In their November 4, 2020 quarter three shareholder communication, Match Group (they own Match.com, Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid, among many other online dating platforms) wrote that their average subscriber numbers across the apps were up 12% from the same quarter in 2019. Match Group CEO Shar Dubey wrote, “This year has been fraught with complications, hardships and anxiety on a global scale … It has also shown us that what we offer our communities, the ability to connect and form meaningful relationships, is indispensable … The need for human connection is ubiquitous.”

For hopeful relationship seekers, finding love was hard enough before the world shut down. Add in a pandemic, and for many single people, health, finances, and their already-closely knit group of friends and family took precedence over dating — at least in the beginning. But when weeks of isolation turned into months, many began to warm up to new ways of connecting. Find out how people are finding love — and maybe a touch of frustration — as they maneuver the world of dating during a pandemic.

POPULARITY OF DATING APPS ON THE RISE

Dating app downloads and revenue aren’t the only numbers on the rise. The numbers of people willing to make go on their first “date” via video chat have also risen drastically, and some apps have even added video services within their platforms. Meeting a stranger this way would have been a “yeah right!” for many single people in 2019. Now, hopeful first-daters are getting incredibly creative — virtually cooking a meal together, opening the same bottle of wine, watching the same TV show, or taking an online art class in tandem.

For those who are wary about the cons of dating apps — and there are some — options are limited but not zero. The days of sitting (unmasked) at a restaurant bar and meeting strangers will return one day, but until then, sites like MeetUp.com are connecting singles in more casual group environments. They have seen an uptick in multi-person, safely distanced group activities like hiking and volunteering. Plus, they’ve added more than a million local virtual meetups like game nights and speed dating for singles.

Stock photo of a virtual handshake

According to The Knot’s 2019 Jewelry and Engagement Study, 22% of newlyweds met online. It’s too early to know what these 2020 online relationships will amount to, but there has been a significant increase in dating app usage since the country began shutting down.

A “SWIPE-RIGHT” SUCCESS STORY

Before she met her boyfriend, RJ, former StyleBlueprint team member Annie called her dating life “bleak” through a laugh. “My dating journey was quiet. A setup by a distant friend here or there. A couple of dates with guys I met in the real world (gasp!). Plenty of first dating app dates. But, nothing serious. Nothing that stuck. I’d be lying if I said one of my thoughts in the first few days of lockdown wasn’t, ‘How will anyone meet someone now?’ (I fully recognize there were much bigger problems in the world, but hey, in the spirit of honesty).” After a month or so, Annie decided to rejoin the dating apps. That’s when she matched with RJ.

When they first started dating, things were still very shut down. There were hardly even takeout options. “We did lots of picnics in parks, lots of walks … and spent a LOT of time talking. Several dates in, I remember talking to my best friend and realizing for the first time that I’d never seen RJ interact with anyone except me,” Annie explains. “With no movies, no concerts, no bars, no parties … there was a whole lot of RJ and Annie time. We laugh about that now, and we both probably stressed about it at the time, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Those first dates were ‘get-to-know-you time’ like I’d never had — with literally no distractions.” Annie’s experience speaks to the stripped-down, distraction-free version of dating that many new couples are experiencing right now.

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“It has shaped our relationship for the best,” Annie continues. “We got to know each other so intentionally at the beginning, and our time spent together since has felt so easy. The long walks in the park and lingering conversations over wine on patios were actually quite romantic, though unnatural at first.”

Annie points out this hasn’t come without challenges. “It took a lot more time to create relationships with each other’s friends and families since the time spent with those groups was few and far between. Activities together obviously look different than we’d like … We’re both big music people, so we’re excitedly anticipating the day we can see live music together or enjoy dinner in a restaurant and meet friends at a crowded bar after,” Annie adds.

