Could the coronavirus change the way we look for love? (audio)

Karen Norris/Staff

Could the coronavirus change the way we look for love?

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The coronavirus pandemic has turned lives upside down, with stay-at-home orders shifting relationships with family and friends in major ways. But what has this meant for individuals looking for love?

Many men and women across the world are continuing to date during COVID-19 – even if that means coming up with creative solutions to meeting new people, like going on Zoom dates or watching movies at the same time in two separate apartments.

Why We Wrote This

As it turns out, stripping human contact from our day-to-day lives transforms how we connect with each other. Is it even possible to comfortably date in the current climate? For many, the answer is yes. It just takes a bit of creativity.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The shift away from dining in restaurants or going out has been frustrating, but those in the thick of it are finding things they like about this new approach to dating. There’s more time spent chatting on the phone, and less opportunity to “peacock” and show off. For some, it’s as if romance is getting a throwback to the style of Jane Austen novels, with heartfelt correspondence and a slower pace.

Although there’s a sense of anticipation and hope for the day dinner and a movie – in person and in public – is on the table once again, dating is getting a reboot.

Note: This audio story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears, but we understand that is not an option for everybody. For those who are unable to listen, we have provided a transcript of the story. (If you’re reading this off our website and don’t see an audio player, click here to access the audio player.)

Audio Transcript:

[Saxophone music]

Whitney Eulich: Dating has turned into a bit of a spectacle over the past 20 years. From reality TV show classics like “The Bachelor” [clip from “The Bachelor”] to the spread of online dating sites and the so-called “swipe culture.” And of course, more recently there’s the now seemingly prophetic Netflix series “Love is Blind” [clip from “Love is Blind” trailer].

Jessica Mendoza: But thanks to coronavirus, dating is moving even further online and onto our screens. 

Whitney: Because, you know, as it turns out, essentially stripping human contact from our day-to-day lives transforms how we connect with each other. 

Jess: My name is Jessica Mendoza, and I’m the multimedia reporter for The Christian Science Monitor.

Whitney: And I’m Whitney Eulich, the Monitor’s Latin America correspondent. We wanted to know: How are people navigating this uncharted territory?

Jess: So we asked a bunch of single men and women, and here’s a bit of what they had to say.

[Music transition into interview montage]

Tony Maddox: So, what went from three kind of magical dates turned into very limited contact.

Shola Olabode-Dada: And then the other person we were supposed to have a virtual date. But he didn’t show up – he stood me up!

Chloe Hollett: Now, I’m gonna be honest. I’m having difficulty. Because I’m running out of guys!

Andrea Milla: Este situación nos ha obligado a cambiar la dinámica de la relación, de repente apresurar muchos procesos. [Voiceover translation: “This situation has forced us to change the dynamic of our relationship, and suddenly rush lots of these processes.”]

Tracy Smith: I feel like this has been a reset for like the entire country. A reset for how we look at dating. 

Chloe Hollett: These guys that I see online, OMG, they’re like Grizzly Adams. It’s like society quiets for a moment and suddenly they all fall apart.

Whitney: Obviously all kinds of relationships are changing right now, you know it’s not just the romantic variety. I am here with a toddler who is missing her best friend who happens to live across the hall. Writing love letters and yelling to each other from the windows. And, it’s just breaking my heart that they cant be together right now. It’s been two months. 

Jess: Whitney, that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. And I don’t have any kids, but I do have lots of single friends. And I feel like on my end, everyone seems to be asking: Is this a good time to embrace being single? Or do they keep trying to date? And if so, I mean, how? 

It’s this kind of relationship that we’re exploring today. How has COVID-19 complicated the picture for folks who are looking for love?

Whitney: So, we talked to about half a dozen men and women. And we found that while everyone’s going about this moment in their own way, there are these shared threads of experiences. This willingness people seem to be demonstrating to embrace the unfamiliar and a new appreciation for connecting – even if it’s in ways that are a little out of the box.  

Jess: Two of the women we spoke to really drove that home for us. One of them is Leah Hughes. She lives in San Francisco. She had been active on the online dating scene for about five years before Coronavirus hit. And she realized pretty quickly that social distancing was going to have a pretty big impact on her dating life.  

Leah Hughes: My last human interaction, for better or for worse, was actually a bad date, right before the shelter in place was announced. A guy leaned in for the kiss and then I got too nervous and ran away. But I think every date is something new, and I need to figure out what my pacing is. 

Whitney: The other woman we spoke to was just super busy with her career: She has an online business, just your regular social media influencer. Her name is Beige Ojai, she lives in Maryland. Dating was not even on her radar.  But social isolation made her realize just how, well, isolated she was. 

Jess: So, naturally, she joined a web-only dating show ... 

Whitney: It’s called LoveCast ... 

Jess: Where the public gets to vote for couples to go on blind dates with each other on video chat (which sounds like my personal nightmare). Each episode airs footage from the dates of the chosen couples. Beige happened to be in Episode 2. They’ve got a host who interviews them about their experience dating each other. And of course there’s a live chat feature so viewers can comment. 

Beige Ojai: And I was like, oh, this is interesting. I liked the fact that your friends and family are voting for your potential match. I mean I don’t know if it was the quarantine that made me just feel like I need to talk to somebody. It was just a feeling of cabin fever. So after I kind of got over the uneasy feelings of it all it kind of made sense for me to do something like this.  

Whitney: It turns out that it was interesting. Both women have already pinpointed some dos and don’ts when dating from a distance. And, believe it or not, there are things they enjoy and they hope endure once their relationships move back into the offline world. 

Jess: We started by asking the two women about what it was like when this all started. How did they handle that first switch to social distance dating? Here’s Leah first, then Beige: 

Leah: I think first dates are relatively the same. I mean a first date, 90% of them is basically an interview. But everything else is basically different. The way that I get ready. So I think about makeup for the screen versus in person or in a dimly lit bar.

