“I was going back home for the mid-semester break in March 2020 in our college shuttle and had the usual daydreaming to my playlist planned for the ride. Once the journey started, I noticed the person sitting next to me tapping their feet and lip-syncing to all the songs I was listening to. I couldn’t help but start a conversation. Even though it has been almost a year since we have physically seen each other, we have been together for 8 months.”
Dating has been one of the ways in which individuals satisfy their need to form personal connections with others. It can usually start with anyone from their seventh-grade desk partner, college classmate or their Bumble match. While the concept of dating began with the ‘gentleman caller’ in the 20th century, with men having to follow proper protocol to pursue the woman they desire, the aim of dating and wanting to establish a long-term relationship, either bound by marriage or other types of commitment, hasn’t transformed as much.
This human condition of craving connection did not change even when the pandemic struck. Now confined to four walls, physical interactions limited only between family or with oneself, there is no doubt that individuals are experiencing extreme loneliness. How has the world of dating adapted to these circumstances?
1. RIP Meet cutes
One majorly fantasised aspect of dating is the ‘meet-cute’ that represents the start of an attraction between two individuals who later delve into a relationship. Rom-coms have encouraged these heart-throb fantasies of two hands that happen to reach out to the same book in the library or the intense eye-contact between two characters bumping into each other in the corridor. They feel heart-warming because they play on the aspect of ‘fate’ that gets two individuals together for the first time, resulting in a bond.
With COVID-19, this fantasy surrounding ‘fate’ is crushed, as the only meet-cutes that are acceptable are ‘accidentally’ sliding into someone’s zoom chat. While dating apps were considered the last resort to finding a relationship since they defied the idea of ‘fate’, they have now showcased a massive increase in users during lockdown with individuals hoping to find their potential someone. In fact, these apps were one of the crucial means through which individuals were able to meet new people, in order to deal with the increased loneliness caused by physical isolation.
2. What is even ‘casual’ anymore?
Dating apps were treated as the last resort to find ‘love’ also because they were stereotyped to form superficial connections based on physical attributes hence, those who enrolled on such apps were viewed as aiming to be a part of the ‘hookup culture’. In contradiction to this, a study conducted in Switzerland found that those who swiped right were actually more likely to settle down in stable relationships than those who met by chance.
Hookup culture implies engaging in casual sex, one-night stands that do not require one to be bound by emotional intimacy and commitment. However, thriving on physical attraction, and many still choosing to avoid meeting, what does it mean to be ‘casual’ in times of lockdown with the fear of catching an infection?
3. The ‘jaana’ before the ‘dekha’
With hookups out of the way, dating apps have now attracted a wider audience that wished for something ‘serious’ bound by commitment. However, if one is aware of the inability to physically meet the individual, why enrol on such apps in the first place?
While the ‘health benefits’ of flirting are a given, it is observed that ‘the physical’ is now kept aside with phrases like “when the pandemic is over” and individuals are strengthening their emotional connections, becoming more vulnerable than usual. With texting being the main source of communication, hiding behind our phones allows us to be more vulnerable easily, especially during times of distress and uncertainty.
In addition to this, the fear of rejection also seems to have reduced when it comes to ‘shooting your shot’. While making the first move is equally terrifying, since there is pressure to be interesting enough for the individual to reply, public embarrassment of assuming one’s sexuality and availability can be avoided on such apps. We now have the upper hand since a match indicates that there exists a certain level of attraction between the two individuals and establishes compatibility.
Finally, texting was usually treated as a stepping stone to actually going out on a date with an individual. However, with no such goal visible due to current circumstances, phone calls and Zoom Dates have become the norm, where the ‘physical’ seems to have taken a back seat.
In contrast to this, pre-COVID, the butterflies for the physical attraction were a prerequisite for strong emotional bonds, and ‘tumhe jo maine dekha’ was before the ‘tumhe toh maine jaana’. Has physical attraction and proximity receded in importance when it comes to relationships?
4. One-night stands—but make them emotional
Speaking of emotional connections, an interesting concept while not formally addressed was brought to light in conversation with various dating app users from the college-going age group, which is termed as ‘emotional one-night stands’. Here, individuals have begun to match with people only to share their share of struggles and deep insecurities for the night and un-match with them the next morning.
No doubt the pandemic has been a source of immense distress and anxiety, and this is just one of the mechanisms people have adapted to in order to cope since it is often said to be easier to talk to strangers than to peers and family.
5. The Zoom Date
Previously, the notion of going out on a date didn’t just involve eating out in a restaurant, there were other underlying routines behind it that made it an encompassing experience. You would start with actually having a date, planning logistics, informing friends, deciding outfits and constructing white lies for parents. It’s about being nervous to see them for the first time, awkward pauses, reading their body language, judging and responding to it and just praying you don’t have spinach stuck in your teeth. An important means to reduce nervousness has always been discovering points of commonality, and eating together and sharing the same food that creates a common experience unique to the two individuals, thereby allowing for a starting point in the conversation. Now, the point of commonality has shifted to the pandemic, a common experience for all, with its varying repercussions for many.
While dating apps have adapted to the technologically dependent world with video calls, does the Zoom date capture the whole experience?
In conclusion, while the ambiguity of dating cannot be replicated online, it has produced certain new experiences that are different from before, allowing people to be more vulnerable with the other person and going at a slower pace. Exchanging your phone numbers and informing the other that you are “deleting the app” is now the new form of showcasing commitment.
P.S, you can now always blame your internet connection in case you end up with a bad date.
Harshita Bedi is a student at Ashoka University pursuing her Psychology major. In her free time, you would find Harshita catching up on her sleep.
Picture Credits: Verywell / Alison Czinkota
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