MF 326 : Dating in a pandemic
Updated: May 10
Love in the time of Covid
It was around this time last year (a year and a few weeks ago) that I recorded episode 276, talking about dating in the age of mobile apps. My how the world has changed since then. When it comes to finding love, many of us are still on those apps and connect through swipes, likes, text messages and the like. I often wonder what future civilizations will think when they dig up a mobile phone inside a time capsule or hidden archive and see icons with fire, honeycombs and other symbols that we associate with love in the 21st century.
Episode 276 is both relevant and outdated when it comes to dating in a pandemic.
If you're a single person, mobile apps have likely been a part of your daily existence for as long as you’ve been single and searching. They've increasingly replaced traditional in-person norms for meeting people over the past several years. During the 2020 - 2021 pandemic, these apps have exploded with exponential downloads and usage. More people are turning to them to connect with others, communicate, and in some cases, find true love. Recently, Bumble (symbol: BMBL) had its IPO and currently commands a $8.035B market cap. It is the second major company specializing in online romance, following Match Group (symbol: MTCH), that has gone public with a billion dollar enterprise.
Dating apps are no longer a hip trend or a niche way to find love. They're a part of our everyday lives, especially as we continue to spend more time indoors and at home.
Romance? Boredom? Games? Trading cards?
From my own experience with dating apps, I've noticed a significant increase in the number of matches and invitations to connect during the pandemic. I haven't done the calculations (nor do I intend to) but eyeballing it, I would guess around 2-3x the number of usual matches pre-2020.
However, this hasn't made finding love or even a conversation any easier. In my experience, for every 4-5 matches, more than 60% don't engage, meaning initiate a conversation in the case of a women-make-the-first-move app like Bumble or respond to a first message sent. Barring the possibility that I regularly make gigantic social faux pas that torpedo first impressions, it's hard to understand why engagement levels don't sync up with higher activity. I've done some light research on this, reading articles and listening to a few podcasts, and the only thing I can determine is that while more people are using dating apps not everyone wants to find a relationship, a date, or even a conversation.
Then, why? Motivations range from curiosity to sheer boredom. Some may be "window shopping" while others may genuinely seek romance but find themselves overwhelmed by a glut of matches.
There's one other element worth mentioning. While apps have revolutionized the way we meet, it's also "gamified" dating. As we swipe, click and browse, it becomes easy to see this as a "numbers game." Unfortunately, this has led to a noticeable erosion in basic social etiquette.
Who you gonna call? Apparently, no one.
During the past year, I've experienced an increased amount of "ghosting," in which a person simply disappears with no explanation or notice. While this is not a new phenomenon, like a virus, it’s mutated. In the past, ghosting mostly happened during natural break points - at the end of a date or following a lull in a conversation. Now, I've seen (and experienced) ghosting in mid-conversation. Case in point. Several months ago, I connected with a woman on Coffee Meets Bagel, a popular dating app that differentiates itself with a select few matches per day at the noon hour. After we connected, we had several conversations that led to a phone call and a Zoom date that seemed to go well. We continued conversing, and it was during a text exchange, when I was hit with radio silence. It didn't happen at the end of a conversation but right in the middle. I asked a benign follow-up question on a topic she brought up. Notably, the conversation wasn‘t slow or laggy. We were in full on text mode with messages bouncing back and forth. I didn't hear back so I assumed she was busy with something else at the moment. I followed up twice and never heard from her again. And that, was that.
I was taken aback but not entirely surprised. As mentioned, ghosting is hardly a new phenomenon. However, the stress of the pandemic and our decreased ability to meet and connect in person has made it a more common, if not "acceptable," way to end a connection or conversation and move on.
Despite this, I remain optimistic. While I haven't struck relationship gold as it were yet, I've made some wonderful connections that have evolved into friendships. Part of being on a dating app is to share a communal experience, to connect and learn about someone you otherwise may not have run into in the ordinary course of your daily life. This is the selling proposition of nearly all dating apps.
So, I end this with a few principles I try to adhere to when it comes to "dating in a pandemic." I hope you will find these helpful, especially if you find yourself with a lot of matches or convos that end up becoming non-starters.
Know your comfort zone
How you date during these times is a complex, personal decision. Whether your preference is strictly virtual or masked and socially distanced outdoors (or indoors), know your comfort zone and personal limits. Part of this will be determined by what you're able to do in your particular state, city, or county. Whatever your comfort zone is, don't hesitate to let the other person know. If they're not receptive, then it's probably not a good match or the right time. It’s not a bad idea to state it up front it in your dating profile so there's no confusion or misunderstanding. Many apps now have menus or sections that are specific to pandemic dating - fill these out. While finding romance is hard enough, measuring compatibility has gotten that much more complicated with this added wrinkle.
Absent an extreme situation, ghosting isn't a good way to end a conversation or a connection. It can be easy to forget when you’re on an app so make that extra effort to remember that at the other end of that profile is a real person with real feelings.
Unfortunately, we've come into an era that I call "passive polite." Instead of communicating clearly about our intentions or desire to cultivate a connection, many are simply being "polite" with vague niceties, only to disappear. Sure, telling someone you're not feeling it can be a little awkward but I find the more clear and direct you are with your intentions, the easier it gets over time. Don't be "passive polite." Instead, develop the human relationship muscle that lets other people know what you're feeling and what you're not. For the most part, the other person is going to understand even if they're disappointed. And in the rare instance that someone doesn't react well or appropriately, then you have every right to disconnect or block them. Remember, we're all struggling in these times with daily stresses and pressures. So be kind and treat others how you would want to be treated.
We now have more ways to connect and communicate than ever be it by text, phone or video calls. However, that hasn't made finding romance or a relationship any easier. The best we can do is to be open, kind, understanding and to keep moving forward.
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[Correction: I mistakenly called it "house party" on the episode, which is a whole different application for chatting.]
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