As we've entered the second week of quarantine with little more to do than agonize over the ineptitude of others and the systemic failures of our current infrastructure, things have been getting wild online. From people lusting after New York State governor Andrew Cuomo to a proliferation of dubious thirst tweets to the virality of NYC's Coronavirus Sex Guide, it's obvious that we're all lonely, a little stir-crazy, and desperately horny — something that's led me to think a lot about dating in the time of quarantine.
Obviously, dating is a fraught practice, even without all the extra anxiety and existentialism that comes with being sequestered in your apartment during a global pandemic. Because in-between all the swiping, agonizing over who should make the first move and coordinating chaotic schedules, it's always been hard enough to nail down a date — let alone a good one — and that was even back when we weren't practicing social distancing. So then, in today's brave new world, what does dating in isolation look like?
In the past few weeks, a large number of people (myself included) have turned toward dating apps as a way to cope with crippling loneliness — especially when our feeds are clogged with the new Instagram aspiration: cute photos of couples hunkering down and isolating together. And though the media tends to deride the advent of Tinder as a harbinger of the millennial "dating apocalypse," as this strange and sudden situation proves, perhaps being an online dater isn't as bad as people make it out to be. As a spokesperson for the app tells me, "as a certain area becomes more affected by physically-isolating measures, Tinder is seeing new conversations happening there and those conversations last longer." Not only that, but apparently conversations have also begun adopting a more serious tone across the board, with more users prioritizing check-ins with each other and using that as a jumping-off point for further conversation. In short, there have been less horny messages and more collective concern and care.
To that end, I've recently been arranging FaceTime dates with matches who, based on our pre-existing conversations, I feel like I could have a fun video chat with. And so far, I've gotten surprisingly positive results. Although I can't really discount self-isolation's influence on the attention economy, I do think there is something to be said about having someone's willing, undivided attention for an extended period of time. Additionally, this collective need for socialization also appears to have affected the way people take initiative when it comes to actually following through and staying present on these dates — something that can normally be challenging for even the most well-intentioned of us.
After all, in between other IRL distractions, last-minute things that pop up, and the desire to just kick back after an exhausting day, flaking on both ends tends to happen more than we'd like to admit. And though I may have just gotten lucky with these particular FaceTime dates, I will say that my craving for some facsimile of intimacy has spurred me (and, I believe, my dates) to put some more effort into trying to cultivate a meaningful interpersonal connection. Rather than just viewing it through the lens of a potential, one-off hook-up for the time being, I feel like I'm being encouraged to really get to know these people on a deeper, more meaningful level in the weeks before we can actually meet for real — and that's been an uncharacteristic, yet heartening, premise. My desire for social interaction combined with the level of normalcy I feel by doing my makeup and getting dressed for these things has created a unilaterally lovely experience.
I'm not the only one who's noticed a blatant shift in our habits and dating dynamics on these virtual dates. One friend, Blair*, also touched on this idea while recapping her own FaceTime session with a guy she met on Hinge, explaining that it was somewhat jarring to no longer have the crutch of touch present. "Where you would normally fill an awkward pause with some physical intimacy, now there's no buffer," she explains. She's also a big believer in the IRL pheromones phenomenon and says she's inherently more skeptical about virtual dates. But, ultimately, Blair says she's definitely still interested in meeting her virtual Hinge date in person, given that her "curiosity is piqued because the banter was so good and he's very sweet and smart and objectively attractive."
Like in Blair's experience, a lot of people seem to be more open and receptive when it comes to social interactions as a whole, even in the midst of any doubts about virtual dating. Within my own (admittedly) small sample size, I feel as if I've been connecting with more people who I may not have necessarily followed up with if our in-app conversation had fizzled out in a normal context. Not only that, but I've also noticed that I've been getting a lot more matches from people who I typically wouldn't expect to swipe right on me either, which got me wondering if our collective need for human connection has officially begun to supersede hesitations about whether there may be a physical end-game or if it's worth driving 30 minutes out of the way for what could be a disappointing date.
This idea of a more open-minded approach to dating dovetails with another interesting experiment in self-isolation romance: The personality-first dating premise of viral Netflix series, Love Is Blind. There's now even an Instagram send-up, Love Is Quarantine, that's gone viral in its own right. Run by roommates Thi Q. Lam and Rance Nix, Love Is Quarantine, like the Netflix original, encourages daters to get to know each other through a phone call from their homes, aka their "pods." Sign up is done through a Google Doc from which Thi and Rance pair up daters and then set them up via text along with a couple "light and fun" conversation starters — though there's no video chat or online stalking allowed. But the best part of the series? The self-filmed, confessional-style videos in which contestants dish on their date.
And while the show's only been live for less than a week, thanks to its combination of two extremely relevant cultural touchstones — Love Is Blind and self-isolation — it's already racked up a substantial online following.
"People want real connection, especially in a time like now when you're sitting at home lonely and have nothing to do," Rance says, before adding that he believes the appeal of Love Is Quarantine versus dating apps is that the former distills the whole dating process — swiping, back-and-forth conversations, and all — into a single step with extremely wholesome results.
"It takes away the physical aspect of it," he explains of the premise's appeal. "There's no judgement and right away you get to the nitty-gritty, the good stuff, the connections, and that's what people ultimately want."
Not only that, but Thi adds that in these depressing times, Love Is Quarantine is helping to provide people with a healthy dose of escapism via a "fantasy world." Because, even if you're not directly involved as a contestant, getting invested in something that isn't the news — whether it's "shipping new couples, villainizing people, or making new hashtags" — is an uplifting change-of-pace. And I'd argue a part of its appeal also relies upon a vicarious hope for our own promising, new connections during this time. As Rance puts it, our collective desire for "love will never go away at the end of the day."
Ultimately, even though dating will always be somewhat of a toss-up, continuing to meet prospective new partners (even on FaceTime) — or keeping up any sort of fun, unexpected social interaction that lends a bit of normalcy to these crazy times — has been a welcome change of pace from never-ending doom and gloom. Though we can't yet predict what dating in isolation's long-term impact will be on the dating landscape itself, let's hope some of this new openness, attention and follow-through will stay with all of us when we finally re-emerge out of our homes and into the world.
*Names have been changed.
Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.
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