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Earlier this week, 21-year-old Dubliner Chloe McDonnell tweeted a request to her fellow Tinderers: "Dear boys on Tinder, I don't want to talk about coronavirus. It's not a good conversation starter or an appropriate chat-up line." She shared one such pick-up line a guy sent her: "Have you got coronavirus? Because I can't stop looking achoo!"
"If I want to get to know a guy that's not what I want to be talking about," she said.
Still, it can be hard to talk about anything else but the pandemic these days — OkCupid found a 188% increase in coronavirus mentions on profiles between January and February alone. The spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has closed schools, conferences, major cultural institutions and sporting events.
And amid a rush on toilet paper and discussions of "social distancing," coronavirus isn't just a matter of conversation. Some daters are wary of even touching each other's hands, let alone getting more romantic.
I'm usually one to hug, but I'm probably not even going to handshake. Erin, Tinder user
"I'm usually one to hug, but I'm probably not even going to handshake," Erin, a 38-year-old from Northern California, told me. After taking a few months off from Tinder, her friend persuaded her to put it back on her phone over the weekend. Now, she's wondering what she's going to do if the prospect of an in-person date arises. "If I'm not even going to [hug or handshake] in an interaction, why would I then sit across the table from somebody?"
Denver-based 35-year-old Meagan travels, and has been letting matches know that up front.
"I think it's fair/ honest to let people know that I have been traveling so they can make informed decisions on who to meet," she said.
You might think that now, of all times, daters would be hesitant to fire up The Apps. Anxiety and extra precautions don't mean down times in the world of online dating, though. After all, if you're going to stay holed up in your house or apartment either from quarantine, a work-from-home policy, or just to be safe, you've got to find something to do. (Apparently Italians are flocking to Fortnite.)
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On Monday, OkCupid asked its daters if they're still willing to go out on dates, and 92% in the US said yes. (That compares with 45% in Italy — where it might be harder to do now that the country has closed up bars, restaurants and the like— and 71% in South Korea, where around a quarter of a million people have been tested since late January.) Overall, there's been a 7% increase in new conversations in the last week or so.
"Even for those who are not dating IRL and are instead staying home binging Netflix, they're still matching with people online," Michael Kaye, OkCupid's global communications manager, said.
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Likewise, dating app Coffee Meets Bagel reported its daily active users remain steady, and 2.3% of them are talking about coronavirus.
Over at the app Say Allo, founder Zackary Lewis has noticed a 350% increase in the use of the app's video date feature. And particularly in cities with new cases like New York, Denver and Los Angeles, the company has tracked large spikes following the announcements. In fact, when the numbers first surged, the Say Allo team thought the app was experiencing a cyberattack.
"As people are more fearful to fly, more fearful to go to big events, the world has to go on. People have to become more connective in nature, and video is just one way to do that," he said.
One platform is even creating new features to better help daters keep, well, dating.
Jewish online dating platform JWed, which focuses on marriage-minded folks, is rolling out its Virtual Dating Initiative this month. Beyond a video chat component, there will be a date scheduler, and more to come. CEO Ben Rabizadeh said JWed is trying to mimic real-life dates as best as it can as people get increasingly nervous about meeting up in person.
While being able to continue your dating life could be a benefit to queasy or quarantined daters out there, it could also help a platform like JWed keep up usage.
"We could be in an era of social distancing," Rabizadeh said. "I think it provides an opportunity for people to stay engaged and be able to date and move relationships forward because the opportunities to meet in person will be delayed. We just wanted to be ahead of the curve."
Even daters who are still willing to head out into an uncertain world are exercising some caution.
Andy, a 30-year-old in Louisville, will adjust his habits if the situation intensifies in the city. So far, there's only been one case reported in the county. If that changes, scaling back his online dating will be part of an effort to be out in public less, in general. And if that happens, he might just pause dating altogether.
"I might continue chatting on the apps, but would not make plans to meet up," he said, "I'm a bit of a Luddite for a millennial and I think I've only used FaceTime once and it was on accident."
Owen, a 28-year-old also from Louisville, said all the coronavirus talk has made him consider his health more broadly.
"I could be catching any kind of virus or other illness from a date who is, for all intents and purposes, a stranger," he said.
Searching for love, and a cure
As for Liz, a 29-year-old in New York City, she scheduled a date for Thursday evening. She's in favor of taking the usual precautions of washing her hands and not touching her face. Otherwise, she said, "someone's gotta patronize local businesses."
In uncertain, fast-changing times, maybe the one thing you can count on is daters to keep a sense of humor.
After sending about 30 women the same pickup line McDonnell in Dublin tweeted about, 27-year-old Louisville dentist Tommy said he was "immediately unmatched or met with harsh backlash." Just a few days later, he updated me to say the tables had turned: "Someone just asked me: 'If coronavirus doesn't take you out, can I?"
William, a 33-year-old architect in Atlanta, jokes that the coronavirus has him tuning into women who list working at the CDC's Atlanta headquarters in their profiles. "I'm trying to get a cure as soon as possible," he said, "so if they work there, they're getting a swipe right for sure."