COVID-19: Philadelphians Figure Out Dating During a Pandemic

Sarah Stewart has been with her boyfriend for nearly two years now. The couple began quarantine by living separately at their parents’ homes, resulting in a lieu of challenges including the pair not being able to see each other.

With no end to COVID-19 in sight, the couple decided moving in together in June would be in their best interest.

“I think it strengthened us,” Stewart said about their decision to move in together during quarantine. 

Being in a relationship while navigating the pandemic can be difficult, given that the virus spreads through personal contact. Stewart wouldn’t even kiss her partner during the early days of COIVD-19 out of fear she would infect her family. 

“It got tricky because, obviously, at our age our parents are kind of in that risk category,” Stewart said. “The way that [my boyfriend’s] family was handling all of this was a little more lax and then my family was extremely worried about it.”

Stewart and her boyfriend are just one example of how dating culture has changed drastically during the pandemic. Philadelphia dating coach Kristi Price doesn’t believe that those changes are necessarily negative. 

People in various arrangements — serial dating, serious relationships, casual flings, and vague situations with friends with benefits — have been adapting to the pandemic in very different ways, she said. Those living with their significant other now deal with constant interaction. Singles now often choose between the loneliness of isolation or the risks associated with coming into contact with another person. 

“This COVID situation, people being isolated that have been single, have really stepped up and said, ‘Look, I need to make a change in my life. I don’t wanna be single anymore,’” Price said.

Price has been helping professionals in Philadelphia find partners since 2011, offering dating profile help, image consulting, body language checks, and helping people come off as approachable and available. The pandemic has caused people in the dating scene to take stock of what they really want, she said.

“People think that they’re like a kid in a candy store,” Price said. “That you can get 100% of every single trait you want in a person online, and it’s not realistic in life in general,” 

The Video Dater

The looming virus has caused people to take varying degrees of caution, with some individuals far more careful with who they are letting into their lives. 

Omar Koroma, 24, is one of those people.

Koroma was quarantining with one casual, nonexclusive partner, who he initially planned to social distance with for the remainder of this period.

“I wasn’t concerned with dating, I was just concerned with having a small biosphere,” Koroma said. “Just finding one person I could ride [quarantine] out for.“

When the weeks of quarantine turned into months, Koroma realized that this was not a sustainable situation for him. After ending this “situationship,” Koroma felt that the best option to keep him and others safe would be to virtually date people for the time being, going on a series of very casual and no-pressure FaceTime dates. 

“They weren’t, like, formal, ‘I’m eating dinner with a candle facing my laptop,’” Koroma said. “It was more just like, ‘Oh, do you wanna FaceTime and just chat and be able to see somebody?’” 

FaceTime and Zoom dates have become increasingly popular. The dating app Match conducted a study to compare how many singles would use a video platform to meet a potential suitor before versus after COVID-19. Before quarantine, only 6% of singles were open to video chat dates, whereas 69% of singles reportedly would talk to a potential suitor via video chat as of mid-April. 

Price advocates for phone and Zoom call dates. In fact, she tailored her coaching to include tips and advice for dating over the phone and through video platforms. 

“[On the phone,] make sure that you’re standing up and walking around, that you’re actually smiling when you’re talking because that inflection comes off through the call,” Price said. “And then if it’s a Zoom call, make sure you’re looking your best and have good lighting and things to talk about.”

The Casual Dater

Glennane Flesher, 30, has been casually dating since her and a casual partner ended things after spending the beginning of quarantine together. She has gone on a few in-person dates with men she met on Hinge. 

Flesher admits that although the dates weren’t bad, in-person dates during the era of COVID are just awkward in nature. 

“You have to wear masks when you go out to a restaurant now that things are open,” Flesher said. 

Dating through Hinge and other dating apps proves to be a source of entertainment for Flesher. However, it is far from her preferred method of meeting people.

“I mean, I don’t really do online dating,” she said. “So it’s been hard for me to date during quarantine because I really like going out to a bar, especially going out to a bar by myself, and meeting people like that.” 

According to a press release from Tinder, the app reported the most engagement ever on March 29, with over 3 billion quarantined people swiping away. Hornet, primarily a gay male dating app, has witnessed a 30% increase in social feed engagement since the start of quarantine in mid-March, according to CEO Christof Wittig.

Molly Dooling, 23, can attest to the sudden rise in dating app popularity from what she has personally seen on Hinge.

“There’s this section where it says if someone has recently joined the app, and I feel like over quarantine I saw a lot of new guys on there,” Dooling said. “Everyone was bored and had nothing else to do except scroll through, so I definitely went through a couple random talking stages with random guys that never turned into anything.”

In her expertise, Price believes that all of the popular dating apps — Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match — have value. However, she warns of the potential scams on apps.

“You have to be careful,” Price said. “There’s scammers: people that have fake profiles, people who are married or in a relationship.” 

Price gives her clients some common sense tips to check that potential dates online are who they say they are and are serious about a potential relationship.

“Make sure they can talk on the phone on the nights or weekends,” she said. “[Make sure] they’re not playing some game.”

The Monogamous Dater

But what about those who aren’t prowling the common dating apps and braving potentially awkward Zoom dates? What about those who have endured quarantine in a monogamous relationship?

Stewart and her boyfriend entered the COVID-era in a relationship, and, perhaps surprisingly to some, feel stronger now because of the pandemic. In fact, the couple didn’t face many issues when adjusting to living together mid-quarantine. 

The couple may have moved in together sooner than anticipated, but they had some time and space apart when they went to work. By the time they began living together, both of their jobs allowed employees to work on-site, which Stewart thinks helped the transition. 

Although moving in together mid-pandemic is a huge adjustment, Stewart still believes the quarantine has brought them closer.

“I really respected that Sean respected me, even though we have different backgrounds and beliefs,” she said. “It showed that we can get through different scenarios.”

Numbers back up Stewart’s claims. According to an April survey of 1,200 engaged and married couples conducted by The Knot and the app Lasting, 60% of engaged couples and 56% of married couples say their relationships are stronger due to quarantining together. The majority of couples surveyed, 68%, also said they are prioritizing their emotional connection with their partner during quarantine.

Price agrees that love is in the air amid this pandemic, and singles have been realizing they need to make a change.

“Trolling online, just jumping from person to person, is not working,” Price said. “I see a lot of people getting more serious.”

Although the impact that quarantine had on her relationship was unexpected, Stewart now knows they made the appropriate decision to move in together. She has advice for other young adults in similar, less than ideal situations due to COVID-19.

“I would say you’ll never know until you go through [dating in quarantine],” Stewart said. “So, instead of worrying, just put your best foot forward and try to have open communication with your partner.”

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