You swiped right? Hope you love to talk: Dating during COVID
A month into the pandemic, James Sears, a 29-year-old financial advisor from Irvington, had just ended a six-month relationship. So he downloaded a few dating apps and started looking.
Not unusual, but what is unusual is that the pandemic has changed how we date. Some single people are happy to remain single longer, in a bid to stay safe; some want to find love, while others feel isolated and are just looking for company.
And guess what? Men and women approach pandemic dating differently.
Most women interviewed for this story did not want to share their experiences for publication, but for those who did, the general feeling was that men just want to hook up versus getting to know them. Many also believed men were more lax with pandemic safety protocols.
Many men feel the online conversations can drag on too long — with in-person meetings an elusive concept.
This forced, protracted virtual courtship has been a challenge.
“You feel like there's buy-in if someone is willing to see you in person, this is whether you're in a pandemic or not,” said Sears. "I'm not getting on a Zoom for anything unless it's related to work, just because I think everyone's sick of it. So it's either in-person, or we're not doing anything.”
If dates were willing to take all of the safety precautions, such as wearing masks and washing hands, Sears said he didn't see any harm in meeting up.
Sophie Rapley, on the other hand, said she appreciated the time one guy took to get to know her after they matched on a dating app: it took them two months to meet IRL, or in real life.
“He was really supportive of me; even helping me with my assignments,” said Rapley, 20, a junior at American University. Long story short? She and Alex Kaminer are now a couple.
Men said while the match volume on apps — and the number of people they would connect with — was higher during the pandemic, they had to separate those who were bored and just looking to pass the time from those looking for a real life connection.
Alicia Walker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University and author of "Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity," said dating casually has become challenging during the pandemic. She noted that women may not feel as safe to meet in person.
“The opportunity to get to know someone absent the temptation of acting on lust and chemistry could be a positive,” Walker said. “Folks can spend time truly finding common ground and learning about one another before moving into a physical relationship, which sometimes leads us to remain in less-than-compatible pairings.”
Rapley, the American University student, had just returned home to Pleasantville after her college shutdown in the early days of the pandemic when she met her now-boyfriend Kaminer on a dating app.
Kaminer, 21, a senior at Elon University, had also just come back to his parents’ home in Armonk. It took them two months to meet up in person, even though they lived five minutes apart.
“We didn't want to risk putting our families at risk and there wasn't a lot of information about COVID yet,” said Rapley. “We started with a lot of texting and then we started using Zoom to talk and have dates online, watching Netflix and playing video games like Among Us.”
Rapley said what impressed her about Kaminer was that he seemed committed to getting to know her and didn’t pressure her to meet sooner.
When they met up for their first in-person date, it was at a neighborhood park. They sat on two socially distanced swings, with masks on. He brought her a bagel. “I liked that he was really patient and understanding,” she said.
Dating 'a double edged sword'
Walker said some people who are typically happily single find themselves feeling pangs of a new loneliness in this pandemic.
"They don't actually want a partner. It's just that the deprivation of the other social connections and outlets have led them to entertain the idea that perhaps what they need is a partner," she said.
"They sign up on a dating app, talk to some folks, and quickly decide they don't really want a partner, at least not badly enough to meet anyone face-to-face in a pandemic. They're just craving some contact."
Indeed, Rapley said many of her friends — both men and women — had dropped off conversations with people whom they had met on dating apps once the restrictions were eased, and they were able to meet up with their regular friends.
Ankush Dave, 23, a software engineer from South Brunswick, New Jersey, described texting and chatting to get to know a person for extended periods of time as a “double-edged sword.”
“A lot of this happened with me, along with a lot of my friends, where we noticed that maybe you’d talk for a couple of weeks to get to know somebody, and all of a sudden, the interest just goes down,” Dave said. “A lot of times it was a wasted investment.”
Dave said he noticed that the longer he talked to someone, the lower the success rate of meeting in person.
“So a lot of time, the meetups happen within a week of talking to someone, whereas people that I was talking to for many, many, weeks, it didn't really go anywhere,” he said.
Javahn Walker, 29, an auditor from Franklin, New Jersey, has experienced situations where people just suddenly decide to ghost after a few conversations.