Couple who started dating in the pandemic

Annie notes that some of the things taken away by the pandemic will be that much sweeter when they return. “We have this whole element of the relationship that we haven’t even touched … like saving some of the good stuff for later instead of indulging all at once,” she says. Image: Submitted

A STRING OF PANDEMIC DATING FLOPS

Faith is an early-30s Tennessean who hasn’t experienced such success. She’s mainly been looking for love on the app Hinge, “but also through spiritual mediums, walking my dog three times a day to try to bump into a cute guy I saw once, and Instagram thirst traps,” she tells us coyly. “I was minding my own business mid-pandemic (this summer) when my ex-boyfriend’s best friend texted me that he was in town for the week. We had dinner that night and promptly fell in love. Prior to that, I was treating swiping on Hinge like a part-time job. Seriously. I scheduled myself for 30 minutes per day of swiping.”

This disjointed and distanced love “work” yielded Faith some strange moments she hopes to laugh at one day. Her summer flame apparently fell out of love just as quickly as they both fell into it. “Is getting dumped via text right before he was flying in to meet my parents funny? I think one day it will be. I had just gotten to New York for my sister’s mini-wedding. I haven’t heard from him since,” Faith says. “I went on a string of crisis dates right after this because I needed a reason to engage with another human. One of them was 25 minutes late because he was drunk out of his mind and couldn’t find the entrance.”

Faith admits to having no success in the pandemic love department, but I beg to differ. She’s an example of what I have encountered a lot in this research: single people working on themselves and looking forward to brighter dating experiences ahead. “The advice I’ve been trying to follow — especially in these months of lockdown — is to date myself. I’ve started to say yes to the things that before would have been filed in the maybe in another life box,” she shares. “For me, it’s been meditation, picking Spanish back up, cooking obnoxiously elaborate dishes. This has brought me a ton of clarity around who I am and what I want, rather than who I can be to someone else.”

DEEPER CONNECTIONS & LEARNING AS YOU GO

Meredith is a late-30s single mother and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and supervisor with clients in North and South Carolina. She’s been helping many people navigate this time. And she, too, started dating someone at the beginning of the pandemic. She says there is often too much pressure put on relationships during times of intense and novel stress like the one we are experiencing. “People are deeply lonely and feel very powerless. This makes us more likely to find external things to look to for either rescue from or blame for what we are feeling,” she tells me. “Also, our surge capacity (tank of adrenaline) is long gone, so we are tired, more reactive, and need to find new places to get energy since this crisis outlasts our fight or flight system.”

Meredith points out a shinier side to the same coin. “I think there’s the potential to connect on a real level more because you can’t fill your time with activity as much. I think it’s possible to value a partner more because we’re more in touch with our weariness and vulnerability. I started dating someone two weeks after shut down. It was a setup from a mutual friend, so it wasn’t totally random. We’ve found ways to go on outside dates and have enjoyed local breweries and outside venues a lot. I do know couples who have fought less about sharing time with family at holidays because obligations are dialed back right now.”

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Emmaline, who is in her mid-20s, moved to Charlotte, NC, from Minnesota shortly before the pandemic, and she met Eli, her now-boyfriend, right as the lockdowns were starting. She brings a refreshing perspective as well, spotlighting how the novelty of new habits and routines can be inherently fresh, exciting, and a bonding mechanism. “Finding love was not at the forefront of my mind during a pandemic. It was a time when nearly every routine and structure of my daily life was changing, so when Eli and I met, building a new normal and life amidst 2020’s ongoing uncertainty with someone new felt surprisingly easy — fun, even,” she explains. “It was definitely weird at first without restaurants or concerts, but I think without all the glittery lights of typical and performative dating culture, we had the chance to actually get to know one another and connect in an authentic way. It wasn’t the normal dance of modern dating. We had to improvise and make up the moves as we went. But when you find someone so special, I don’t think it will ever feel ‘normal.'”

A BRIGHT SPOT IN THE DARKNESS

I asked Annie if she had any advice for those searching for love right now. “It’s possible! Maybe it’s not how you pictured it, but nothing about this year has been. I like to think that this time has allowed people time to work on themselves, figure out what they want, and look forward to commitment instead of avoiding it. Those first dates might just be masked and outside. But what a joy to find something bright in all of this darkness!”

Thank you, Annie, Faith, Meredith and Emmaline, for speaking with StyleBlueprint about your pandemic dating journeys.

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