Swiping right on virtual dating

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

How the pandemic has popularized Tinder use 

Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

Without the usual social scenes at Canoe Club or the Sticky Wicket in Victoria, it can be hard to create opportunities to meet new people. The pandemic has encouraged a whole new wave of dating app users, and changed the stigma of using apps like Tinder in hopes of meeting a real catch. With first dates on Zoom and bios declaring vaccination status, the world of virtual dating has seen a significant change of pace.  

An article in Psychology Today explains that, in 2014, the majority of people thought of online dating as a desperate, last resort effort to meet someone, or assumed online relationships were always doomed to fail. However, dating apps like Tinder have forged a new path for online dating. Tinder launched in 2012 and has grown to a user base of 9.6 million users in 2021, proving an exponential increase in popularity. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a whole variety of social changes and restrictions which must be navigated. Among these changes come new ways to approach the ever-challenging dating scene. If it wasn’t difficult enough to meet people when we could attend clubs and events, the stay-at-home orders and limitations to social gatherings have only increased these challenges.

Instead of going out and socializing with new people over dancing and drinks, restrictions have caused many of us to turn to new methods of meeting people we might not have otherwise pursued. 

While Tinder and other dating apps have long since been popular among young people for low-stakes, casual dating, as well as getting to flirt with new people, an increase in the normalization of using dating apps has increased as the pandemic continues and changes.

Tinder users matched 42 per cent more and conversations were 32 per cent longer than before the pandemic began. The official Tinder pressroom explains the role Tinder has played in bringing attention to the pandemic, and encouraging vaccinations in Gen Zs. Tinder users can display stickers on their profiles to show other users their vaccination status.

The CEO of Tinder, Jim Lanzone, believes there has been a distinct shift in people’s motives on dating apps since the beginning of the pandemic. While people used to ‘swipe’ to find people to meet up with, the new normal shifted towards looking for people to connect with and get to know online, instead of meeting with them in person.

In an article from BBC, Lanzone was quoted explaining the prolonged period of online “talking” that has come to precede an in-person relationship. “As we know from the past 15 to 18 months, people have really leaned in to getting to know people virtually, even having relationships virtually, before they take those relationships offline.” 

At the beginning of the pandemic, back in 2020, the idea of physically exposing yourself to someone new unnecessarily felt terrifying for many. Therefore, many of us engaged in various ways of virtual dating: connecting with someone for a Zoom date to see if the person was actually worth pursuing before meeting up in person, or texting someone for four months only to meet up with them and decide you don’t actually like them at all. Mentions of “video call” in Tinder biographies increased globally by 52 per cent according to the Tinder Newsroom, suggesting a substantial increase in users’ interest in virtual dating.

While it’s safe to say virtual dates are kind of awkward and uncomfortable, they certainly helped weed out the potentials who were just not worth risking exposure to the virus. Sometimes you engage in Zoom drinks with a potential partner who gets belligerently drunk on the first date, and it’s clear that they might not be “The One.” 

As current restrictions limit personal gatherings to ten people or one other household, there is a challenge to be found in the idea of meeting new people. Or at the very least, you might be attracted to that one photo of them with their friends, but you’re not 100 per cent sure — they might actually be the less cute friend. But there no longer seems to be any shame or desperation associated with taking part in a little bit of swiping to see who’s out there.

While it might feel a little shallow to decide you’re interested in pursuing someone by looking at a photo of them and seeing what their favourite song is on Spotify, sometimes a Tinder profile can be incredibly telling. And who knows? Maybe all you need is a picture of them holding a fish to know that they’re your soulmate.