ARTWORK Joe Joiner ANONYMOUS Due to the sensitive nature of these interviews, all interviewees have remained anonymous and their names have been replaced.
The coronavirus pandemic has massively altered many of the day-to-day activities we’ve all become accustomed to due to social distancing safety measures. These restrictions are incredibly important to follow, as there are many at a higher risk who rely on us all to comply with government regulations, so it’s vital we all stay at home.
Due to the importance of social distancing, I feel somewhat guilty for admitting the superficial things I greatly miss about ‘real life’. As I impatiently await the arrival of a DIY at-home acrylics kit to save my embarrassingly grown-out nail nightmare, with roots that would fill any hairdresser with dread, I find myself increasingly missing one thing above all else: dating.
There, I said it – I miss dating. I miss scrolling through dating apps, sending screenshots of draft dms to my friends for approval, late night sexting, planning outfits, nervous pre-date pints, getting pissed with sexy strangers and the hour-long phone calls afterwards as I recount the events to my friends, gleefully asserting that this time, I’ve found ‘the one’.
Social distancing had led me to believe that dating, at least as I was accustomed to it, would be on a long hiatus, and anyone not lucky or sensible enough to have secured an isolation partner would have to accept their status as a temporary sexless spinster.
I was, therefore, taken aback when my friend Ellie told me she was going on a first date last week. I mean, a first date, in this economy? She quickly assured me that the date would be taking place over Facetime with someone she had matched with on Hinge a few weeks prior. “We’d both seen it mentioned on Twitter and I liked the idea – I’d know pretty quickly if I was into him or not depending on how [our conversations were] over video,” she explained.
A quick flick through my own Tinder and Bumble accounts found the dating sites were thriving, with an inbox full of coronavirus-related chat-up lines and ‘video-dating friendly’ bios. Tinder and Bumble had sent users messages encouraging the use of their apps during the pandemic while still respecting government safety regulations, offering free credit and app updates to allow users to connect around the world and not just within the typical 10-mile radius.
In a recent poll, a staggering 70% of Hinge users told the app they’re interested in digital dating. Curious to find out more about dating during a pandemic, what people’s experiences have been like so far and what this says about online connectivity, I spoke to a number of BRICKS community members who have tried it for themselves.
“He suggested the date and said that we could cook dinner at the same time and just get drunk while on Facetime to each other,” Bethany says of her date, whom she had previously dated IRL but hadn’t spoken to in a while. “We only really started talking again because of the quarantine – I had nothing better to do – and I got to look at his lovely face. So a few days ago he messaged me asking if I wanted to have dinner via Facetime, which I thought was super cute.”
Sam had a similar experience with his date, who lives in Copenhagen while he resides in London: “During lockdown, he texted me asking how I was doing which I thought was really cute and that sort of kick-started us talking again.”
“I’m not an avid texter when it comes to dating in general,” says Sam, “I think online communication always tends to ruin any spark before the date, especially if you text them a lot and then you go to meet them and you realise it’s not really working. It’s weird because all of a sudden you feel like something’s missing because it feels like you know them and then when you meet them you realise you don’t.”
Robyn also experienced this problem while dating pre-pandemic, irked by the lack of follow-through from texting on dating apps. She explains, “There are people on Hinge or Bumble who are having these long conversations every three days and I just can’t – I don’t have the time or the mental energy. If I’m not going to see you or talk to you and be able to laugh and do all of these human things, I just don’t need another inbox to maintain at the moment.”
If I’m not going to see you or talk to you and be able to laugh and do all of these human things, I just don’t need another inbox to maintain at the moment.
Robyn, a video dater
Her frustration led her to The Intro, a new dating app that encourages face-to-face conversation rather than online sporadic texting. “The premise was that it was meant for busy individuals who are not super keen on the pre-meet-up chat which is totally me – I work sometimes 100 hours a week and I just don’t love that back and forth of small talk with someone you don’t know. That’s just not my style, so The Intro was perfect.”
