‘People have been using dating apps as a form of entertainment’: How the pandemic has changed the way we date

Many factors contribute to the increased activity on dating apps

MADISON, Wis. — The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everything in our lives, including the way we date.

Online dating apps have seen a surge in activity in the past few weeks.

A Tinder spokesperson said on March 29, more than 3 billion swipes were registered on the app, which is the most swipes on any single day in history. Its usership has increased 20% worldwide and said the average length of conversations have increased by 25%.

A Bumble spokesperson said their app has seen an 84% increase in voice and video calls and a 25% increase in the number of messages sent.

A Hinge spokesperson said nearly 70% of users have used its new “date from home” feature and are seeing a 30% increase in messages.

While many consider dating apps to be another method of forming romantic relationships, there are a lot of other reasons apps have seen a surge in users during the pandemic.

“People have been using dating apps as a form of entertainment,” said Brooke Wilczewski, a University of Wisconsin– Madison student and the campus director for Bumble.

She says as a cure for boredom, many have been using this time to “Play Bumble” or “Play Tinder”, which means swiping and seeing who matches with you on the app without any expectation of forming any sort of meaningful relationship. This new game that people are playing is also being used to entertain others through other social media platforms.

“That’s a trend a lot of people have been doing right now as well is messaging lyrics to a song and see if their matches continue it in a bid to try to get fame on TikTok. It’s is hilarious because every single one of those videos does end up going viral,” Wilczewski said.

Associate professor of communication science at UW Madison Catalina Toma said this new use of dating apps is “fascinating.”

“We are actually working on a research project on people’s propensity to play games during COVID,” Toma said.

Toma said she has been observing how people are communicating during the pandemic and was highly interested to learn more about the online dating world as a method of communication to form bonds and relationships, even if they weren’t romantic.

Toma said the apps are now being used to curb loneliness, make friends and validate someone’s desire to feel wanted. Toma has also been following research that has found that divorce rates and domestic violence are also on the rise right now and finds that the people in those situations are also contributing to the surge in online dating app usership.

“This could be a driver of some individuals going to online dating sites as well. In case my partner completely drives me crazy and I want to leave them,” Toma said.

Toma has also been looking into the research behind how much time people should date online before meeting in person.

“You want to spend enough time online to get to know each other to get over the deal breakers. Do we have things to talk about? Does communication flow? But you don’t want to spend so much time that you start projecting in your head an idealized image of your partner,” Toma said.

Toma has found that users should spend anywhere from two to three weeks online before meeting in person. Toma said too little time leads to a relationship focused more on physical intimacy. But, too much time causes our minds to fill in the blanks of what this person may be like in certain situations, and then, when we finally get to meet them in person, if they turn out to not be like we imagined, we are disappointed.

However, Toma acknowledges that we are in a unique situation right now where we aren’t allowed to meet up in person for a long time, which could also lead to interesting and unexplored potential of what an in-person date will be like when we are allowed to leave our homes again.

With users now relying on digital dates, Wilczewski said this may actually be a good thing for those looking for meaningful relationships.

“This is really, really incredible for dating because what we’ve seen in hookup culture and what some of the frustration has been is there doesn’t seem to be real need for these truly emotionally intimate connections rather than just physically intimate.”

Wilczewski said being forced into long-term digital dates can push our minds to get to know someone and connect on an emotional basis first rather than connect after physical intimacy has already happened.

“Social distancing can almost provide people with the opportunity to remove their BS filter and be like, ‘I’m just going to be me and if someone likes me that’s fine. If someone doesn’t like me that’s fine. I can always swipe and go on to the next’,” Wilczewski said.  “I think that that almost provides an increased opportunity for people to truly represent themselves in the way that they want to be seen on these dating apps because they actually have nothing to lose.”

Whether dating from home will continue as a trend past quarantine, we will just have to wait and see.

“I hope it does,” Wilczewski said. “I can’t say it ultimately will or won’t but I think it provides a great opportunity for it to do so.”

Toma said when we are allowed to leave our homes again, people may be longing for that in-person connection again but doesn’t rule out the chance of digital dating could pick back up again.