Beige: I was conscious, yes. So I was filtering what I was saying. I wanted to seem professional and happy and perky. And it was awkward, because we didn’t really know each other. So it was a little bit different.  

Leah: The inherent safety of my living room definitely makes me feel a little more relaxed. I don’t have to dodge bad kisses, which is good. I also unfortunately don’t get real kisses or good kisses. So that is definitely a detractor.

Beige: And we were supposed to only be on the phone for 15 minutes max, but our date was two and a half hours. 

Whitney: As this situation dragged on, some of the newness started to wear off. There are still quirks that they’re both grappling with, but they’ve both pinpointed benefits of this new format, as well. 

Leah: The way that you interact with the person on the screen, there’s definitely the challenge of seeing your face in the upper-right hand corner. My business persona, and the person who I am at work, I’m used to that. But the face that I put on and the attitude that I put on when I’m on a date is just very different.

Beige: To be honest with you, we went on our second date yesterday and that was a five hour [laughter]... a five hour date. 

Leah: I think it’s one of those things where seeing my ‘flirt face’ is kind of like when you’re lying in bed at night and you’re trying to sleep and then you remember a deeply embarrassing moment. And it just stays with you for 10 minutes while you relive how awkward you are.

Beige: He made it so that we were able to FaceTime and watch the poetry night at the same time. And then after that we just FaceTimed. And it was really nice. It was really nice.

Leah: The bragging or the peacocking element of first dates isn’t there. The guy isn’t talking about what trips he has planned because you can’t go on a trip right now. So through the week, I’ll definitely try and gather up anecdotes. I try to get those interesting stories of saying, ‘Oh I saw ducklings on my walk.’ Which, now as I say it out loud, it’s not that interesting. But it’s interesting in terms of, my entire life is within one square mile. 

Beige: To be honest with you I’ve never gone to a poetry night before. It was definitely something new. But if that’s what he’s into, I’m definitely willing to try different things. 

Jess: Clearly they’re both finding ways to make this crazy situation work. But they also learned that there are aspects of dating in person that you really can’t replace. 

Leah: Chemistry is hard. Chemistry is one of the things I’m really struggling with. What if I have built up this relationship in my head and then there’s just no chemistry? It’s almost like a Jane Austen letter, you know, where one of the characters will read this sweeping love letter and it’s almost like an online date. And then they meet the person in real life and they realize: Oh, this is actually a dud.

Because I’m a little bitter that my last human interaction was a bad date, I am a little skittish about risking it all to go meet up with a guy. I would prioritize seeing my loved ones, my friends first. But, yes, once things start coming back, I would love to go on a walk. I would love to see what the chemistry is and see that person in real life and figure out if it’s something I would like to move forward with. 

Whitney: Beige is trying to come up with creative ways to test that chemistry – from a safe distance, of course.

Jess: Watch out, we’re getting to Whitney’s favorite part. 

Whitney: It is!

Beige: He thought of the perfect date for us to do virtually. And I’m looking forward to our next date. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to do it. I mean there are no places to go, really. You know, we can’t go to the movies or anything that people typically would. The only place that’s open is the grocery store. 

And maybe we’ll meet in the grocery store parking lot. And eat popcorn and look at the stars. But he’s in his car and I’m in my car. We could actually – yes, now that I’m thinking about it, he could be in his car, I could be in my car and we could eat popcorn and watch a movie. But we’re watching the same movie on each other’s phones at the same time. And talking about it with our windows down. Can you see the vision? [laughter]

Whitney: I love the idea of a grocery store parking lot date. 

Jess: I know you do. What do you like so much about it? 

Whitney: I just think that it’s very on brand for coronavirus. And it really just seems to get to this idea that humans can be so creative and adaptable in times like these. 

Jess: Right. And that actually leads us straight to our big question for Leah and Beige.

Beige: How to date during this period… be creative. 

Leah: Don’t look at yourself in the upper-right-hand corner if you can avoid it. 

Beige: Because if you think about how we’ve been dating regularly before all of this, a typical date may be dinner and a movie, and these cliché type of dates. But now if you want to practice social distancing, and going on dating, there’s no other way around it. You have to be creative. 

Leah: It’s all about embracing the newness right now. I think every day brings an experience that I truly never expected to think about a year ago or six months ago, and now it’s just a part of daily life. And that’s one of the nice things about the human spirit, is this adaptability. I get to see that and meet people who are also willing to dip their toes in and be pioneers, maybe – I don’t know if pioneers is the right thing – in this online, online dating during the time of COVID.

[Music]

Whitney: I have to say, I think Leah’s upper-right hand corner advice is actually quite applicable far beyond online dating! 

Jess: That’s what you took away from all of that?

Whitney: I’m starting to notice more – well, it’s not a flirt face, but my very serious reporter face and – I also would like to unsee that! But in all seriousness, both these women show humanity has such an amazing capacity for adapting and being open to new experiences.

Jess: Yeah, it takes courage to put yourself out there no matter what the situation is. And it just shows that the desire to connect is such a part of who we are that not even a global pandemic is going to stop people from trying to find and maintain relationships and build them and maintain them. That feels good to remember these days.

Thanks for listening! If you enjoyed this story, help us make more. Subscribe to the Monitor at csmonitor.com/subscribe. 

Whitney: And let us know if you have any stories about love and relationships you want to share with us. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Jess: This story was produced and hosted by me, Jessica Mendoza.

Whitney: And me, Whitney Eulich.

Jess: It was edited by Samantha Laine Perfas and Kim Campbell, with sound design by Tim Malone. Produced by The Christian Science Monitor, copyright 2020.

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