Public health officials say limiting personal contact is vital to containing the spread of the coronavirus. And that means people who are actively dating have had to alter their approach. Some people in the age of Tinder are ignoring social distancing altogether.
Daily life has ground to a halt during the pandemic, with bars and restaurants closed and most businesses shuttered. Despite that, dating is continuing, because many people just aren’t convinced the threat is that serious to their generation.
30-year-old Joseph Barr lives in Albany. He’s been using the Facebook Dating app for a few months. He says, if anything, activity has increased on the app since the pandemic started.
“People are lonely,” Barr said. “People don’t have anything to do. Sitting inside all day.”
Barr says he and his friends often talk about who they’ve met on apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Facebook Dating.
He doesn't see harm in meeting up with one or two people to see where it goes.
“I mean how many people actually have it,” Barr said. “We’re in Albany. It’s not NYC. Maybe your odds will increase if you’re meeting like multiple people a week off of Tinder but I’m much more concerned about catching other things from girls on Tinder than I am of COVID-19.”
30-year-old Joshua Hartz of Albany agrees. He says he's using dating apps more often during the pandemic.
“I find myself normally on the apps like if I’m on break at work or something like I’ll just start swiping through," Hartz said.
Hartz says isolation is exacerbating existing struggles.
“I have a former history of addiction,” Hartz said. “So I got clean. I’ve been clean for like three years. So I’ve been trying to like meet people and it’s like twice as hard when you get sober because I used to meet people through selling drugs and doing drugs and now it’s like I have to re-learn how to date and re-learn how to meet legit people that aren’t doing the wrong things – you know what I mean?”
Hartz washes his hands a lot, wears a mask, and worries about the possibility of unknowingly infecting his older family members. But he says he would still meet up with a woman from Tinder.
“I’m just at the point where I need someone – some other interaction with people because I don’t have that many friends,” Hartz said.
Hartz works at a grocery store and says the chances of contracting COVID-19 from one of hundreds of daily customers are higher than getting it from one woman. Someone who might really like him.
“I mean we might have to postpone some parts of the relationship or like some things that we can’t do obviously but it would still be worth it to like – go and do something together and get to know each other,” Hartz said. “Even if we had to talk over the phone more or something it would definitely be a lot better than being alone.”
34-year-old Lucas Bridgeman of Albany is also swiping.
His job involves imaging technology for elective surgeries – which have not yet resumed at many hospitals – so he has more time on his hands than ever.
Bridgeman says the apps have been pushing video chat – encouraging people to “date from home” instead. But he says it can sometimes feel more intimate – and awkward – than meeting up in person.
"Because then there’s all these decisions that have to come with it,” Bridgeman said. “Like what do I want to talk about on this virtual date? What haven’t we talked about that we haven’t covered already? Obviously we don’t have any food or drinks to talk about. We’re already talked about all the COVID-19 stuff so – we really have to get creative.”
Bridgeman says he’s been following the news closely and he’s taking the virus seriously. But he doesn’t see an issue with meeting up with someone for a date.
“You shouldn’t hug them,” Bridgeman said, “but does that mean I can’t be 6 feet away from them and have a conversation across like a porch or across a really long table? Or go on a walk?”
Dr. Bridget Finn is the founder and president of the Capital Region Center for Sexual Health. A sex therapist for nearly 35 years, she says the problem is that even socially-distanced dating situations can escalate.
“Sexual energy and chemistry is powerful stuff,” Finn said. “Right? It’s powerful stuff. And we can kind of lose our minds over it from time to time. Very difficult to be around someone that you’re yearning for and lusting after from 6 feet away. And next thing you know it’s 4 feet, 3 feet, 2 feet. And again if there’s any drugs or alcohol involved it becomes even harder to make decisions that are in your best interest and the best interest of the community.”
Tinder Communications Director Ally Bruschi says around the world, daily conversations on the app have been up an average of 20% and the average length of the conversation is 25% longer.
Dr. Finn says she isn’t surprised by anything that Barr, Hartz, or Bridgeman said, and it makes sense that more people are flocking to dating apps now.
“Let’s be honest, right? People are bored," Finn said.
But Dr. Finn says there are many reasons why people are willing to risk their safety to connect with strangers.
"Coming from places of loneliness or depression or I’m buzzed, I’m home, I’m bored, compulsivity, disregard for others, disregard for self… the answers are as varied as people making the choices,” Finn said.
Dr. Finn says the safe answer is for people to use video calls to get to know each other, and to not meet up.
“When it comes to sex and intimacy the delicious stuff – right? That fun – kind of hot – simmering flirting stuff,” Finn said. “This is an opportunity to enjoy that with someone – virtually – right? And it’s often the piece that people come to me in sex therapy and say that they miss about their relationship.”
And, she says, there's no harm in taking the opportunity to sharpen your communication, emotional, and flirtation skills — while avoiding spreading the virus.