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Finding Cupid Amid Coronavirus

IQ2US Staff
Wednesday, April 15, 2020

For some, finding a romantic partner is no walk in the park. But in this new digital age, especially in the time of physical isolation, do singles really need a park anyhow?

IQ2 alum Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and the chief scientific adviser to Match.com, and her colleague Amy Canaday, director of public relations and marketing at Match.com, shared some new data with the Intelligence Squared team. After surveying over 6,000 singles in the Match.com network last weekend, here are their biggest findings:

Other popular dating apps like Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid, and Tinder, are reporting a considerable increase in traffic and use, with many reporting over 20% increases in message rates since social distancing set in.

A lot has changed in the two years since we aired the debate “Swipe Left: Dating Apps Have Killed Romance.” To make sense of this new trend, Helen joined us with another IQ2 alum, sociologist and the co-author of “Modern Romance” Eric Klinenberg, to give us a fresh take on the unfolding dating apps debate.

When we did this debate in 2018, Eric argued “for” the motion, and Helen argued “against.” Let’s see if anyone has changed their mind:

IQ2: Let's talk about life after the pandemic… when we can all leave our homes again. Do you think "social distancing" will have a long-term impact on dating and how we approach romance? 

EK: “On the one hand it's great that we have these technologies to connect us to people virtually. Sheltering at home would be much more isolating and lonely if we didn't have all these new technologies for single people, especially people who are living alone. […] That said, I think the overriding experience most people are having now is that, while it's good to have these programs as a partial substitute, there's nothing that makes us want to be with each other face to face in real life more than being home all the time. A lot of people who have taken for granted all the ways in which we can be with each other in real life are now going to appreciate the fact that there's a bar, and a library, and a park and a movie theater and a set of physical places where instead of dating online we can just date in person.” […] I think we'll go back to the search for romance and we'll want to date because we always do. And, again, I think what we've all come to appreciate in these last few weeks is just how great it is to actually be able to be with each other, and how unsatisfying it ultimately is to be face to screen. And look, I'm enjoying the Zoom call as much as you are, but if I have one more Zoom meeting after this pandemic ... I mean it's time to get back to real life.”

HF: “It's a very, very good time to date for several reasons. First of all, it's available. I mean, there's so many dating sites, it's time to get on them and learn how to use it. And sex is off the table. Second thing that's off the table is money. Nobody has to decide, do we go to a cheap cafe do we go to an expensive bar? Do I offer to split the bill? Money is, it's gone, it's not part of it. Third, we you have time to date. I mean even if you're working at home, most people are not commuting to work. And I think another important thing is we've got something to talk about. It's a time for self-disclosure. […] Now people are talking about their fears, their hopes, their disappointments, what they were planning to do, what they hope to do. […] There may become now an intermediate step between meeting on the internet and going out. I think we will see fewer dates in person, because more people will decide they don't want to go on meeting in person. I think that singles will save more money and more time by the emergence of this intermediate step. And I think the first date will then become more and more important, because you've already had enough discussion, face to face on the internet to actually say ‘this could work.’”

IQ2: What do you think dating app platforms should be doing right now?  

EK: “The main thing from a public health perspective is that the dating sites have to tell people this is not the time for an interesting date. You do not want to walk across a shaky bridge, you do not want to go for martinis, you do not want to go to a monster truck rally, as fun as it might be, because this is a moment where you know you just need to stay at home, even if it's by yourself. So, you know, flirt away! Make plans for the moment when we can all be back together again. But don't go on an actual date. I mean, there's nothing that's less sexy than being within six feet of someone who's potentially the carrier of a virus that could kill you.”

HF: “Do supermarkets have a responsibility to tell you to eat your vegetables? [The dating app’s] job is to introduce people to people. Now if they can offer this advice, fine, but I really don't think that's their job. I think the job is that of the government, local newscasters, and other community organizers. […] I think we're going to start to have speakeasies. I don't think the human animal is going to do this for too long. We were not built for 24/7. I'm an anthropologist and in hunting and gathering societies, men would certainly go hunting all day, sometimes two or three days, and a woman might go and visit friends or relatives in another camp and not come back for two weeks. We were not built for 24/7, and I do think that people are going to cut corners. I wouldn't be at all surprised if those people who fall in love are among the first to cut corners. Because, what is romantic love? It's a drive, it's a drive to win life's greatest prize, which is a mating partner.”

IQ2: We're all social creatures. If you could give a piece of advice to our audience about how to maintain our mental and social health during this time, what would it be?

EK: “Just remember that this is going to pass, and that sometimes, you have to take a pause on things that you love doing. There are a lot of us who are suffering and feeling anxious and stressed right now. A lot of people who are losing loved ones, or whose own personal health is at risk. And there's not much that's less sexy than a lethal pandemic. The good news is, it's not going to last forever. We are going to get through it. […] We're all feeling anxious, we're all going to project our bad feelings. We're all going to get on each other's nerves. And if we can start being generous to each other at home, maybe we can scale that up into something much, much bigger and more significant in our collective life as well.”

HF: “There are three brain regions that become active in happy partnerships: the brain region with empathy, a brain region linked to controlling your own stress, and your own emotions, and a brain region linked with what we call positive illusions, or the ability to overlook what you don't like about somebody and focus on what you do. So, if I had one thing to say to people in this time, you're going to be around some people even if you're just on the internet with them. Express some empathy. Control your own stress your own emotions and overlook the negative and accentuate the positive. […] The bottom line is, this is an opportunity, an opportunity for singles. We'll get through it, and I think the bottom line to remember is that love’s never going to die. Love is primordial, it’s adaptable, and it's eternal.”

Do you think dating apps have killed romance? Be sure to check out the full debate “Swipe Left: Dating Apps Are Killing Romance” here.

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