Though there might be a pandemic affecting the entire world, the desire for human companionship doesn’t stop. In fact, the social isolation associated with widespread lockdowns likely make us yearn for human connections to a greater extent. But given our current situation, what options exist when it comes to dating during a pandemic? Certainly, physical intimacy poses risks. But so does simply meeting for dinner in the park. For many, the best alternative is the virtual date, and millions are finding it has some worthwhile advantages.
Perhaps, it’s not surprising that many people are going on a virtual date instead of biding their time at home alone. But the number of people trying this new approach to dating is substantial. Before the coronavirus spread, surveys reported that only 6 percent of people engaged in video chats before going on a date. But now, nearly 70 percent are open to these types of encounters. This is a big reason why many online match sites have launched their own platforms for virtual dating during a pandemic. But will these trends persist after COVID-19’s impacts are gone?
What Does a Virtual Date Look Like?
If you are now working from home, then you probably can image what a virtual date involves. Like office meetings, many people are using platforms like Zoom and Facetime as dating alternatives. However, a number of dating apps have their own platforms as well. For example, Hinge introduced its “Date from Home” feature. On average, a virtual date lasts about 30 minutes for most people. Likewise, given social distancing rules, most are connecting with others from the comforts of their own home. Some people choose to prepare for their date in the same way they would if they were going out. Others take a more casual approach, choosing not to invest quite as much “prep” time.
Other than this, the virtual date is conversation heavy, as you might imagine. Without visual or sound distractions to fill the gaps, periods of silence tend to be more uncomfortable. As a result, a virtual date really tests your ability to converse effectively. In part, this is likely why dating during a pandemic takes less time per date than traditional dating. But it is also why many people enjoy these platforms. By encouraging both parties to talk, virtual platforms often let people get to know each other better before moving forward. This “slowing down” effect has been recognized as one of the hallmark features of dating during a pandemic.
The Benefits of Dating During a Pandemic
When it comes to dating during a pandemic, there are certainly some perks. For one, there will not be any uncomfortable tension about whether or not to split the bill. Likewise, negotiating an awkward kiss at the end of a date that went poorly won’t be missed. But on a more practical level, a virtual date allows more time for people to get to know one another. Requirements of social distancing and facemasks prevent physical contact. Therefore, social connections occur more through conversations and remote interactions. This is why virtual dating during a pandemic is a good alternative to traditional dating.
Many psychologists have suggested that these benefits of the virtual date may encourage its use even after the pandemic. They note that we already interact with others through emails, dating apps, sexting, and social media. Therefore, it wouldn’t be difficult to include virtual dating as part of this repertoire. Because a virtual date allows us to get to know others better before physical intimacy, it might stick around. And because it’s efficient, many might prefer a virtual date at the beginning before committing to something more.
A Virtual Date Does Have Its Downsides
For people who are lonely and isolated, a virtual date can be very helpful. We all need social connections to thrive, and virtual dating does help. But at the same time, virtual dating during a pandemic is not the same as in-person encounters. When we are with someone in-person, we noticed smells, little behaviors, and other subtleties. These can make a big difference in how we view that person and our interactions with them. Unfortunately, a virtual date can only go so far in this regard.
Virtual dating during a pandemic is also limiting in another way. Prior to COVID-19, social encounters often included human touch. Hugs, holding hands, and a gentle caress are powerful expressions of human touch that affect our wellbeing. These sensory encounters cause the release of a chemical called oxytocin from our brains. Oxytocin plays an important role in social wellness as it promotes bonding and trust. In fact, it has been called the “love drug.” Therefore, a virtual date will never be able to match traditional dating in this way. Though it has many benefits, virtual dating can never fully replace true intimate encounters.
Is a Virtual Date Right for You?
Statistically speaking, many couples already use online sites to meet one another. More than 40 percent of couples in 2017 met initially through online dating sites. With COVID-19, the number of users of these sites has grown tremendously. In fact, some suggest online dating has increased by 82 percent since lockdowns were put into place. Based on these trends, it’s not surprising that virtual dating during a pandemic is common.
This doesn’t mean that virtual dating is right for everyone. For many people, the advantages of going on a virtual date are quite attractive. Many individuals enjoy the fact that this type of dating slows things down and allows a relationship to form organically. But others struggle with the lack of a real physical presence when interacting with others. Ultimately, you have to weigh the pros and the cons before diving into this new dating arena.
In essence, there is no single right answer for everyone. A virtual date can be a great way to avoid loneliness and isolation and boost mental resilience. It can also be ideal for someone wanting to take their time before getting into a relationship. But it cannot fully replace traditional dating, and for this reason, it might not be for you. Without question, dating during a pandemic is tough. Virtual dating is simply one option that might be worth exploring.