In mid-March, Jessica Ross, an administrator at a law firm in Washington, D.C., had been self-isolating at home for a few days when she decided to start swiping on a dating app out of boredom. Ross said the app was booming with people excited to chat while stuck at home with one natural, unfortunate conversation starter—the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ross, 29, said she eventually exchanged numbers with a man she was messaging to take their conversation off the app. For her, exchanging numbers usually leads to the next step of meeting up for drinks. But they were both on the same page about not meeting in person during a global pandemic, so they started to virtually date using FaceTime. Ross said around two weeks ago, he asked if she was interested in going on a FaceTime date—noting that it could be awkward.
“I figured this was about to become the new normal, so I told him I’d prefer to do it while it was still weird,” she said. “Now we talk often enough that I know what he’s doing most nights, and we feel comfortable FaceTiming out of the blue.”
In February, Ross’s video dating situation may have seemed unconventional. However, it has become a new normal for people looking to make romantic connections while in-person dates are unsafe.
Major dating apps have reported an increase in global use during the pandemic, and they’ve swiftly pivoted to encourage users to not meet in person. The apps are now offering users convenient ways to set up virtual dates, on-theme digital and social content, plus links to safety guidelines from global health organizations.
Hinge, which reported a 30% increase in messages among users in March compared to January and February, is addressing the potential awkwardness that comes with asking a match to take a conversation from messages to video. The brand revised its in-app survey to reflect the current dating climate, reporting that 70% of members would be open to a virtual date on video platforms like Zoom; and in general, a third of all members shared the phase of dating when they feel the least confident was turning conversations into face-to-face meetings.
In response to the findings, Hinge today launched a “Date From Home” menu, which pops up at the bottom of in-app conversations, asking users if they’re ready to go on a digital date. Users can select when they’re ready to move the conversation off the app, and their response remains private until their match selects it, too.
“While we may need to be physically distant right now, we can still be socially connected,” said Tim MacGougan, chief product officer, Hinge, in a statement. “We are excited for the launch of ‘Date from Home’ as a new and easy way for our users to continue their dating lives.”
Michael Kaye, global communications manager, OkCupid, said the dating site has seen an 30% increase in global daily messages exchanged in the past few weeks. The brand is particularly monitoring how the topics of conversation have increasingly shifted toward coronavirus and social distancing. Kaye noted between February and March, mentions of video chatting platforms like Zoom and Skype increased 180% and toilet paper increased 238% on member profiles.
“But we don’t recommend you use a coronavirus opening line,” Kaye said. “Our data shows those messages are 5% less likely to get a reply, and the ones that do have conversations fizzle out faster.”
OkCupid has also added new in-app questions related to virtual dating; the questions are normally used to help the platform match people on compatible interests. New questions include: “What’s your ideal virtual date?,” “Do you enjoy phone sex?” and “Would you say ‘I love you’ to someone you’ve never met in person?”