After feeling isolated and unable to socialize on the University of Maryland’s campus due to COVID-19, Richard Nguyen turned to Tinder to connect with other students.
Nguyen, a sophomore marketing major, got admitted to this university while COVID-19 was a fairly new concern. He said his loneliness and inability to connect with anyone on the campus led him to use Tinder, even if it ran the risk of connecting with someone who had COVID-19 or was unvaccinated.
“I was very lonely for an entire year,” he said. “I was willing to take that risk.”
He met another student, sophomore information science major Brooke Morgan, on Tinder last January. They talked for a couple of days online before having their first in-person date at Nguyen’s house, but said they had to establish mutual trust and be on the same page when it came to COVID-19 before anything happened.
“We both knew that this pandemic was a really serious thing and people are getting sick, and people are dying,” Nguyen said. “We did everything in our power to stay safe, and so at that point we were willing to take that risk to meet each other.”
The university recently announced that students, staff and faculty must wear KN95 masks in classrooms, and some events are still taking place online. But these safety precautions do not diminish the loneliness among students, Morgan said.
“College-aged kids especially need a lot of social interactions,” Morgan said. “We’re so used to interacting with people that everyone just wanted to find someone to hang out with.”
Nguyen said he noticed a lot of users were not looking for anything serious — instead, they were looking for friends. Some were trying to form casual online friendships because they were quarantining alone.
Shortly after their first date, Nguyen believed he came in contact with COVID-19 from his sister. He said it was a false positive test, but he still chose to quarantine away from Morgan “out of safety” before meeting up again.
While there is a risk of meeting someone who has COVID-19, some students do not see it as a major concern.
Sebastian Langan, a senior biomedical engineering major, said he met about nine people through Bumble and was never scared of interacting with someone who may have COVID-19. He would’ve used Bumble regardless if there wasn’t a pandemic because it’s an easier way to meet others, he said.
“I knew that there was a risk of somebody having it, but I just didn’t really feel like the risk of me facing serious health effects was high enough,” Langan said.
Tinder emphasizes safety and transparency on its app through specialized profile stickers members can use to advocate for getting vaccinated. These include “Vaccinated,” “Vaxing Soon,” “Immunity Together” and “Vaccines Save Lives.”
While dating applications try to advocate for vaccinations with their users, some students say they can do more and be more adamant about it.
Langan said the best dating apps can do is require users to upload their vaccination cards. Some places, such as this university, already mandate this.
“I can’t imagine where I would meet someone [who’s] unvaccinated because I only ever talked to people in college,” Morgan said. She implied that because most of this university’s population is vaccinated, there’s less worry when it comes to meeting someone unvaccinated or with COVID-19.