Can online dating survive COVID-19?

A person using their smartphone (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

I do not need to remind you that social distancing, stay-at-home orders and states of emergency are our new “normal” for the time being. While the airline and restaurant industries are receiving major attention during these unprecedented times, ordinary people are continuing to adjust to a decrease in daily social and romantic interactions.

You might swipe on Tinder more than you travel or eat out, and our quarantine lifestyles are proving how significant the online dating industry is in our routines. Many platforms have reported an increase in usage and messages since the beginning of the coronavirus response measures. 

Video calls on Bumble have increased, and Match Group launched a “Dating while Distancing” hotline for Tinder, Hinge and its other platforms. Many companies are offering new free services, or temporarily releasing paid ones to all users. This is some real customer service — maybe airlines should take notes.

This spike may be out of boredom or the crazy effect that social distancing has on our hormones. Either way, there’s something liberating about swiping for days from the same spot on the couch in the same pair of sweatpants. 

While COVID-19 has not entirely robbed us of this source of entertainment, it has disrupted the timeline for casual and serious relationships born from these apps. Swiping with the goal that your matches won’t live in your phone forever is difficult right now.

Social distancing means it’s discouraged to meet others in person. The World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention probably would not recommend hooking up with strangers, either. Of course, a large portion of the population has more important concerns during a global pandemic, too.

[Read more: 11 movies to help distract you from the coronavirus pandemic]

Apps such as Bumble have broadcasted messages to remind users that “SOCIAL DISTANCING ≠ LONELINESS.” Despite the rise in usage, some people are not willing to put in effort if their normal “end goal” has been eliminated. Messaging can seem even more meaningless than usual.

Luckily, two Yale students have restructured the online dating world to make it sustainable during a global pandemic. The new OkZoomer offers “love for everyone … at least 6 feet apart.” Creators Patrycja Gorska and Ileana Valdez have made it possible to search for love remotely, specifically for college students.

OkZoomer asks for information like other platforms, but it uses a weekly Google form to organize submissions. After the form closes every Friday at 2 p.m., users are emailed links to interact with their match. These blind dates can be used for romance — or just to find another college student to commiserate with.

As 18- to 22-year-olds are condemned to the boredom of their hometowns, many are unwilling to prematurely give up their normal university lifestyles. The coronavirus has destroyed college days of overloaded social interaction and replaced them with limited activity outside of your parents’ house. The stark disruption is impacting many and requiring companionship now more than ever.

Not all platforms are rolling out new features, but all are encouraging users to prioritize their health. That means keeping things virtual, whether using in-app features or switching to FaceTimes. Clearly, the producers for Love Is Blind and The Circle were ahead of their time. Being forced to find love or basic human connection through screens seemed unreal just a short month ago. At least now we know that Zoom can be used for reasons beyond lectures and discussions. 

[Read more: A celebrity singalong will not cure a crisis]

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