By Robyn Exton

How’s your love life been this year? As we all struggle through 2020 (let’s call it a…unique year), one of the biggest changes in our day-to-day lives is how we connect with each other. The COVID-19 outbreak has completely changed how we physically interact with one another, and with every person a potential carrier for a global pandemic virus, casual hookups are basically off the table. Even going out for drinks comes with its own set of risks—is a “normal” date really worth it?

As CEO of the queer dating app HER, we’ve noticed a fascinating new trend: in areas with clear shelter-in-place mandates, our users have dramatically increased their messaging.

Daily messages sent after regional lockdown increased 20% in California. 12% in New York. 15% in all of Germany. Compare that to Sweden, where there’s no official shelter-in-place or lockdown, and we’ve only seen a 2% increase in daily messages. What does it mean? This change marks a clear, data-backed shift in how we’re dating in the age of COVID-19, especially before meeting up in person. On top of COVID, new conversations on civil rights and ethics have been prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement and upcoming election. And when things change, it’s time to adapt. 

Here’s everything you need to survive online dating in a COVID-19 world.

1. Refresh Your Profile

We’re in a new world, so it’s time to make a new first impression! Use your extra free time to craft the perfect selfie—and make it the best damn selfie you’ve ever taken! Update your profile to mention your new COVID hobbies and reflect what life is like right now—your love for music festivals is not a relevant touchstone (although we will see you at Dinah 2021 ), but your new sourdough obsession and gardening experiments definitely are. Plus, you’ve been using ZOOM for work and social outings (if you can call them that)—let people know that you’re down for video dates so they know you’re ready to connect, even if it’s just through Facetime(trust me, it can still be plenty of fun).

2. Master the art of the convo

Love it or hate it, we’re dating in DMs right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. Slowing down the physical relationship in favor of ramping up deep conversation can be rewarding, and offer clarity. What are your wants, needs, and expectations in a relationship? How do you like to talk with a potential partner? This is a great time to not only set expectations, but to bond over similar interests. What’s your love language, what kind of communication style are you looking for in a partner? Don’t be afraid to go deep. In longer conversations, you’ve got time on your hands. No need to rush.

3. The new world of dating formats

Dating isn’t going to the theater or grabbing drinks right now—it’s… something else. Group video speed dating is on the rise, and as it turns out, online events are great places to meet people. HER hosts everything from movie nights to Q&A sessions with sex therapists and we’ve seen people get creative: when someone catches your eye in a video chat, slide into those DMs. Don’t be bashful. Striking up a conversation now can lead to meeting up later if things click. It seems counterintuitive, but social distancing can actually widen your dating pool if you’re open to the new opportunities.

4. Spread your wings

Speaking of widening the dating pool, have you noticed that every dating app has travel features? Are you utilizing them? While designed for when you’re in another city looking for someone to grab dinner with (and maybe more?), video dates work no matter where you are. Widen the dating pool—since you’re less likely to meet in person for a while, try to meet new people, even if they’re not nearby. Doesn’t every queer pine for a long distance love story? And since you’ll be ZOOM-dating a lot, don’t forget to clean up your look, set up decent lighting, and explore new ways to feel connected over video.

5. Be safe

Of course, it’s important to stay safe, even when you’re dating over distance. A lot of this comes down to communicating your needs clearly. Don’t be afraid to ask about your date’s mask etiquette and COVID precautions before a first date. If you’re thinking about getting physical and puckering up, don’t be embarrassed to ask about their dating habits. The safe dating chat is now like the safe sex chat, best to set clear agreements and expectations with each other.  We’ve seen folks whose values align and stay safe by meeting at a local protest, where they’re in public, can get that “in-person” date experience, and hopefully work to shift the world a little bit. 

Use COVID-time to set expectations for what you personally want out of a relationship right now. Is it something physical? Something long-term? Something text-based and emotional? Long distance, but make it sexy? We’ve broken a lot of norms around dating, use this momentum to figure out which norms you want to keep, or what you’d like to introduce into your dating life that you haven’t considered before. As you and your partner(s) change, so does the world around us. Check in with yourself and others. What do you really want and how can you make sure your partners meet those expectations? (Hint: it’s by being honest with yourself and them). Dating may be strange right now, but it’s never been busier on the apps so take advantage of all these new folks looking for a connection as well.

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