Six feet from love: Dating during a pandemic

Social Thinking

The world is changing in significant ways and marketers need to understand and navigate the new landscape. In our In Lockdown series, our Research & Insight teams from around the world delve into different sectors and trends, and share their learnings. Here, Strategist Matt Friedman examines changes in online dating during the pandemic.

“Say Allo saw a 350% increase in video-date sessions in the early weeks of March.”

“Tinder says the volume of messages among its US users during a week in mid-March, was 10% – 15% higher each day compared to the week before…”

“The number of daily messages in-app in Italy and Spain increased by up to 25% compared with the previous weeks.” (DW)

Things change quickly in a pandemic. Several weeks ago (week of March 8th), OkCupid surveyed users globally and found that 88% were still willing to go out on dates, with even higher numbers in the US and UK; but now the gravity of the situation is setting in, and user behavior is rapidly changing as a result.

The Coronavirus has impacted everyone’s day-to-day, and our IRL interactions have been brought to a standstill — upending the norms and behaviors typically associated with the dating world. As the reality of the crisis finally sinks in and people more widely accept the necessity of isolation — dating apps have seen significant upticks in usage. Singles are pressing on in their courtships; continuing to flirt, make emotional connections, and potentially even find love through digital-only platforms. Apparently, people believe you can find love in a hopeless, and physically distant place. 

Not only that, we’ve seen increasingly niche dating platforms and alt-behaviors born out of the situation. Platforms such as the free, Gen-Z-specific OkZoomer have gained popularity in response to quarantined life and the explosion of social interaction within video chat tools such as Zoom. Innovation is born out of necessity, and the dating world is no exception.

Memes and Dark Twitter Humor Give Way to Civic Responsibility
As the internet so often does, users turned to humor to provide an emotional outlet, often self-deprecating and perhaps a bit cynical in nature, by sharing memes, tweets, and updating their dating bios; in order to break up the bleakness of the current situation and perhaps find someone to keep them company while isolated.

Though it feels like a lifetime ago, it’s been just three weeks since the OK Cupid survey showed that 88% of people globally are continuing their dating as normal despite COVID-19 spread, up to an astonishing 92% in the U.S.

What started out as lighthearted jokes about hygiene and additional vetting for your Tinder date, has sharply pivoted, as the tone and message around the situation has transformed into one of seriousness and civic responsibility to self-isolate.

Now that the gravity of the situation has more widely sunk in, the conversation and corresponding behaviors have shifted. Users are taking to social media to talk about the new realities of a fully-digital dating world. 

[Source: Sysomos March 1st – 30th, 2020 — 465% increase in Twitter virtual dating conversation over the past 2 weeks compared to the prior 2 weeks]

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome
To no one’s surprise, singles in quarantine have “adapted” in the immediate by sliding in the DMs of exes and crushes, engaging in an increased willingness to ‘sext’ or ‘send nudes’ (65% increase in Twitter mentions over the past 2 weeks via Sysomos), and are even using the pandemic as a new excuse for ghosting previous partners or romantic prospects. However, not all is based in bleak or vain human [instincts/behaviors]…

The axiom that “human resourcefulness knows no bounds” proves especially true during times of hardship. In Brooklyn, freelance photographer and social influencer Jeremy Cohen (@jermcohen) has been documenting his quarantine courtship of his cross-rooftop neighbor Tori Cignarella (@toricigs) in a modern day, COVID-crossed Romeo & Juliet. Using a combination of drone deliveries, bubble-boy contamination suits, and socially-distant rooftop dinners, Jeremy and Tori are finding a way, while creating some entertaining content and perhaps inspiration for future quarantine love stories.

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you can’t spell quarantine w/o U R A Q T. ( 📸 @maxwellswift )

A post shared by JEREMY COHEN (@jermcohen) on

The brands at the new frontier for digital dating are the apps that once connected singles in the physical world, through digital conversations. With the newly enforced norms of physical distancing, they’ve all similarly pivoted to encouraging video chat dating, making certain once-premium features free, and offering tips on the ways prospective daters can adapt to a digital dating landscape. 

Overall, dating app brands are taking a fairly uniform approach to quarantine dating, but the real opportunities will likely lie in the uncharted territories of the post-COVID world.

The Post-COVID 19 World Will Be More Online Than Ever Before
Once things begin to return to a semblance of normalcy, the hesitations around meeting new people in the physical world will likely linger for some time. We could see an increase in people going through additional measures to vet their matches before meeting up in person, and an even greater scrutiny on the locations and activities they’re willing to do until the dust truly settles.

This discerning approach to potential romantic partners may have even longer lasting effects. One possibility is a rise in pre-date video chats where people get a sense of whether a match is worth leaving the house for. While this may be especially useful in the immediate post-COVID future, it may continue to be a useful tactic for busy business professionals whose time and energy is at a premium; avoiding wasting valuable time and money meeting with someone who turns out to be entirely incompatible.

For brands in the business of dating technology, creating social content around these new rules of engagement, and giving them creative tools to navigate this new dating landscape could help alleviate some of those anxieties.

Relationships Will Be Tested, for Better or Worse
Partners old and new are already realizing the challenges or quarantining with a significant other. While some may have their relationships strengthened and their choices in partner vindicated, there will surely be a substantial number of those that don’t make it out intact.

“The Global Times reported that the Chinese city of Xi’an has seen a record-high number of divorce requests in recent weeks, with some districts even maxing out the number of appointments available at local government offices.” (link)

What is certain is that there will be a huge pool of freshly single people looking for a range of romantic encounters post-quarantine; from new flings and hookups to those seeking serious romance following a near-apocalyptic experience. Hook-up apps such as Tinder and Grindr will be busy providing that instant gratification, while the Hinge’s and OK Cupid’s of the industry will be finding new ways to connect people for the long haul.