As coronavirus disrupts dating, you have options

Online dating expert Erika Ettin offers tips to navigate the new era.

ByErika Ettin via logo
March 20, 2020, 4:09 AM

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, a consulting company that helps people navigate the world of online dating. Services include profile creation, photo selection and photography, message writing, date planning and coaching. She is also a co-host of the popular dating podcast, "So, We Met Online."

As a dating coach who focuses on clients' online dating lives, it's been a particularly interesting time.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is no joke and what started as a handful of clients asking me what to do about their dating lives is now almost 100% of clients. Should they take a break from the dating apps? Stop meeting people in person? Ban the first-date hug or kiss? Schedule a FaceTime "date"?

A week ago, I would have told them -- in fact, I did tell people -- to do what they felt comfortable with, whether that meant going out to meet someone new or not. Now, every client has opted to cancel all upcoming in-person first dates, and I agree with that decision in order to "flatten the curve," as we've added to our lexicon in the last week.

There is no precedent -- I was recently on a Zoom call with 39 other matchmakers and dating coaches to brainstorm on what to suggest to our current clients and how the industry might change going forward.

The case for video (or phone) dates

Despite not actually going on physical dates, statistics show that when people are home more -- rain, snow, mandated telework? -- dating site usage goes way up. Why? What else is there to do other than mindlessly (though, I recommend still using discretion) swipe through Bumble or Tinder while using your last ply of toilet paper? Many people will not hold back on making connections online, even if those dates can't come to fruition quite yet.

As a side note, when chatting online, the topic of coronavirus will inevitably dominate conversations. While you can, and should, address the topic of the day/week/month, try to branch out and talk about yourselves a bit. Just like "How's your day going?" gets monotonous after a while, so does "How are you holding up?"

Here are a few reasons you may want to convert those chats into "dates," via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom (or Bumble, which actually has its own video technology):

1. No one wants to endlessly text with someone they don't know without the chance to "see" them in person.

2. It could actually be fun to date with a nice shirt on top and sweatpants on the bottom, both drinking your favorite beverage … and not having to worry about who pays!

3. It keeps the momentum up so you don't inadvertently forget about each other when the restrictions are finally lifted.

The case against video/phone dates (or putting dating on hold)

Remember that you can only learn so much from someone from a voice or even a video screen, and there is no substitute for in-person interactions.

I have always called excessive texting and phone calls "obstacles to the first date" because it's just one more hurdle you're putting in front of yourself that often decreases the chance of actually meeting in person. So, please keep in mind these pitfalls of the video chat:

1. Something you or the other person says might get misconstrued.

2. It's too easy to judge someone based on a characteristic that may not be important, like a vocal tic or a dead plant in the background. (And if you're doing a video call please, please, clean up your house!)

3. Someone drops the ball and doesn't call at the appointed time.

4. Either you or your date gets nervous -- understandably -- and talks too much. Or not enough. So, it's not representative of your in-person behavior.

5. Not everyone is good on the phone.

My recommendation? If this distancing period looks like it'll be a month or less, then I would put your dating life on ice for a bit. But if it continues to be uncertain, then it can't hurt to try these new tactics. Will they become the new normal? Who knows? But we need to adapt to the current situation.

Last week, Tinder sent a message to its users saying, "Tinder is a great place to meet new people. While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important." OkCupid also got in on the action, adding this question to their long list: "Does coronavirus affect your dating life?"

I bet if you answered this question with a "no" last Friday your answer would be the opposite this Friday. (Luckily, you can change your response to OkCupid questions once every 24 hours.) And Bumble, which I mentioned has its own video platform, says, "It's time to take connections digital. We're committed to powering safe and healthy virtual connections."

4 changes you can make today

In the meantime, you can still clean up your profile, keep your wits about you and continue the quest to put yourself out there, in whatever form that takes for you. As far as updating your profile, here are a few quick tips to get the ball rolling:

Use only five photos.

Less is more when it comes to photos. Don't give people the chance to dismiss you based on one photo they don't like. (Except on Hinge, where six photos are required unless you upgrade your membership.)

Don't be generic.

People would rather read that you like to eat Hawaiian pizza on Tuesdays (why?!) than simply that you like to go out to eat—the more specific, the better.

Be proactive.

The goal of online dating is to get offline. Don't collect matches and never write to them. Challenge yourself to try to turn as many matches into dates as you can -- when you can actually get out and date again.

Think outside the box.

Just because you're able to make selections based on height, level of education or a certain mile radius doesn't mean you have to. Try expanding your parameters -- you never know who you might meet.

With this disease spreading, no one knows what the future holds, for dating or for life's new normal. In the meantime, you can at least search, connect remotely and get prepared.

And if none of this sounds appealing to you, then take time for yourself over the next several weeks -- invest in the things that you love (even if that's a new series on Netflix), keep in touch with family and friends virtually, learn a new skill, whatever makes you happy. And then, when you are eventually ready to get back out there, you'll be armed with stories, maybe some more sleep and a more positive outlook on life.