The Intro offers every match a choice of dates and three mutually-convenient locations, such as bars and restaurants, for both parties to choose from, and the date is set. While an excellent premise, these IRL dates can obviously not go ahead in our current climate. But The Intro was quick to react to the government’s restrictions, and immediately updated the app with video-dating technology. Now, users match and can choose a day and time to schedule their video date.
“The speed at which the coronavirus became an issue in the UK was a surprise to us, as it was for everyone I think,” says George Burgess, CEO and founder of The Intro. “We’d already discussed as a team how we’d respond – video dates were the obvious solution for an app that prioritises real connections over chit-chat – but we didn’t expect to have to implement it so soon. However, on the day the Prime Minister announced the initial plea for social distancing, we made the decision to end all in-person dates immediately, and launched a video call solution within six hours.”
The app’s speedy response has given a lifeline to daters like Robyn. “The parts of our lives that we can keep somewhat normal, I think it is important to do so. I mean, who knows how long this will last? But I’m still young and still want to flirt, those things haven’t changed.”
Video calls are fast seeing massive adoption for both professional purposes, and social groups, and there’s no reason this can’t happen in the dating world too.
George Burgess, CEO & Founder of The Intro
“This is a scary time for people and I think that trying to maintain some level of normality is, therefore, key to getting through it,” George agrees. “In addition, with everyone being stuck at home, feelings of loneliness are only being exacerbated for some people, and so helping them to connect with others can only help! Video calls are fast seeing massive adoption for both professional purposes, and social groups, and there’s no reason this can’t happen in the dating world too.”
“I think at this point I’m really desperate for human contact and getting affection from someone can be a nice distraction from the harsh reality of life at the moment,” Sam says. “I was happy it felt like a date and was casual. I was worried that over webcam it could have gotten sexual quickly which I really didn’t want – if I just wanted a wank, I’d go on Grindr.”
Trying to set the right mood can be tough, especially when dealing with any pre-date anxiety. “I was more nervous than usual,” Ellie admits, “as it’s not like we were eating or doing an activity so it was going to be just us talking and I was worried that I wouldn’t live up to expectations over a video call. Plus if he wasn’t enjoying himself it was going to be obvious and he could just hang up on me.”
She continues, “I was pleasantly surprised that it felt much more intimate. We were both sitting in our bedrooms which is already a very personal place and gives you an insight into the person. Also, it’s not like you can rely on your surroundings or other people to have things to talk about – there’s no one around you to stop silences and there are no activities. It was just purely in-depth conversation and seeing whether you click as people.”
The parts of our lives that we can keep somewhat normal, I think it is important to do so. I mean, who knows how long this will last? But I’m still young and still want to flirt, those things haven’t changed.
Robyn, a video dater
Sam was also surprised by his experience: “It was actually very intimate despite being virtual, and I think that’s because you see them in a surrounding and doing things [at home] that you wouldn’t normally get to see on a first date, like making food in his kitchen and speaking to his flatmates,” Sam says.
“I think being online challenges intimacy because you don’t have to feel as vulnerable and you have that physical space between you,” Bethany adds. “I think with intimacy and romance, it’s down to the person you’re talking to – I doubt whether it being online or IRL makes a huge difference.”
Being in such an intimate environment can also inspire confidence, as Robyn found on her date that being in her own home made her feel much more relaxed: “Being in my own home, somewhere I’m already so comfortable, made me feel like I was in my element.”
So what tips would our experienced video-daters give?
“Make sure you have a strong enough wifi connection and, kind of like when you take a picture of yourself and you know your angles, I caught myself over and over again looking at my own icon and checking how I looked on camera and repositioning myself which obviously doesn’t happen in real life, so just relax,” Sam shares.
“Check that your background and your surroundings are clean in case someone asks you to turn your camera around or you want to show them something – believe me, it does happen,” Robyn adds.
“Ensure there’s decent light,” George says. “Decide whether you’re going to use your computer or mobile, and make sure you’re sitting comfortably. You could be holding your phone in the selfie position for a long time if things go well!”