For the first time in history, virtually everyone who’s dating is dating virtually.
Covid-19 has forced a pivot to video for many of the estimated 41% of online singles on dating apps worldwide. And an ongoing slow shift within the industry has accelerated.
Watch our video above to learn what, exactly, the world of virtual dating looks like—and why it might outlast the pandemic.
Bumble, which launched in-app video chat in 2019, said its use increased 56% worldwide over the last two weeks of March. Mentions of FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom on OKCupid dating profiles went up 180% from February to March.
Instagram video dating shows like “Love Is Quarantine” and “Sheltered in Love” have emerged alongside startups like Dating From Home. People are eating together, streaming together, and visiting islands together on the game Animal Crossing.
Online dating consultant Mark Brooks envisions a landslide industry shift to video, similar to Tinder’s expansion to smartphones in 2013. His first client, Webdate, attempted this in 2005. The same year, what eventually became YouTube initially flailed as a video dating website. “It’s been a long time coming, but I think in a couple of years it will be unusual not to be able to do a first date on a dating app,” he said.
Full-on virtual dating is certainly new for most. But for the queer community, people with disabilities, and middle-aged daters—those for whom it’s more difficult to meet through friends or at a bar—it’s long been critical to widen one’s pool by not just matching but also connecting first online.
Alexas lives in New York and met her girlfriend Tessa, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, on an app called Lex in January. They say they plan to marry even though they have yet to meet outside of video chat. When others question how “real” their relationship is, Alexas responds that the pair actually does nothing but sit and get to know each other: “I just feel this level of closeness with her that I haven’t really felt with anybody before.”
Many others are now discovering that virtual first dates may actually address some of the problems that plague online dating. According to a Pew Research survey in 2019, about seven in 10 online daters in the US think it’s common to see users lying on platforms to appear more desirable. A full 45% of those polled said dating sites or apps left them feeling frustrated. And close to half of all surveyed Americans consider the platforms to be unsafe.
In that sense, virtual dates can serve as both a quick authentication and vibe check. Filter Off, a year-old video dating app, has seen a major jump in users since the start of the pandemic. Notably, the male-to-female ratio on his platform is close to one-to-one, even as men outnumber women two-to-one across all platforms.
Still, you can only get so close through a screen. Ericka, who lives in Ohio, met her Miami-based boyfriend Lex about a year ago on the app MeetMe. They’ve live streamed together, met each other’s families, and gone on virtual shopping dates. But at this point, Ericka said, “the itch for us to meet in person is very real.”
If nothing else, virtual dating is, at least temporarily, showing us how to be human on dating apps. As relationship therapist Esther Perel told Quartz, “People are entering into each other’s erotic minds at this moment since they can’t enter into each other’s bodies. And that’s a lot more intimate.”