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Has the dating game changed?

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Like the rest of the world, dating will be different post-COVID-19.

Hard enough at the best of times, once you’ve thrown in government directives, social-distancing measures and a highly contagious virus, well things can get a little awkward. Actor Timothée Chalamet knows all to well the perils of dating during a pandemic, having caused quite a stir for a passionate kiss aboard a yacht in Mexico. For the rest of us mere mortals however, the concept of dating has changed entirely; video chats and socially distanced beers in the park are pretty much your only options now. Living with housemates? Well now you’ll have to have ask whether they’re OK with having strangers in the house and ask the person coming in whether they’ve been social distancing.

In Australia, data from dating apps shows there was a bump in users in the early weeks of the pandemic. Single people, lonely or bored (or both), and with online dating at their fingertips, turned to apps. But now that strict lockdown measures are easing in some states, the "misattribution of arousal" – where people mistake emotional or physical stimulation, like the stress from a global pandemic, for romantic feelings – is a very real possibility. That’s why Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Kinsey Institute offers one cardinal piece of advice to people on dating apps: Meet the person as soon as possible.

For people in some European countries and New Zealand, where lockdown has been lifted completely, single people going to bars and kissing strangers in clubs. And by all accounts, not much has changed. Human touch is just as good as they remember and after months of masks and glove and sanitiser, the dating world doesn’t feel so daunting.

Yet some of those searching online for their long-term partners are optimistic that COVID-19 might fundamentally change people’s behaviour for the better. For one, without as much opportunity for a quick coffee or a drink, people are spending more time having conversations. In the US Bumble is seeing more “quality chats”—based on the length of messages people exchange in the app and how long the conversations last. Other app users report that video chats gives them a glimpse into the daily lives of their dates and provides an ability to determine chemistry before going on an in-person date.

Condom maker Durex certainly wishes that COVID-19 will fundamentally change dating. It’s launched a new campaign urging lovers ‘not go back to normal’ as lockdown restrictions ease. In the “call to arms, legs, bums and private parts”, Durex discusses recent problems with promoting safe sex and points to STI statistics, namely 1 million STIs acquired every day. “So, when it’s time to get back out on the streets and jump back in the sheets, let’s not go back to normal.”

Molly Bruce


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