Has COVID-19 Killed the In-Person First Date?

Lindsay Goldwert
August 31st, 2020 | 7 min
Has COVID-19 Killed the In-Person First Date?
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Once upon a time, before 2020, a first date meant you and another person would meet up at a bar or restaurant or for a cup of coffee. Maybe you’d shake hands or hug or kiss on the cheek. Then you’d sit across from each other and learn about each other, face-to-face.

COVID-19 may have ruined our adventures, cut us off from friends and family, and thrown our careers into a spin but it hasn’t killed our desire to connect with others and hopefully, fall in love.

The only difference is that more and more of us are having our first dates on video versus meeting in person. And while it may have felt bizarre to many at first, more and more daters are becoming okay with meeting potential partners via screens before an in-person first date.

The dating app Hinge reported a 30% increase in messages among users this past March, compared to January and February. A study conducted by its in-house data team revealed that almost half (44%) of its users have been on a video date.

First dates are always fraught with expectations. Now, in the time of COVID, it's an even more complicated thing. Suddenly we’re logging on and staring at each other through screens, battling bad connections, (both literal and metaphorical), and trying to suss out body language, the meaning of a smile, and if a person is really worth your time.

Alisa Torres, a 29 year-old communications manager from San Francisco initially thought dating via video was weird but “got over it pretty quickly.” Alisa, a Hinge user, said dating via video actually provided some relief from many of the pressures and worries that come from meeting strangers IRL.

“I think the best part is the safety of knowing whether someone is cool or not without going out alone with them,” she said. “Also not needing to rush to get to a place or necessarily needing to get super dressed up.”

“But for the same reasons it’s not as fun. You’re not going to a fun bar or for dinner you’re kinda just talking to each other in your living rooms which is fine but if the conversation sucks, it can be awkward.”

First dates in nearby and faraway places

David Piccolomini, a 30 year-old Brooklyn-based comedian and podcaster, wasn’t weirded out by the idea of having a first date happen on video.

“At the beginning of COVID, it was a lot of first Zoom dates and then, if the further texting felt right, we would meet at each other's houses to limit contact to just the two of us,” he said. “As the pandemic has gone on I've been meeting more people for outdoor bar dates and park dates.”

In March, Tinder began offering users the chance to swipe internationally. The result was the ability to text (and sext) and go on video dates with far-flung singles. Other apps followed suit and suddenly, daters had a passport to chats around the world.

Ladell Thomas, 32, has been dating via video using Bumble and OkCupid and communicating with Facetime and Zoom.

“Dating in the time of COVID feels very lonely,” he said. “Most interactions are through texting and video. It sucks to know that I’ll probably never get to hug this person.”

Location, location, location, location, isn't always the key to the first date. The best dates can happen with people from places we’ve never been and the worst can happen with someone who lives in the same city.

“My best experience with video dating was with a woman who lived in Sweden,” said Ladell. “She made me laugh a lot and we talked for hours.”

Great (and not so great) first dates

Rachel Green, a 41-year old actor and voice-over artist, has been dating using OkCupid, Hinge and Bumble, chatting via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp.

“Dating during COVID seemed a bit weird at first but given that I like to have a quick phone convo before meeting in person, it seemed like a good chemistry check,” she said. “Some people are interested in genuine connections, others want a quick fantasy/release.”

Our daters had mixed experiences meeting people for the first time via video. Some first dates were just a snooze, and others were, well, just creepy or sad.

“One of my first dates lasted 2 hours, we had drinks, laughs and great chemistry,” said Rachel. “My worst experience was when I decided to have a little sexy time over FaceTime with one of the gents I had been talking to for a while (it was probably our 3rd or 4th video date). He took a screenshot without my permission. Luckily FaceTime notifies you and I called him out on it. He apologized, but that was a deal breaker for me.”

Best and worst video date for David?

“My best date, we had a best pajama contest and I won wearing a Superman onesie I had leftover from a comedy sketch,” he said. “The worst was when a woman got really drunk and cried when I wanted to leave the date.”

Rachel also had some thumbs down experiences when it came down to meeting up in person.

“One was a wonderful date and then he ghosted me after texting to apologize for ‘not giving our connection the emotional time and energy it merited (he was a writer),’” she said. "On the other one, we had no in-person chemistry and it was super awkward. He blamed it on some inner ear thing he had due to some deep breath work he does.”

What will first dates post-COVID be like?

So what if, when COVID ends, and we’re all able to leave our screens behind and meet in person for our first dates. Will people do it?

According to Hinge’s data, more than half (52%) of the users they’d polled said they were likely to continue incorporating video chat into their dating process even when they can meet up safely in real life.

“I still prefer meeting in person,” said Rachel. “First dates on video was cool since it's obviously safer and takes less time and effort. But it still doesn't compare to meeting in person, getting that live energy exchange with no lag in response due to bad WiFi”

What about a second date, or a third? Alisa has had a few dates progress to a second, or even a third.

‘Honestly it's bit hard to concentrate on dating with the state of the world,” she said.

Ladell said that while he sees the benefits of having a first date on video, he’s ready to meet up with people in real time, really soon.

“I prefer in person for sure,” he said. I’m not made for this kind of dating. Video dating is a nightmare!”

David, on the other hand, has taken it all in stride. After all, one thing can lead to another.

“Video dating is nice in some ways because it can be a big time saver and you don't have to put on pants. But I still prefer in-person dates overall,” he said. “Actually I’m writing these answers on my way to a date from a person I met over video.”

Love, actually

Suzanne Hitchman, a 40 year-old Brooklyn-based diversity and inclusion consultant and coach, has been in a relationship for over 4 months with a guy she met on Tinder using video chat during COVID.

"I didn't feel that motivated to set up a zoom date with anyone until I matched and started chatting with my current sweetheart in late March/early April," she said. "I actually flaked on him for our first scheduled video date because I was on one of my weekly scheduled emotional roller coaster rides. I was too sad/panicked to even talk to a close friend let alone a complete stranger."

"But he followed up a week later and he was so damn cute in his pictures (he has this INCREDIBLE smile). He was pretty hard to resist and I didn't know how a connection could be sustained texting alone, so I went with it."

Suzanne and her partner were anxious to meet IRL but also, wanted to be safe and cautious.

"We had to have what felt like the 'safe sex talk' but on steroids," she said. "It wasn't just like 'are you seeing anyone else, romantically?' but like 'are you seeing anyone else AT ALL, and also, who are your roommates seeing?'"

Living through the COVID epidemic has been so fraught with worry, fear of illness, career confusion, financial anxiety, and the very unsexy feeling of confronting our mortality. What if the world ends? What if this is IT?

Here's the thing about video dates. You're all alone, the two of you, in your homes. No loud bar patrons, no distractions, just two faces, looking for something. If you're talking to the wrong person, this can be agony. But with the right person? The intimacy and the vulnerability, especially during such a raw and emotional time, can feel, well, electric.

For Hitchman, starting a relationship during COVID was an emotional roller coaster, lots of "ups and downs."

"But mostly ups overall because I really think I found someone special and I'm so grateful to have someone so great to share intimacy, joy and the strain of this time with," she said. "Perhaps I really just met the right person who was willing to go there with me and it was the right time for the both of us to let our guard down and put ourselves out there in a meaningful way."

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