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To swipe or not to swipe? How Philadelphians are feeling about virtual pandemic dating

Because dating wasn't challenging enough before coronavirus.

Pandemic dating? (Photo by Pexels user cottonbro, used via a Creative Commons license)
If you started 2020 with a resolution to bring a renewed effort to spice up your social or dating life in the great city of Philadelphia, you’re not alone.

Turns out there’s about a thousand articles about setting goals to manifest the love life you’d always imagined, but no amount of positive thinking, first-date prep or simply telling the universe that you’re ready (lol) to meet that special someone prepared single folks for a dangerous pandemic. Not only could a first kiss be terrible … it could be deadly.

Myself and my other 20-something single friends usually meet people through a mix of in-person encounters and dating apps. I was that girl at the beginning of the year who was — say it with me — “really ready to put energy into dating” and “put myself out there more” (ugh).

But when the pandemic hit the Philadelphia region in mid-March, I was content to step away from dating apps and instead focus my energy on the seemingly endless seasons of “Love Island UK” with my roommate and the only male in our home — Pickles, the cat. I could definitely take a few weeks off of meeting new people, I thought.

Five months later, though, myself and other single city dwellers are needing to make decisions about dating. In the “modified” green phase that Philadelphia’s currently in, it’s possible to grab a drink or a meal outdoors, take a long walk with a date or Netflix ‘n’ chill. But is it safe?

And also — is it worth it?

Kim Loux, of Queen Village, told me that in January, she swore off online dating and challenged herself to meet people IRL. When the pandemic hit, it took her several months to jump back on a dating app, she said.

But eventually, when the region moved to its green phase of reopening, Loux said she used the video call feature on Bumble for the first date (if you can you call that a date, she said).

“I wanted to try it out — being able to see the person is better than a phone call, but less risky than meeting in person,” she said.

And earlier this month, Loux went on a socially distanced date.

She said that when she looks at the limited information available on dating profiles, she finds herself focusing on things that aren’t as important as when she meets people in real life, like their grammar, choice of photo or posing with random kids. Still, she does believe the pandemic will bring more people back to virtual dating or inspire some to try it for the first time.

“It’s clear meeting people in person is going to be challenging for the next year or more,” Loux said.

Natalya, a 34-year-old who lives in South Philly, said she too had quit dating apps in December because she wasn’t meeting anyone of substance. And after joining Hinge back in April, she hasn’t found anyone worthwhile of a virtual date or phone call.

“I’m not against it at all,” she said. “I just really haven’t connected with anyone that I feel was worth pursuing.”

Dating in general can be exhausting, she said. But adding the layers of worry about the pandemic, and additional social issues (like whether they’re a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement) takes extra effort.

“I know it takes a bit of time to get to know someone and see what they are about,” she said. “But from the get-go I feel like I have a pretty good gauge of whether it’s going somewhere or if I’m into them.”

And as video chatting is aiding many of us in staying connected to our loved ones, it can help in longer-term relationships, too. Bumper DeJesus lives in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and said that he and his long-distance girlfriend recently set up a virtual date where they bought the same ingredients in order to cook and eat dinner together.

“I’m in Jersey and she’s in Rhode Island getting her master’s, so we are distanced to begin with,” he said. “But yes, tech does help. The pandemic forced us get creative on how to still keep things romantic in the age of Zoom and FaceTime.”

The date was his girlfriend’s idea, DeJesus said, since the pair hadn’t seen each other since February.

And as for what I’ve learned about pandemic dating? After a socially distant park date with a nice guy from Hinge, I tend to agree with Natalya — priorities certainly have shifted. Instead of wondering if the date was going to be a dud, I wondered who’s in his quarantine bubble, if he lived with any “essential” workers or if I could possibly be exposing him to the virus.

And if you remove the foreign-sounding safety measures like face masks and six feet of space, virtual pandemic dating isn’t too different than “normal times” dating. There’s still plenty of opportunities for awkward comments and will-they-won’t-they moments (should you hug goodbye? Should you text the next day?).

As I decide if I want to venture back into this world of virtual dating, and potentially seek out new people to meet, thankfully one thing has been made much clearer by the pandemic — I already really like hanging out with myself.

And thank god I don’t need a freakin’ Zoom call to do it.

Series: Coronavirus

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