Modern Love: Coronavirus is Changing Online Dating - Permanently

Dating is hard enough in the best of times. Throw in government directives like this, plus nationwide social distancing mandates, and a highly contagious virus for which there’s no cure or vaccine, and you would expect the search for love to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. But dating is thriving.

Singles across the country are turning to dating apps in record numbers.

The rules of online dating are also rapidly changing to adapt to this new climate. Zoom and FaceTime dates have fast become both the state-sanctioned — and the cool thing to do.

The best way to find love nowadays? Look online. Dating sites and apps have become one of the fastest growing places for singles to find a significant other. A study conducted by Stanford University and the University of New Mexico researchers shows 40% of couples meet online.

Before the pandemic, online dating fatigue was taking hold. Dating app downloads for the top 15 apps was shrinking globally, and research showed that all that swiping just made people lonelier.

The pandemic, at least by some metrics, has been great for business. reported that global online dating was up 82% during early March, for example.

To help users comply with social distancing rules, some companies are adapting their business models to cater to the new norms of dating while under quarantine.

The biology of “falling in love”

Romantic love, even in a virtual setting, can trigger the dopamine system.

“It’s a very primitive pathway, The basic little factory that pumps out the dopamine actually lies right next to factories that orchestrate thirst and hunger. Dopamine is what gives you that elation, the giddiness, euphoria, the sleeplessness, the loss of appetite, the focus, the motivation and the optimism of intense romantic love.”

- Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist

It’s not just the dopamine system at work, however, when we’re falling in love with somebody at a distance. Fisher said we’re picking up on all kinds of cues about who they are.

Just take facial symmetry. Lots of animals, including humans, are hardwired to find symmetry attractive because it’s seen as a sign of strong genes. We also look at what people are wearing, examine their body language and listen to voice tone, all to try to piece together who exactly we’re dealing with.

Another key ingredient of the initial stages of attraction that’s missing is oxytocin. It’s activated by touch, something you obviously aren’t able to do when you’re talking to somebody on Zoom.

This particular neurochemical is known as the “love hormone,” and it’s integral to forming an attachment to another human being.

Sociologists have long warned of the dangers of prolonged solitary confinement because of this very thing — touch isn’t just good for forming bonds with other people, it’s also physically good for you. Among other health benefits, it reduces stress.

But public health experts aren’t just worried about the fact that lots of us are experiencing a lack of physical intimacy. It’s actually the loneliness that can take a major toll on our well-being.

The future of dating

As states begin to relax quarantine guidelines, some think the rules for dating during a pandemic will stick.

Pre-pandemic, dating in cities like New York was really expensive. Virtual hangouts are saving singles in Manhattan hundreds of dollars, a trend that will likely continue as unemployment tops 38 million Americans. No money can also level the playing field.

COVID-19 has given way to a new stage in the courtship process.

Whether this leads to a wedding boom post quarantine remains to be seen. One thing that we can be sure of; the kind of physical intimacy we’re used to may be severely handicapped for at least a year or two.

Top White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Facui thinks we should never shake hands, ever again. People’s faces across the country are obscured by masks, and even after there’s a vaccine or a cure to coronavirus, some think we might all be socially conditioned to think twice before risking a kiss or even a hug with a relative stranger.