantic relationships (Morris, 2020; Schade et al., 2013). Some studies have found that 22% of Americans report that dating sites have had a positive impact on their romantic relationships (Anderson et al., 2020). While other emerging adults have reported the negative experiences that stem from online dating such as scams or harassment (Guadagno et al., 2012). To date, research remains inconclusive on whether the benefits of online dating far outweigh the downsides that are inevitable with pursuing a romantic partner online (VerBruggen, 2019). However, this debate has quickly shifted over the past eight months as face-to-face connection has slowly evaporated from our daily lives and online dating has become the only viable option for finding a romantic partner.

3 Tips For Online Dating  During COVID-19

In the time of COVID, technology has quickly become the bridge between loneliness and emotional connection. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the ways technology can be used to strengthen and build relationships. For those who find themselves searching for a romantic partner during COVID-19, discovering ways to date while maintaining physical distance may at times feel like a moving target. Before COVID-19, Morris (2020) pushed against the idea that technology threatens relationship quality and asserted that individuals can shape their experiences with technology to enhance their personal, familial, and romantic relationships. Since the rise in COVID-19 cases and physical distancing guidelines, Morris (2020) has updated the original article that covered enhancing relationships through technology to include ways to meaningfully connect through technology during the time of COVID. Here are 3 ways that have been adapted for online dating from Morris (2020):

  • Do Something Together: Many of us can relate to the Zoom fatigue as we sit on the computer staring at our coworkers’ faces, for hours at a time, it is draining. You may find yourself feeling more exhausted than you ever felt when you went to the office each day. Finding something to do together online can help with building a relationship and is more engaging than just staring at each other on Zoom.
  • Be Intentional: For technology to have a positive role in online dating relationships, it needs to be utilized with intentionality. Before the online date occurs, you need to know what you want out of the date. It is easy to get sucked into going from virtual meeting to the next virtual meeting without purpose or meaning. Make sure that you take time for self-reflection to recognize what you want when dating and if this aligns with what you need and want in your life.
  • Set Boundaries: Since the stay-at-home order it has been difficult to separate work life from home life. You may have found your living room transitioning into your office with no set space for relaxation. As our homes have become our offices, setting boundaries around the time we work and the time we spend with friends becomes imperative. Make sure you have a set space where you can relax and enjoy your online dates. Schedule a specific time for when work ends, and your online dates can begin.

Virtual Dating Ideas

COVID-19 has sparked fear and robbed the excitement and celebration that comes with pivotal moments in our lives such as graduations, weddings, and prom. Resiliency, the one thing COVID-19 has yet to steal from humanity. Over the past 8 months, resiliency can be found in the moments where we decided to keep going and find creative ways to celebrate these pivotal moments. When weddings were canceled, Zoom weddings were facilitated by the cast of The Office (Some Good News, 2020). When high school seniors mourned the cancellation of their prom, virtual proms through Zoom occurred with live performances from the Jonas Brothers, Chance the Rapper, and Billie Eilish (Some Good News, 2020). When we thought the celebratory throwing of our caps at graduation would not occur, schools across the United States found ways to hold graduation ceremonies in football stadiums, where physical distancing was possible. When faced with challenges, we rise, adapt, and overcome. You too can be resilient by adapting and planning some fun online dates. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Create a Playlist Together: Bring back the 80’s and 90’s, where giving someone a mixtape or burned CD was the ultimate romantic move you could make. Using Spotify, create a playlist and then hold a virtual listening session with your date to talk about your favorite songs.
  • Zoom Coffee Date: Schedule the perfect casual online coffee date by downloading the Starbucks Zoom backgrounds, select which Starbucks you want to visit (e.g. Seattle, Costa Rica, Chicago), and then order your favorite fall drink at Starbucks. If you want to add to the Starbucks at-home atmosphere, turn on some tunes and light your favorite candle. Plus, with the tunes blaring and your favorite drink in hand, you can fill any awkward silence with a sip of your drink or a comment about how much you love the song playing in the background.
  • Movie Night: Get the popcorn, candy, and cozy blanket all set up as your living room evolves into the epic movie night we all miss from afar. In order to make it a date night, you will need to download Netflix Party through Google Chrome, an extension that allows two people to watch the same movie simultaneously. Or make it a group date with some of your friends with Amazon Watch Party. This feature allows you to select a movie and chat with your friends while you watch online together. Allow your friends to bail you out with the awkward lulls in the chat feature and help keep the conversation going.

The Post-COVID 19 Dating Scene

This pandemic may have lasting impacts on the dating scene as our world has completely changed over the past six months (Henderson, 2020). On the contrary, we may see a return to normalcy as people thrive for the dating world they once knew before COVID-19. What we do know for certain is that COVID-19 has created fear around the social locations and activities people are willing to do until they know for certain that the risk for catching COVID-19 dies down. We may see a continued hesitancy around physical contact in dating relationships. As previous research has found an association between regions with higher infectious disease prevalence and lower engagement in sexual activity, extraversion, and openness (Schaller & Murray, 2008). We may see an increase in the time people take during the search and decision process as additional measures are used to ensure that their potential match aligns with who they say they are in their online dating profile. We could see an increase in first dates taking place online, where people can assess if their match is worth their time for a face-to-face date. The truth is that nobody can fully predict if the dating scene has been forever altered following the COVID-19 isolation period.

The one thing we know for certain right now is that humanity can adapt and overcome. This is evident throughout the generations as we have overcome hardship after hardship. We are resilient, especially when we rise together to defeat this virus by wearing a mask, and physically distancing. Be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge what you need to find an emotional connection. Be intentional with your time spent on dating sites. Set boundaries and be creative with the online dates you schedule. We will continue to adapt together as we cling to the hope that the excitement of that first face-to-face date will surface again. The hope that engaging in physical contact in a new romantic relationship will not be met with the fear of contracting COVID-19. There is hope. Keep on dating.

Many online daters are using social media to talk about their success stories, regrets, and advice for managing a fully digital dating world. If you find yourself looking for more ideas and support on how to navigate the pandemic dating scene, check out the hashtag #pandemicdating on Twitter for ways to date that create safety, distance, and emotional connection. For more information on navigating romantic relationships, check out some of our previous blogposts on commitment in romantic relationships, defining your relationship, and handling rejection in romantic relationships.


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