“They just dropped contact. It’s a big thing for people in my age group,” he said. “It was a great conversation. We were laughing and we're going to call back, but there was a Wi-Fi disconnection and we broke up and just never talked again.”
Now Walker limits his online courtship to one call.
“I’ll do one Zoom call, but if they're not willing to meet up in person, I just move on. It's creative, but if you can't really meet with people in person it's not that great,” he said.
Walker, like many, said there is a noticeable difference between virtual and IRL courtship. "There is a big difference between you laughing with someone over the phone and you being able to enjoy that person in person.”
'Old fashioned' courtship has merits
For some with more experience dating, such as Tom Ciccarone, 36, a realtor from Branchburg, New Jersey, the slower pace and sense of old-fashioned courtship created by the pandemic has its merits. While investing a lot of time in someone without meeting them first can feel like a second job, he said he welcomed the idea.
“I've gone on so many dates where, had I gotten to know the person a little bit better, I would have avoided the dates, and COVID has kind of enforced that,” he said.
“Selfishly speaking, I don't want to spend money on a dinner with someone who might be a psycho.”
Cicccarone, who described himself as a homebody, said he was happy not to feel any pressure.
He dated two women in the first four months of the pandemic.
"They were OK with coming over to my place. We did take out. It was very comfortable and easy going,” he said. “Now, you can't really do much outside of a dinner. I used to do plays, comedy clubs, bowling, things of that nature. It’s easier as a guy with lowered expectations.”
Ciccarone, who is currently not dating, said he’s not discouraged.
"I'm still on all three apps. It's still a second job. There’s a lot of work to be done with texting,” he said. “But I really enjoy my time and being at home. So what's been comforting about COVID is that the expectations are less from people out there.”
Karen Burnmeister felt she would be risking her health, and her mother's health, by dating in a pandemic. A nurse at a retirement community in Somerset County, Burnmeister, 51, said as a result, her life has been lonely.
"I’d really like to date someone, but I do not trust anyone to come into my bubble. I have my food delivered, wear a tight KN95 that I rarely take off. I eat lunch in my car. My mother is so close now to getting her vaccine and I don’t want to screw things up. I just got vaccinated but I still fear bringing something home to her.” Burnmeister lives with her mom.
One silver lining has been the way a potential partner’s approach to navigating the pandemic has provided a window into their outlook on life.
Burnmeister said she sees a lot of men online who are anti-maskers, or as she calls them "grandma killers."
“I don’t think I could date anyone like that. I’d need a person with lots of empathy," she said. "Unfortunately, I don’t see myself getting near anyone for a while,” she said.
Looking for common ground
Ankush Dave took the lockdown seriously and made sure to wear masks, but at the same time, when things opened up in late summer, he went on a vacation taking all the safety precautions he could.
He said he was looking for someone with a similar mindset.
“What I was looking for was someone who understood this is a very real concern, but also not limiting herself and what she could do,” he said. “There were people that just never left the house. But then there were some who did their daily activities in a very safe manner.”
Dave is currently dating someone he met on a dating app.
Sears, the financial advisor from Irvington, who is also currently dating someone he met on an app, said he, too was looking for someone who would be willing to take some calculated risks.
For their first date, he and his now-girlfriend, Alexa Blanco, a law student who lives in White Plains, ate outdoors.
Since then, the couple has been out for dinners, to the driving range and for walks around the mall. They’ve also gone on a few weekend trips and local getaways.
He's frank about what he wanted in a partner.
"I need someone who has similar values to myself. We're going to take a little bit of risk. We're going to assess the information and live our lives accordingly because life's too short to lock yourself in your house for a year," he said.
“When I would meet people online and they'd share their views and they were very scared of it (the pandemic), I knew right away that wouldn't work,” he said. “You know, this isn't a person I'd be compatible with sort of long-term.
Sophie Rapley said, if not for pandemic dating, she probably wouldn't have met her boyfriend, even though they live near each other.
Both are back in their respective colleges and meet up twice a month.
“I think the pandemic would have been a lot different for me if I had not met this person," she said. "I know that a lot of people are struggling and that it's really hard for a lot of people, but this has been kind of a silver lining at least in my life. I know how grateful and lucky I am that I've met someone like this.”
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy covers women and power for the USA Today Network Northeast.Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @SwapnaVenugopal or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org