Dating in the virtual world: What changes

5 minute
Dating during the pandemic


Dating - the ever perplexing, “revealing labour of love” - too, has changed so much over the past few years. But these last couple of months have led singles to bank upon more different and novel routes to search for potential partners


Even before COVID-19 existed in our lives, dating apps made it easier to find a match by eliminating ones that didn't seem fit with the option of what the Gen Z so very fondly calls “swipe left”. How we interact with people has changed significantly over the last decade and it seems as though the evolution of dating has needed a boost now more than ever. With more time on our hands to explore new relationships and a lack of adequate means for doing so, the pandemic sure has left singles (looking to mingle), brand new lovers and long-time sweethearts in a bit of a pickle. What classifies as a “date” in corona times has taken a massive turn. The pandemic may end, but is the shift here to stay? 

How has COVID changed the dating game?

online dating

Like everything else, dating - the ever perplexing, “revealing labour of love” - too, has changed so much over the past few years. But these last couple of months have led singles to bank upon more different and novel routes to search for potential partners: 

video chat

Video Chats To The Rescue

One massive change in the world of virtual dating has been video calls replacing cafeteria dates. In a way, it’s great to get to know someone without the “what to order” and “who gets the cheque” hassle. You don't have to spend hours deciding what to wear, or where to meet, and everyone’s worst nightmare - dealing with city traffic to actually get to your date on time. A study conducted showed that before Covid-19, only 6 percent of single people used video chat to court. Now, 69 percent are open to video chatting with a potential partner, and one-third of them already had someone with whom they’d like to talk - via video! 

There are some not-so-obvious advantages to start seeing someone (as a potential partner) on video chatting platforms like zoom or facetime. During this period where the world seems to have paused, it is likely that you don’t look your best-self - maybe you couldn’t get a haircut as you would in an ideal scenario - for whatever reason, it’s simpler to evaluate someone's background and interests while they’re in their natural habitat. Personalities aren’t based on what one’s food preferences are and this leaves more room for some real talk. 

Sex Is (Obviously) Out

Two (rather insignificant) first-date elements are out of the picture with this pandemic. In a world where people are likely to hook up even before their first “real date”, sex is now completely out of the frame. So at least with the discomfort of “should I make a move?” gone, partners can now focus on other interesting ways to keep each other company. Talking about sex itself seems to reveal a whole lot about people’s perspectives on the subject. This gives people more room to get comfortable in a later encounter and less space for the walk of shame scenario. 

Along with sex, money talk seems to be off the table too. On the first date at a restaurant, singles always find themselves negotiating when the cheque arrives. But with in-person dates canceled, there's no more of that awkwardness deciding what place to pick either. Is a cafe too basic? Are the drinks at this bar too expensive? With corona in the picture, money negotiations are now history. 

More Time to Talk

With the world being in lockdown, people seem to have more time on their hands, now more than ever. Dressing up in the morning, commuting to work or late meetings are all events of the past. What does this leave you with? Time. Time to engage. Time to introspect. Most importantly, time to talk. You’ll find that the change worldwide has also left small talk at bay. Singles seem to be communicating far more meaningful and relevant thoughts, even on social media - about fear, dreams and hope. Psychologists say that self-disclosure or the process of revealing one’s innermost feelings, experiences and attitudes  - is what prompts intimacy and commitment. They are the foundation blocks of a sturdy relationship. 

Time For Slow Love

One of the nicer pay-offs of this current situation is the extension of the “getting to know one another” phase. In previous decades, marriages were the beginning of a relationship. Today, a marriage is a ceremony celebrating an already existing romance. Many prefer to date their partners before getting married. And this pandemic has caused the same trend to be fueled. The thing is, from an evolutionary perspective, our brains are soft-wired to get attached to a partner slowly. Research of the human brain has shown that men and women who have been in love for 18 months or lesser show activity in regions associated with “intense romantic passion” whereas couples who have been in love for more than 2 years showed activity in an additional brain region that is associated with bonding and attachment - which according to most, trumps intense passion in a long-term relationship.

The bottom line is, romantic love and passion can be triggered fast, but feelings of a deeper attachment take longer to develop. And thanks to the lockdown, an extended courtship period has given rise to a much needed “slow love” trend.

Path To An Enduring Marriage

A study of 3000 couples, found that those who dated for less than a year before marriage were 20% more likely to end in divorce than those who dated for at least one or two years before wedlock. And couples who dated for over 3 years before marrying were the least likely to break up. 

The coronavirus has seemingly delayed matrimony and this gives couples who are engaged a longer period to date. 

Before the coronavirus, many of us abused new technologies of online dating. Time and again, singles have dizzily tapped, clicked, binged and swiped - all in an attempt to seek the right partner. But in reality, the human brain isn’t built to handle that many choices.

For decades now, researchers have deeply studied the way we choose our partners. It has been found that after being offered six options, we burn out - something known as cognitive overload or paradox of choice. Other research on the subject notes that our short-term memory system cannot embrace more than 5 to 9 stimuli at once. But all of them agree that when we’re faced with too many alternatives, we end up choosing none.

So after conversing with nine people who you assume might be appropriate - it is advised to stop your scouting and get to know at least one of them better. The more you get to know someone, the more likely it is for you to like them. 

On a very unrelated note: Think of reasons to say “yes.” We’ve evolved to have a brain region linked with what neuroscientists call “the negativity bias.” We are programmed to remember the negatives - a response that was adaptive across our human past, as it is today. So try and overlook that he’s a meat-lover and you’re a vegan or he likes cats and you’re a dog person. Focus on what you do like about him/her. Defy the negativity bias and focus on the positives.

