Gen Z have long been at the forefront of the dating app revolution. They have been using Bumble, Tinder, Hinge and the like for years, while non-social generations looked on in horror. But, when a global pandemic forced the world to shut down and we found ourselves staring at the same four walls for months on end, the old school daters suddenly realised the advantages of dating apps. Technology rapidly became our only way to connect. The gradual changes we had already seen in dating apps amongst Gen Z suddenly accelerated to accommodate this new way of living and socialising for everyone.
We are a society of individuals that thrive off connections with others, but out of nowhere, we were no longer allowed to socialise with large groups of people or go for after-work drinks with colleagues. We saw a reduction in our social circles as forging connections with new people became increasingly harder as the pandemic dragged on. So we stopped, reflected and turned both inwards, and to a life online.
In March, dating apps reported a surge of new members to their sites, with Tinder reporting 3 billion swipes worldwide on Sunday 29 March, the most the app has ever recorded in a single day. People wanted and needed to connect, interact and meet new people, to feel there was a way out of isolation, and to have new stories to learn and tell.
These apps became a positive and practical option for those who felt isolated. It’s no secret that there is a loneliness crisis among Gen Z and Millennials. 79% and 71% respectively (and those are pre-pandemic stats) stated that they felt alone. Covid-19 quickly exacerbated this issue but thankfully dating apps became more exciting and more varied for those who used them. People who had previously resisted the apps became first time users, with a rough average of 20% growth across all dating apps. And this new wave of lonely singletons added plenty of fresh faces to the dating pool and new experiences to share with others online.
Today, there are dating apps for everyone. From the most well-known – Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Grindr, Match.com to the more specialised – BLK for Black singles, Chispa for Latino people or Upward aimed at Christian community. There is even one for those who have been privately educated, called Toffee. Some capitalized on the pandemic, as demonstrated by Daniel Ahmadizadeh, CEO of Quarantine Together, an app that reminds you to wash your hands and once you have done so connects you with someone for a virtual date that evening. The list is endless. Truly endless.
This increase in options, along with the rising numbers of people signing up, helped decrease the taboo and stigma that dating apps had carried for so long. Whereas once dating apps were seen as a last resort, now they are a viable choice for singletons, with many stories to give evidence for their success. People are able to filter their dating pool from the word go and in a matter of minutes could find themselves talking with ‘The One’. Today 22% of marriages are from couples who first met online.
With all this time to stop and think, people longed for intimacy and physical touch – speed-swiping through images of potential matches was no longer satisfying. Zalando released a thought-provoking and warming campaign called #WeWillHugAgain illustrating that ‘Hugs are hope, because the best hugs are the ones we haven’t had yet’. It has made us recognise the need we have for each other, and reduced the shame around wanting to feel connected. Commitment stopped being a phobia and started being a necessity. In a world of total uncertainty and growing feelings of hopelessness, we wanted to have something to look forward to, to hold onto. In short – some certainty.
Having a date booked in for the evening has always been something exciting. However, this was no longer a traditional, meet-at-the-pub-for-a-drink kind of date, because like everything else in this new world of social distancing, they had to be virtual. Thankfully they were still something to look forward to. It broke the monotony of working from home, giving you a reason to get dressed up and an activity to fill the seemingly endless free time.
Dating app members were now looking for something more concrete, a deeper connection and started taking their time on dating apps more seriously. Virtual dates were now the new norm. Bumble reported seeing a 42% increase of users choosing to make in-app video calls since mid-March, while Hinge found 64% of its users had been on a virtual date during lockdown. And in fact, people preferred it. With more time spent getting to know someone virtually, there was a rise in relationships rather than just hookups. To be able to meet someone online first, from the comfort of your sofa and not spend crazy amounts on drinks, dinner, the date ‘activity’ and the taxi ride home. It’s a cheap and productive solution that adhered to the rules of social distancing. And a great way to meet someone new!
Bumble seemed to have grasped the realities of this new dating era. They have launched some great campaigns to recognise that it has not been the year we expected but that we should not lose faith in the milieu of love. From their ad titled ‘Time to Connect’, reflecting on what is important to us to their ad with Helena Bonham-Carter ‘When Dating Met 2020’ – a personal favourite. Its relatable narrative casts an optimistic view of the future of dating, albeit if right now it feels like a lost cause.
Match.com took a slightly different approach with their comedic ad ‘A Match Made in Hell’, depicting Satan going on a date with 2020. This campaign makes fun of the overwhelming year we have had and ends on the tagline ‘Make 2021 your year.’ Dating apps have shown that they understand the actualities of dating in a global pandemic and shine a positive light on the benefits of looking for love online.
These dating apps seem to have answers for other issues that have arisen too, making them ever more useful and enticing. For young people moving out of the metropolis and back to their parents, their dating apps quickly becomes a who’s who of ‘people I went to school with 15 years ago’. Thankfully apps like Hinge and Tinder offer a ‘passport’ option, with which you can change your location entirely and in doing so hopefully reduce the risk of finding your Year 6 crush. Take yourself off to Paris and use lockdown to practice French with a native. You might even find yourself on the Eurostar on a celebratory holiday to mark the end of this challenging time.
The question remains – what is the landscape of online dating going to look like post pandemic? It seems the virtual first dates are here to stay but with the difference that people will go into it with a clear idea of what they want. So here’s hoping people are kinder and that we may all find someone to waste away the hours with.