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What is the point of dating now?

11 single people on looking for love in quarantine.

An illustration of a person sitting in front of a laptop computer while raising a glass to the hand reaching out of the laptop in a toast. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

“I’d love to be able to wear crop tops and go out dancing and make out with strangers,” Genevieve, a 27-year-old public relations specialist, tells me. It’s her first summer as a single woman in London, after all, and the crop top-wearing and kissing is the best part.

But in London, as in major cities across the globe, there will be no sweaty dance parties this summer. This, unfortunately, is only one of a great many complicating factors for people who are attempting to date during the coronavirus quarantine. Standard questions like, “Are you free this week?” or, “When was your last STD test?” now feel quaint compared to the myriad cosmic obstacles to two people meeting and hooking up. “Is it ethical to hold hands?” and, “Do I really like this person or am I just stuck with them for the foreseeable future?” are now real concerns, often ones people are forced to make without even meeting each other face to face.

That doesn’t mean folks aren’t trying. On Tinder, users have been messaging each other 20 percent more frequently, and average conversation lengths are around 25 percent longer, according to the company. Now that nobody’s traveling, ironically, location matters less than ever: Tinder briefly allowed users to access a paid feature where you could set your location anywhere in the world, “and it went crazy,” Tinder CEO Elie Seidman says. The company will soon launch Global Mode, where users are served potential partners from all over the world, regardless of where they live.

It’s very possible that the way we date now — more virtually and more carefully — could become part of the “new normal” that society has been clumsily crawling toward since quarantine began. While some of the side effects of the pandemic on potential relationships have been positive (as Sable Yong argues in GQ, now is the time to shoot your shot!), dating has always been hard, and for the most part, the coronavirus has only complicated coupling.

I asked people to tell me what kinds of new questions they were grappling with while dating in quarantine. They ranged from the immediate (is there a way to make Zoom dates less horrifically awkward?) to the existential (should I even be dating right now?). During our interviews, the most common sentiment shared by all of them was this: What’s the point?

(I’ve included only people’s first names and ages due to the highly personal nature of our interviews. Names with asterisks have been changed for further privacy.)

How am I supposed to have a sexy single summer?

I’m newly single for the first time in two years, and I’m so frustrated to not be able to go out to bars and meet people. It’s so annoying. In any other circumstance, I would be killing it.

Some people [on the dating apps] are clearly searching for their partner. That’s totally fair and totally normal, but that is not the position that I’m in. I wanna be on my own for a while and just enjoy being single. But how am I supposed to keep up these conversations with people, and to what end and for what purpose? What is the point of this conversation with these random guys on dating apps?

A lot of guys will just ghost after a few days — maybe they just all hate me — but what I think is they just don’t have the energy to keep up this conversation and they don’t see the point in it. —Amanda*, 23

How do I make a Zoom date less awkward?

I tried two Zoom dates and I’ve refused to go on any more. I just feel a friend vibe, and I can’t tell if it’s the guy or the medium. I really felt like I couldn’t be myself — like, my sense of humor is a little sarcastic and teasing-based, and over videoconference that just comes off as cold or mean. The fun part of dating is having one cocktail too many and touching someone’s arm. If you can’t do that, what’s the point? —Julia, 34

Does distance matter anymore?

I live with a teacher who has to go back and teach little kids, so there’s just no possibility for me of taking a risk physically. So how do you balance that with the feeling of, “I’d really like to talk to some people and I’d really like to get back out there,” without just entering into a month-long emotional affair with a stranger you’ll never see? That’s where I’m at present.

For me, I’m going back and thinking, “Do I go back to people I’ve dated in the past who were not ever really possibilities because they were far away and we couldn’t see each other? I moved [to London] from New York years ago, so I’m like, “Do I go back to the random guys I used to hook up with in New York and message them on Instagram and just be like, “Hey, let’s send some steamy messages?” I don’t know. —Genevieve, 27

How do I set boundaries with strangers on dating apps?

I’ve only really connected and had FaceTime dates with two people, and those people have been people that are not working [jobs] at all. While I have liked those people a lot, they don’t have anything else really going on, and so it’s been a lot of texting and then my energy is completely gone.

The reason why a lot of people are dating right now is because they’re lonely and scared that the normal ways that you meet someone are not gonna come back for a very long time. So now people are texting, “What are you doing right now? What’s your weird quarantine hobby?” Maybe on a weekend day, I can do that, but I’m just trying to deal with my own mental health and checking all my friends and people I already know, so during the day, it’s really hard for me to want to become invested in someone that I don’t know.

For me, the big question is, “Because everyone’s lifestyles are so varied right now, how do you set a communication boundary with someone you don’t even know?” How do you say, “Hey, I would love to get to know you, but I’m depressed and exhausted and staring at a screen for a date doesn’t feel fun to me. So can we maybe keep our communication to these hours and this day?”

We haven’t met each other in person or anything, so I just let those completely fizzle. What’s the point? —Rosemary, 32

Is it love or is it quarantine?

Before quarantine started, I had gone on three dates with this guy but was planning to keep meeting other guys on Bumble. I liked the guy and he lived up the street, so it was pretty easy to hang out. We ended up hanging out every day, and it was probably two or three weeks of nonstop sleepovers and marathon hangouts.

Then a friend of mine asked us to come to her roof and socially distance. And so the “What are we doing here?” conversation started to come up. We’re both in flux points of our lives, so it was like, “When this is over, what are we gonna do with our lives?” It would have taken me six months, probably, to spend this much time with someone if I was going to work every day. I think I’m actually grateful for quarantine in that respect: It’s a good pressure cooker.

