Online dating is nothing new. But now, it’s the only dating.
So while couples face the terrifying prospect of being trapped together for weeks, singles either embrace solitude or search for digital love.
I try the latter.
My online romance begins on Hinge, “the dating app designed to be deleted.” The company has kept its slogan since non-essential human contact became a crime. It still wants you to meet off-app but now only online.
I broke up with my girlfriend just before the outbreak, and still can’t decide whether to regret or celebrate the timing. But in these desperate days of self-isolation, it doesn’t take too long to meet someone else online.
Her name is Hilda* (name changed to protect identity). She only lives down the road, but at this point, it might as well be another planet. We give it a go regardless. Here’s how it went.
I don’t feel any shame about meeting someone on a dating app. People have been doing it for years. A recent Stanford study found it’s now the most common way that couples connect in the US.
Sometimes they don’t even need to meet in person to have a relationship. One of Hilda’s friends matched someone on Tinder who was only in the country on vacation. He left before they had a chance to meet but they kept in touch online for years. Now they’re married.
Still, this feels different. We match online because it’s easy, but we meet online because we have no other choice. And we don’t know how long it’ll be before that changes.
That’s not all bad for old-fashioned romantics. The post-pandemic shift to exclusively online dating has triggered a more traditional pace of courtship. Drunken one-night stands have been replaced by endless chats. It could be months before I even get a snog.
At least the small talk is still the same. She asks me what’s my job. I tell her I’m a journalist. And as a journalist, integrity is always my number one priority, so I tell Hilda about my idea to write about our liaison.
She’s cool with it, as long as gets to choose her codename and I don’t share any photos of her.
Here’s a picture of her telling me the rules:
In return, Hilda promises not to read this before we meet in person. Unfortunately, she already knows where I work, and must be tempted to break her promise. IF YOU’RE READING THIS HILDA, STOP NOW!
After a few days of Hinge messages, Hilda suggests we take this relationship to the next level: Whatsapp. And soon after that, we agree on a classic first date: A quiet drink. On Zoom. Not the most romantic setting, nor the most private. But at least it’s cheap.
What to wear on a digital date?
It’s our first quarantine date, and I want to look my best. But only from the waist up.
I put on my lucky green jumper and trim my beard down from a Tom Hanks in Castaway shrub to a Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan stubble.
Unlike Hanks, I (hopefully) don’t have the coronavirus yet, and shorn of my facial hair, my risk of catching it has declined. But the trim has also made me more vulnerable, deprived of the only mask I had.
All this prep means I’m running late. I open Zoom and click the link, and there she is.
It’s the first time I’ve heard her voice. I also finally have proof that she’s actually a human being. We have a glass of wine together and talk about our lives before and since the outbreak. She’s been getting into arts and crafts. I’ve been watching too much news and drinking.
She gives me a tour of her flat. I try to impress her with my beautiful plants, Kim, Kanye, Kylie, Kelly, and Magnus. The time goes fast but I start to worry she’s getting bored of me already, so I give her a quarantine excuse: I need to call my vulnerable mom before she goes to bed. It’s true, I promise. We say good night and part ways with the click of a mouse.
I think the date went pretty well. And I didn’t even need to put my pants on.
That’s not the only benefit. The screen adds a safety barrier. If there’s a lull in the conversation, you can Google something to talk about. And if you’re bored, you just open another browser window and read something more interesting. There’s also no risk of embarrassment at being stood up in public. And they can’t pour a pint of beer on your head when you piss them off, like my ex did. When it all goes wrong, all you need to do is hit the “end call” button.
There are also obvious downsides. You can’t go anywhere together. No cinema trips, meals in restaurants, long walks in the park or picnics. And of course, there’s no physical contact. The closest you can get is remote-controlled sex toys, which would have been a pretty bold suggestion for a first date.
The next day, I get another message from Hinge.
“Have you had a video or phone date with Hilda?”
“Is Hilda the type of person you’d like to get to know better?”
Yes, I think she is. In fact, the second virtual date is in the diary. I’ll let you know how it went next week, so stay tuned.