It is certain that a lot of people will get back to meeting in-person when the pandemic subsides. We’re homo sapiens. We’re built to intensify relationships face to face. But today, more and more singles prefer video chatting before they actually meet in person. A new stage altogether in the “courtship process” is flourishing -  saving individuals time and money as well as enabling several to kiss fewer frogs. As odd as it may seem, this pandemic may actually lead to happier and more enduring partnerships in a post-corona age.

Fun facts about the Evolution of Dating

Dating as we know it, hasn’t always been this way. But of course, you already knew that. A normal dating ritual would probably be considered really scandalous even a couple of decades ago. Here are some fun facts about dating that you’ve probably never heard of before: 

  1. In the 1900s, Dating could be considered a felony

At the turn of the 19th century, dating was still a very novel concept and law enforcement wasn't sure what to make of it but it was still looked down upon as a sleazy act, nonetheless. Two strangers meeting in public, the man buying the woman drinks, food and even gifts - was all veritable prostitution in the eyes of the authorities, and women would be arrested for it.

  1. It wasn’t always called Dating

Fun fact: The word “date” in the content of a relationship was first used back in 1896 in a newspaper where a young man expresses grief about his girlfriend seeing other people besides him. He explains how they were “filling all his dates” - as in the dates on her calendar, which then went on to popularise as the “date” we all know of today.

  1. Wearing makeup might have emerged as a result of Dating(?)

Before the 1900s, the only women who “painted their faces” were actors and prostitutes. A natural look was considered to be a demonstration of “clean and decent living”. Later, the cosmetic industry rebranded themselves and portrayed make-up to be more mainstream - something that set an admirable goal and expressed femininity.

4. Dating went from meaning “Saving” to “Spending” real quick

Before dating was a thing, "courtship" was conducted with the one goal of marriage. It was almost always a family affair, as “callers” meant heirs and property. The newly established dating industry, however, had other (rather different) goals in mind. Marriages would actually cause damage to earnings. Why? Because marriages meant dating people first and dating meant spending money to meet a prospective partner. Those Starbucks coffees don't come cheap now, do they?

5.18th-Century parents allowed serious couples to fool around

Societal norms before the 20th century weren't as rigid as you might assume. In most countries like the USA, a tradition gave “courting” (in today’s context, dating) couples the permission to engage in sexual behaviour as long as they didn’t have sex. Young couples were allowed to sleep in the same bed, provided they were each tarried into cloth sacks. Benjamin Franklin describes how the parents of his first marriage prospect had encouraged him to fool around with their daughter. They would invite him over and leave them both alone in the parlour. Versions of this winking permissiveness toward serious couples seemed to continue through the Era. And you thought your parents were cool to allow you for that one sleepover that one time. (well, oops)

The Future of Dating

If you’re worried that human beings are ensnared by a virtual world today, and pay little attention to intimacy, you better hold tight because you sure as hell aren’t ready for what lies ahead. 

What does the future look like?

dating apps

Computer-generated (But better)

You can find all sorts of online dating platforms on the internet today. All you’ve got to do is fill a detailed application and voila! The internet starts scouting for a potential partner for you. While the process may not seem difficult, it is still quite impersonal. In the future, many special algorithms will exist to analyze your preferences (in-depth), scan your pictures on social media, and even consider all the people you interact with to create a curated list of perfect potential partners for you. This would change the dating game entirely by making the whole process less tiring and more personal, taking the concept of matchmaking to a whole other level. Some experts predict that 50% of relationships in the future will begin with online dating. The whole “bumping into the one by an act of faith” is now on its way to being a silly idea of the past. 

The Reign of Augmented and Virtual Reality

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re caught completely off guard in a conversation and simply don’t know how to respond? You can’t quite ascertain what your partner is hinting at but you wish you could? We all have. It is these moments that you won't have to worry about in the future. Companies like Google and Apple are currently working on devices like glasses and contact lenses that will bring augmented reality to change the way we interact with people and build relationships. There will exist plenty of hints to guide you to have a smoother conversation with your partner. 

Full sensory virtual reality too, is something that researchers have been exploring today. You don't have to leave your bed to go on a date - this could literally fix the current situation of “dating in quarantine”. You would be able to digitally simulate feelings or emotions and transmit them using special VR devices. This would save single folks a whole lot of time and energy by helping them find like-minded people in the most efficient ways. It might sound absurd now, but then again, people from the 19th century would have considered our modern-day dating insane too. 

DNA and Microbial Matchmaking 

The developments in medicine is another contributor to change the looks of family and relationship planning. Not only would people be able to select different donors from a sperm bank, but they are also likely to have full access to the medical history records of a person. Basically, if you’re going on a date with someone, you would not only be stalking him on social media for a background check, you’d also be able to assess if his family has a history of diabetes. (or any other disease, really) 

What's more? Medical experts will step in as your dating advisors and do most of the match-making instead of relationship gurus. With the help of thorough DNA analysis, at least one thing is certain - the possibility of a child with perfectly combined genes. Now, who wouldn’t want that, right? 

Robots as Life Partners 

There are a lot of singles out there who are disappointed with their love life and refuse to go through the breakup drama over and over again. As much as most of us would like a perfect relationship straight out of our favourite rom coms, it is in our nature to sometimes let our feelings get the best of us. Many would prefer to live in an imaginary world with a lifelike robot or silicone doll. (Fact: this is already a common practice in Japan). While all of this may seem like an episode from The Black Mirror, experts predict that people will actually start to live (and fall in love with!) robots in less than a few decades. The first robot with feelings was launched not so long ago, so it’s only a matter of time before a majority of single people start to prefer a “robot romance” instead of the real deal. 

Does this change scare or excite you? 

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