I’m happy that quarantine — not coronavirus — happened because I don’t think this relationship would otherwise. I would have dated other people. I was very much in a cycle of dating where I wasn’t really giving anyone a shot. When you’re on dating apps in a big city, there’s a million options and it’s hard to really get to know someone. It’s much easier to have in-depth conversations when you’re forced to hang out for hours at a time in a room with minimal distractions. You jump into what life is like together 10 years down the road. —Lydia*, 27

How can I tell if my crush likes me?

There’s someone who has been a part of my friend group — this also may be a queer gay yearning thing — who I’ve had an on-and-off crush on for a while. I’ve been able to gauge whether people are interested once we’re face to face, but it’s so much more difficult [remotely]. I’m at this point where I’m like, “I think this person’s interested in me, but also maybe they’re just lonely or don’t have anyone to talk to.” They did send me a playlist.

But because parties aren’t happening anymore, we have to be a lot more intentional. You have to text the individual person, like, “Hey, I wanna hang out,” or, “Let’s Zoom or let’s watch a movie.” So, ironically, that crush has moved forward a lot more since we started quarantine.

I feel like [the “I think you’re cute” conversation] needs to happen in person, though. I feel really weird over Zoom or over FaceTime just being like, “Hey, by the way, here’s this thing you need to know.” A weird or distant Zoom hangout where I confess my feelings is too apocalyptic for me. —Hannah, 23

How am I supposed to get over my ex now?

I have no intention of actually meeting somebody right now, but since I’m going through a breakup, I want to get that out of my system. But it’s an itch that you can’t scratch. I had a video date though Bumble and it was just odd. We talked for two hours because neither of us had to go anywhere. It’s like, “I’m gonna do this puzzle while we talk for a while and never talk to you again.”

I’ve been swiping through Bumble a lot, but honestly, I’m mostly pissed that this pandemic is robbing me of a rebound experience. It’s really frustrating because none of my friends can be like, “Get back out there.” They’re like, “Don’t get back out there.” I could sit here and think about my ex all night, or I could swipe through Bumble. Or both. It’s not even a good distraction because everybody’s in the same boat. We’re single, we’re sad. The conversations are just like, “How have you been handling all this?” “It’s pretty bad.” If you’re on a dating app, you’re probably lonely in some regard as it is, but now nobody’s faking it. —Sam, 23

When’s the right time to hold hands?

I’ve gone on several in-person walks, which I’ve been okay with as long as they’re keeping their distance. After restrictions started to lift around town, I went to this one guy’s house and he was like, “Well, should you come in? Would that be weird?” I come to find out that this man is an incredible clean freak. I’ve never seen a cleaner house in my goddamn life.

We were watching a movie — very far apart because he knew that I was very anxious about it so he stayed on the very end of the couch — but eventually I was like, “Listen, can I hold your hand?” He was like, “I was going to ask you the same thing, but I thought you were afraid so you didn’t want to!”

It was very cute, holding someone’s hand after months of no human contact. It’s just really nice just to have another human near you, even if we don’t end up dating in the foreseeable future. When I left, I kissed my hand and put it to his face. I was like, “That’s what you get!” It’s funny how holding hands felt scandalous. It’s so dirty! —Julianna, 33

How do I say no to quarantine sex?

I started talking to this guy on Hinge and we had this crazy chemistry. We started exchanging voice notes over text super heavily for, like, three days straight, and it was really hot. We started bonding over our interests and how we’re staying cozy in quarantine. It all escalated really quickly to the point where, three days in, he was wanting to meet up.

It was a fun fantasy to play with, but I was like, “I don’t know you.” The fact that he’s not even offering to meet me in public first? I was like, “You just wanna stick your dick in something.” As cute and sexy and smart as you are, I know what you’re thinking, and we’ve never even met.

I set a boundary; I was like, “Listen, as fun as this is, I’m not putting myself out there for casual sex. I haven’t even seen my family, I’m not gonna freaking go rogue just because I want affection.” I was trying to be smart about it, but it was so tempting. It was really sad because it was such a nice quarantine crush to play with for a little bit. —Lauren, 31

Should we feel guilty for hooking up?

It was definitely a situation where we were both horny and hadn’t done anything sexual with another person for a couple of months. There was a whole discussion: We were texting trying to rationalize it, like, “I think it’s safe. I live alone.” He has roommates, but they’re adhering to social distancing, so we were like, “Maybe this is an okay risk.”

I was like, “Come over. I’m totally game.” But he was going back and forth. At some point he was like, “Actually, I’d feel like a hypocrite,” because he’s been critical of his friends who weren’t adhering to it. I was like, “Hey, that’s fair.” Then he texted me three days later and was like, “Actually the more thought about it, I think it would totally be safe.” So I was like, “Sounds great!”

I haven’t really talked to him to see if he felt bad doing it or if he actually felt like a hypocrite. I’ve just been window shopping on Grindr, seeing what’s out there. There are definitely people who are immediately like, “Come over,” or, “Let me come over.” Like, I don’t even know you. This doesn’t seem safe. —CJ, 28

Should I even be on Tinder right now?

Really the main dating question that I’ve been asking is, “Is this actually just a good way of spending my time?” And I increasingly find the answer is no. Dating apps used to be a fun thing that led to something concrete and now they’re just not, for me at least. It’s been nicer to spend more time with my friends and people I actually know.

The thing about Tinder that was nice and fun was that there was always something that can happen, and it really doesn’t feel like there’s something that can happen right now. That makes it a sad place for me. —Daniel, 24

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