The State of Virtual Dating: Pre vs Post Pandemic.

The ability to connect with one another – whether in friendship or romantically – has been considered one of society's deep, but most unfulfilled desires. As humans, we have the need to bond and relate to others, to create meaningful relationships, and share our thoughts, dreams, and aspirations. And although we like to connect mentally with others, we tend to prefer physical connections; simply because meeting someone in person allows us to somehow acquire information about that individual, we otherwise would not have obtained in different circumstances.

Before the #COVID-19 pandemic, many among us would go online to meet new people for two particular reasons. On the one hand, we might have felt like we had exhausted the traditional ways of meeting people around us – gyms, coffee shops, etc... On the other hand, we may have generally wanted to discover more about people far away from us with different backgrounds. But since the advent of the pandemic, when most countries around the world went into lockdown, many people were forced to stay home and had to solely rely on technology to connect with others. After lockdown, Social Distancing was enforced and kept people turning to apps for connection building. Physical dating in particular had to move online.

Prior to 2020, virtual dating was not really popular and well developed. The only people who would partake in virtual dating were actual couples in long-distance relationships. Today, many more are taking part in this activity, whether as a couple or as strangers meeting online. During the month of May, Match Group – Tinder's parent company – announced the launch of an in-app one-on-one video chat (called Face to Face). This would allow people matching on the app, to see each other via video call if both parties were consensual. As of the beginning of July, the new feature was introduced as a test to 13 countries around the world. The company is hoping to not just be an introductory platform but also boost virtual dating on its app with features like in-app trivia and Swipe Night. Before Tinder, some other dating apps already had this feature, including their biggest competitor, Bumble. Bumble launched voice and video chats within its app last year and has seen an increase in the number of people using them since the beginning of the pandemic. According to Bumble, people are chatting for longer and trying to make video call dates more similar to dates they would have in person. They announced an 84% increase in video calls, with calls that lasted an average of 28 minutes during the final week of April. Hinge, another dating app, has a virtual dating badge available for users to display on their profiles to let others know about their interest in virtual dates.

Some, such as Tinder's CEO Elie Seidman, are optimistic about the future of virtual dating. In a recent article, he highlighted that Tinder itself had become less about swiping and more about connecting and socializing. As we notice more and more dating apps creating features to grow the virtual dating environment, one cannot help but wonder if it will be enough to keep users captivated post-pandemic. The absence of physical contact between engaged parties could be a hindrance to virtual dating as a whole. With physical touch being one of our basic needs, it might not be too long before people turn back to dating IRL (in real life) after the pandemic.

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