LONDON – At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Jennifer Sherlock met a few men through dating apps. The dates, she said, were “weird,” and not just because they were masked, socially distanced and out.
Once, as they went out for a walk, a date remained masked, but soon after inviting her back to his place, Sherlock saw a move as reckless. “It was so pouring, and weird,” she said. “So we won’t be safe outside without masks, but we’ll be safe without masks back in their place?”
He decided he needed a way to filter people out, so he started arranging video chats before agreeing to meet anyone in person. Sherlock, 42, a PR consultant living in New Jersey, said it was a practice she would continue with after the pandemic.
Sherlock isn’t alone in changing the way dating apps are used during the pandemic, prompting many to roll out new features. Despite the social distancing of the past 18 months, the use of dating apps in general has increased as people have sought connections between their separations.
Tinder reported that 2020 was the busiest year ever; This year, its users have already set two records for usage between January and March. Hinge tripled its revenue from 2019 to 2020, and the company expects it to double this year.
In response to changing demands, Tinder last month announced new tools that will allow users to get to know people online better. People will now be able to add videos to their profiles and chat with others even before being matched with them.
“Historically consumers were reluctant to engage via video because they didn’t need it,” said Jess Carabino, an online dating expert and sociologist who has worked for Tinder and Bumble. However, after COVID, many people expect a higher level of screening, she said. “Online dating apps like Tinder are leaning into that.”
Dating apps say their research shows video chats are here to stay, even as life begins to return to normal in some parts of the world.
Nearly half of Tinder users video chatted with a match during the pandemic, with 40% of them intending to continue after the pandemic. Tinder says it’s largely driven by Gen Z users in their teens and early 20s, who now account for more than half of the app’s users. And the majority of Hinge UK users, 69%, also say they will continue with virtual dates after the pandemic.
Tinder, along with other popular apps including Hinge, OKCupid and Bumble, have partnered with the government in the UK and US to add a badge to profiles indicating that users have been vaccinated. (However, there is no verification process, so matches may be false.)
Carbino said dating app users are also looking for deeper connections rather than casual encounters.
Such is the case with Maria Del Mar, a 29-year-old aerospace engineer who was not expecting to end up in a relationship after matching up with someone on Tinder at the start of the pandemic last year.
She started chatting with her now-boyfriend through the app in April 2020 during a complete lockdown in Spain, where she lives. After moving back from Barcelona to her parents’ small town of León, Del Mar was bored when she joined the app, but was surprised to find many things in common with her current teammate.
After weeks of chatting, they finally met in May 2020 for the first date after a slight easing of restrictions – an increase in social distancing. Now both are gone together. “If it weren’t for the app, our paths probably wouldn’t have crossed,” she said.
Fernando Rosales, 32, was a frequent user of Grindr, an app popular with gay men looking for more casual encounters in pre-pandemic times. He turned to Tinder for social interactions after coronavirus restrictions prevented people from meeting others in London, where they live.
“Grinder is like, ‘I like you, you like me, you’re within 100 meters of me, I’m going to come,'” said Rosales, who works at the popular British coffee chain Pret.
“Tinder is a bit more social,” he said. Sometimes he uses the app to meet others to play online video games or video chat.
Drag artist and photographer Ocean, 26, in Berlin, turned to the live video feature of an LGBTQ+ app called Taimi to make friends around the world during the pandemic. He said it was “amazing” to have a two- to five-minute video chat with strangers from the Philippines or parts of the US. The ocean’s given name is Kai Sistemich; She identifies as a woman when in drag.
She said she will continue to use the feature after the pandemic, especially when she is doing solo activities like cooking, or getting ready before going to a party.
Sherlock is also expected to take some of his dating dating behaviors into the post-pandemic world. She recently asked two men she was texting for a FaceTime chat before meeting in person, something she might not have done pre-pandemic.
“It’s a crazy dating world, so saving time is essential,” she said.