COVID-19 hit dating hard over the last year due to social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders. Popular dating apps adapted by adding features for users to connect virtually and share their safe dating preferences.
As the coronavirus vaccination rollout ramps up, with President BidenJoe BidenIran espionage-linked ship attacked at sea Biden exceeds expectations on vaccines — so far Jill Biden to visit Alabama with actress Jennifer Garner MORE announcing Tuesday all adults in the U.S. will be eligible to receive vaccines by April 19, dating apps have said some of their popular pandemic-induced changes will remain in place.
Video dates, long-distance dating and filtering dates based on health restrictions saw an increase in popularity amid the lockdowns, and the companies behind multiple dating apps expect those trends to continue even as the pandemic eases its grip on the country.
One outcome of pandemic-era online dating is users were more likely to accept more physical distance between them and a potential match, said Michael Kaye, a spokesperson for OkCupid.
“We’ve seen dating across borders really spike during the pandemic,” Kaye told The Hill.
“At least in New York City, before the pandemic, we heard a lot of times, ‘I’m not dating someone who’s more than two subway rides away from me.’ But since the pandemic and everyone’s been moving all around their state, around the country, people are changing what’s really important to them, and they’ve been more open to connecting with someone on the other side of the country, or even the other side of the world,” he added.
The behavior change, in part boosted by the rise in virtual interactions, led OkCupid to launch a feature that displays other users who are open to matching with people anywhere in the world as long as they have one language in common.
The feature will remain in place going forward, even as users return to their more normal daily routines.
“We want to continue to encourage users to meet people all around the world and see if that spark can really go the distance,” Kaye said.
Tinder also allowed users to match with others long-distance for free during part of 2020, after noting on its blog that there were more swipes — more than 3 billion — on March 29 that year “than on any single day in the history of Tinder.”
OkCupid also added filter questions for users to fill out during the pandemic that related specifically to the shifting norms. For example, questions about socially distanced dates or double masked dates.
The questions not only signal the level of comfort a user has before interacting with someone else but have also been “the biggest talking point” on the platform, Kaye said.
Hinge, another popular dating app, similarly started rolling out an update in its settings letting users answer a “Safe Dating Preferences Prompt” to describe how they would like to go on a date.
“At Hinge, our users have told us that bringing up COVID-19 safety practices with a match can be difficult, and Safe Dating Preferences helps our community easily communicate what they’re comfortable with for a date. Setting these expectations from the start will make it easier for singles to establish trust with their matches early on, leading to a meaningful relationship in the end,” Hinge’s director of relationship science, Logan Ury, said in a statement.
Below the safe dating preferences prompt, users are also asked if they are interested in a video chat or a call on Hinge. Hinge added the video chat option to its app in April 2020.
In a survey conducted by Hinge in April and May of last year on 5,800 users, the app found 44 percent of users had been on a video date. After going on a video date with a Hinge match, 66 percent said they still talked after the first video chat, according to Hinge’s data.
The app’s video chat capabilities will remain a function of Hinge going forward, a company spokesperson said.
Tinder also added a video dating feature in July 2020.
Bumble, a dating app that also has functions aimed at friendships and business networking, already had a voice call and video chat feature built into its platform since 2019.
The feature saw a nearly 70 percent increase in video use for dating after the U.S. declared a COVID-19 state of emergency in March last year. And the average time spent on a voice call or video chat was close to 30 minutes during the same time, according to Bumble.
Zach Schleien, the CEO of a fairly new dating app called Filter Off, recognized the benefits of a video chat function early.
Filter Off started three years ago, but the app left its beta phase just a month before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The app is designed around the idea of video dates.
A user creates a profile with preferences and is set up on three curated dates. After arranging a time, the matches meet for a three-minute video date. Following the date, they decide whether to match or pass.
“It bridges the gap between meeting in person,” Schleien said. “We still want people to meet in person, of course, but we see Filter Off as that technology to meet through video before meeting in person, to allow you to kind of get a sense of who you’re actually meeting.”
He said the pandemic boosted the app’s approach as people became more comfortable connecting over video chats.
“Given that everyone who’s now using Zoom for work and FaceTiming with friends and family, they’re very comfortable now jumping on a video chat with a complete stranger,” Schleien said. “Because what they’ve realized is, before meeting anyone in person, just how valuable it is to have some sort of connection.”
Hinge’s data similarly found that the top reason people don’t go on video chats is because 58 percent said it would be awkward, but among users who went on a video date, 81 percent said their video chat dates were not at all or only slightly awkward.
As some coronavirus restrictions are being reined in to different extents across the country, the return to a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy will likely be gradual.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines to note that fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing and can resume domestic travel without testing or self-quarantining.
The agency, however, still recommends fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks and physically distance, as well as avoid medium and large gatherings. Moreover, just about 19 percent of the U.S. is fully vaccinated as of Tuesday afternoon, according to CDC data.
These dating apps are preparing to once again update to meet the changing times. For example, prompts and questions about socially distanced dates and masks may be swapped or joined by additional prompts about vaccinations, according to the companies.
Some of the behavior changes during the pandemic, including the rise in video chats, will likely remain even as in-person interactions bounce back, Schleien said.
“With the pandemic ending — hopefully sooner than later with the vaccine — people are much more intentional when it comes to online dating,” he said.
[email protected] (Rebecca Klar)