Early on in the pandemic, I engaged in what I thought was going to be an exciting but short-lived experiment: a series of virtual dates from the comfort of my own couch. The idea felt novel. Dating without (fully) getting dressed? Without having to spend money or schlep across the city? Sign me up! A few weeks later, though, I was deflated after spending multiple nights on FaceTime and Houseparty (remember Houseparty?) having lacklustre, unfocused conversations that ended unceremoniously when one or both parties got tired or wanted to go finish binge-watching Tiger King. When restrictions eased over the summer, I dabbled in park meet-ups and neighbourhood strolls, but the results were the same: With no clear game plan in sight, the connections just…fizzled.
Almost a year after the first lockdown, not much has changed, and the ongoing global ban on human contact is making it harder than ever to date. “I’m of a certain age and I want a baby, but the pandemic is slowing my search for a partner with whom to do that,” says June*, a Toronto-based production manager. Like many, June swiped to her heart’s content early on in the pandemic but found many of the resulting conversations to be rootless. “I don’t want a pen pal,” she says. According to Tinder and Bumble, both messaging and swiping were up by double-digit percentages by the end of 2020 compared to the period preceding the pandemic. What’s less clear, though, is whether these stats resulted in dates or long-term romance. “I ended up taking a break from [the apps] because it was too much,” adds June. “I didn’t have the brain capacity to continue with mindless conversations.”
Akua Boateng, a Philadelphia-based psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and couples therapy, says that taking a break is common—and even advisable—among those who are struggling with online dating. “The idea of being on an app can sometimes be triggering and traumatic for individuals who have a history of not finding connection and closeness,” she says. According to Boateng, the pandemic is prompting people to seek solace wherever they can get it. “I have found that a lot of people are going back to a former partner because [they’re] seeking comfort and security,” she says. “Or it could be they’re looking for a connection—not a longterm relationship—whether it be physical intimacy or someone to hang out with and talk to.”
Lasting connection is possible, but finding it takes a little more creativity. When I asked a few friends if they’d been trying any alternatives to apps, one jokingly replied, “I’m waiting for someone to break into my apartment.” Calgary-based matchmaker Krystal Walter says that she has seen an uptick in requests from people who went app- crazy early in the pandemic but quickly became fatigued. Her clients are experienced, sometimes divorced and clear about what they’re looking for. She first aims to match people based on their core interests, such as family, travel or occupation. “After I find out the basics of what’s important to you, my team and I really get to know you as a person,” explains Walter. “What do you enjoy talking about? What would an ideal date look like for you? Once I get to know you on a deeper level, that’s when I start making connections.”
Walter’s services run upwards of $3,500 for a three-year contract and attract a certain type of clientele: professionals—from young to middle-aged—who have expendable income to invest in a tailored dating experience. “I think it attracts guys who are more serious about dating,” says Rachel*, one of Walter’s clients. “With the guys I talked to, even if I didn’t fully connect with them, I could tell that they weren’t here to mess around—they wanted the same things. They took it seriously.”
Rachel, an executive assistant, says that the pandemic presented her with an oppor- tunity—after years of travelling and spending time with friends—to change gears and focus on long-term goals. “It just kind of made me think: ‘Okay, a lot of people’s lives have slowed down. If I’m going to have a good chance at meeting someone, now feels like a good time,’” she says. Rachel had virtual dates with three men before finding a match with the person she is currently seeing.
Boateng says that finding love in the time of the coronavirus could go old school. “As we create these little silos of safety and social pods, we may find that people are moving toward more traditional ways of meeting people, like through someone they know,” she says. In fact, it happened for June, quite by luck, after she eschewed the apps. “One day in the fall, a friend called me and there was another guy [on the line with her],” she says. Her friend explained that she knew the guy and had discovered that he’d swiped right on June on Tinder but that June hadn’t reciprocated—a Tinder missed connection. “I ended up meeting him, and we have been dating for the past few months,” she says.
As for me, I’m exploring the world of matchmaking with Walter. She has forced me to be clear about what I want in ways that could steer me in a different direction from the one I’ve been heading over the past year. “I always tell people that [humans are] one of the most resilient creatures on the planet,” says Boateng. “We will find connection in any way we can.”
*Name has been changed.
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