People emerging from romantic hibernation are discovering their flirting skills are out of practice and new protocols are murky; ‘I forgot how to talk to a waiter’
By Anne Marie Chaker
June 22, 2021 11:58 am ET
After putting her love life on hold during the pandemic, Emma Maxwell recently started dating again. She discovered her small-talk skills were rusty. “I’ve had at least four different conversations about cicadas,” says the 24-year- old in Washington, D.C. And ordering food was awkward: “I forgot how to talk to a waiter,” she says.
Navigating romance amid changing mask etiquette has also been tricky. Would-be mates often arrive with masks, then take them off to eat. “It’s kind of a big reveal,” Ms. Maxwell says. After dinner, she carries her mask around waiting to see whether the other person puts his back on. She fumbled recently trying to put hers on at the bus stop and say goodbye to her date. “It makes it a lot harder to figure out whether to kiss at the end of the date, put a mask on, and what order is least weird to do that in,” she says.
As vaccination rates increase, bars and restaurants reopen, and Covid rules relax, many single people are eager to start dating in person again. But people emerging from romantic hibernation are discovering their flirting skills are out of practice, the new protocols are murky and already-awkward rituals have even more ways to go wrong.
Dating app Bumble Inc. says that 90% of its users report they are ready to date in real life again. From April to May, conversations on OkCupid increased 17.5%, while matches—two members who indicate liking one another—rose more than 15%, the company says. On Tinder, “swipe activity” to browse potential matches rose 15% this February compared with the year-earlier month, according to its most recently released data.
But even among people ready to date in person, there is uncertainty about what that involves. Bumble says 41% of those ready to date in person again still prefer it to be socially distanced, based on research from earlier this month. And more than half of daters say they are taking longer before deciding to meet in person.
At the height of the pandemic, courtship took on new forms—or stopped entirely. Dating service It’s Just Lunch (Andrea McGinty is the Founder of It's Just Lunch but now runs 33000Dates.com, assisting singles worldwide with online dating consulting) says 67% of its members decided not to date during the height of the pandemic. People took things slower, dating-app executives said, using video and text messaging to get to know one another before meeting up. Match’s text messages went up about one-third in 2020, though it is unclear how many in-person dates actually happened, according to the brand’s CEO Hesam Hosseini.
Now, dating apps are eager to help singles find mates whose Covid attitudes match their own. Bumble offers users a “Covid Preferences Center,” allowing them to specify whether they prefer to date virtually or “IRL” for the first date. Bumble, along with Match, Tinder, OkCupid and others have recently launched stickers and badges which members can add to their profile to display their vaccine status. Vaccinated users typically get perks that help boost their visibility to potential matches.
“It’s like riding a bike: If you haven’t done it in a long time, you feel a little out of practice,” says Melissa Hobley, global chief marketing officer at OkCupid. She says 84% of daters are looking for a serious partner and that 27% of those say that the pandemic influenced that sentiment, according to OkCupid research from this spring.
“People feel apprehensive and a little nervous,” she says, “but also very motivated.”
Andrea McGinty is the Founder of 33000Dates.com which provides an online dating strategy for singles by writing dating profiles and acting as a professional online dating consultant nationwide. With over 25 years of dating consulting experience and more than 5,000 marriages, Oprah and The Wall Street Journal consider the premiere dating expert in the US.