I Did a Virtual Dating Event While Quarantining. This Is What It Was Like.
As the coronavirus pandemic sends the country into lockdown, virtual speed dating may be the new norm.
If you'd told me just a week ago that I would be telling my yoga instructor, via Zoom, that I had to "run off" from our online class because I was late to a virtual dating event, I would have said you'd seen too many dystopian movies. But that's where we are. New York City—where I live—isn't sheltering in place just yet, but large gatherings have been canceled, shops and restaurants have shuttered, and we've all been urged to maintain social distance and stay home for the foreseeable future.
When you can't leave your house, that puts a serious damper on your ability to socialize and with it, your dating life. Of course, that's not the biggest concern during a global pandemic. But human interaction plays a major role in our mental health. Enter virtual dating events, courtesy of the dating company Here/Now (formerly known as Perchance).
"Humans are social creatures and, during a time of physical isolation, we feel like it is our duty to help bring people together, feel a sense of connection, and keep up their dating lives," says Lyndsey Wheeler, the company's co-founder. "In-person experiences are the best way to connect with others and spark relationships, but we also realize there are intentional ways to design virtual experiences that help people connect more deeply than just a normal FaceTime call."
I first heard of Here/Now when I attended one of their "live dating mixers" in October. At the time, the company was trying to "take dating offline" by getting people off apps and back to the thrill of meeting someone in person. Now, they've changed their mission to hosting "virtual dating events" due to coronavirus.
The concept is simple. A curated group of 10 singles log on for a Zoom call at a set time and are given questions such as "What were you like as a child?" "What's your superpower?" and "What special feature would your home have?" Then, the daters are paired with each fellow single to discuss the questions one-on-one for a few minutes. When it's time to get back to the main session, a message pops up saying the daters have 60 seconds left to chat. (One of my "dates" and I joked that it seemed like a warning that the computer was about to self-destruct.)
Back in the main session, we briefly recapped the highlights while dance music played in the background. At first, it felt a little weird to laugh and bop to NSYNC at a time like this, but, then again, why not? Practicing good hygiene and social distancing help slow the spread of coronavirus, but being negative and miserable does not.
Of course, a "virtual dating event" can't replicate the chemistry of reacting to someone's smell, or the romance of locking eyes or almost touching hands. But it does have its own upsides. For once, you can see what you actually look like on the date. Of course, I optimized the lighting and the angle for my physical appearance. (I couldn't help but notice that I really should follow my doctor's advice and get some B-12 vitamins because the skin under my eyes looked like craters.) And seeing yourself in the corner of your screen can really make you more mindful of some of your hand gestures and body language. (Turns out that exaggerated frowny face thing that I do is not as cute as I thought.) Side note: If you're brave, you should try eating while virtual dating. That's a real reality check.
As with the in-person mixers from Here/Now, at the end of the virtual dating event, the singles get a survey privately sent to them where they can indicate if they vibed with someone on a "romantic" or "friendly" level, and, if that person feels the same way, they're matched up and can take it away. Even though I didn't necessarily feel a "spark" with anyone, it was really nice to just connect with strangers, to feel a sense of camaraderie in these uncertain times. The organizers urged us not to discuss the quarantine or the pandemic, but it was a hard topic to avoid. But even when it came up, we managed to keep it light. Frankly, it made it feel like we were all in this together and everything was going to be OK.
"The quarantine is a chance for singles to try out a different type of dating that requires spending more time getting to know each other on a deeper emotional level before jumping to anything physical," Wheeler said. "At the end of this, we could see people actually incorporating this more mindful approach into their normal dating life."
Wheeler said that these virtual dating events are in high demand, which makes sense. People are looking for ways to stay connected, like the new Netflix Party extension that allows you to group chat while watching a show or movie on Netflix in sync with friends and family.
Maybe now that the option of in-person socializing has been taken away from us, we're realizing how important it really is. Perhaps we'll go from being people who tend to sit in the same room together not interacting to being people who don't sit in the same room together but actually interact.
One thing's for sure: I had started my day off feeling anxious and lonely and—between the dating event and my online yoga class—I went to bed feeling fulfilled and eager to be alone. In the time of self-quarantining, that in itself is a something to celebrate.