While folks wereand yeast packets as cities and states started to go into coronavirus lockdown, dating platform Match was stocking up on experts.
Asspread, dating -- just like everything else -- was about to get weird. Or at least weirder than usual.
So in late March, the more-than-20-year-old company launched a hotline, staffed with dating experts, to field Match users' questions and concerns about dating in the middle of a pandemic, said Katie Wilson, Match's head dating coach.
"Dating became quickly very different," said Wilson, who's worked in the dating sphere for more than a decade and is one of the people you might talk to if you call weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT. Though a hotline might seem like something reserved for Butterball-related Thanksgiving emergencies, it turns out Match daters are making use of this one as they balance looking for love with trying to stay inside. Match says it doesn't have any data on caller numbers.
The proliferation of the coronavirus has disrupted daily life in almost every way. For singles, it might seem like a weird time to think about starting up a new relationship, when the health guidance requires staying away from anyone you're not already living with. Grabbing a quick drink at a bar, holding hands, a goodnight kiss -- all of that is strictly verboten.
And yet, data from dating apps like OkCupid and Coffee Meets Bagel shows that people are still on The Apps looking for... something.
To start, Wilson said some folks are wondering if they should be trying to date at all right now. She tells them that if they're up to it, yes -- an answer that applies with or without the coronavirus pandemic. The argument here is that because everyone is at home with limited distractions from the outside world, daters are more plugged in than ever.
"There's a lot of people really seeking out connection," she says, "We're all a little bit disenfranchised." The upshot is people are taking the time to get to know each other, a return to old-school courtship. In fact, Wilson says Match has seen a decline in ghosting, or the practice of just disappearing on someone you've been talking to. She's curious to see what happens to these "pandemic relationships" that are built by people getting to know each other before anything else happens.
This newfound availability to chat without rushing to meet in person, though, has other daters wondering if all this getting-to-know-you business is genuine. Wilson said the hotline has gotten questions from people asking how to tell if someone is chatting them up purely out of boredom.
Her answer: Who cares?
"[That] doesn't mean that connection is not going to go somewhere," she said. Over time, people's intentions have a way of surfacing anyway.
Wilson says she's also been surprised by how open to video dating callers have been. There've been plenty of questions about how to keep the momentum of a new match going beyond a first Zoom call. Daters are getting more creative about planning activities to do together from a distance, like watching movies or sharing meals.
"If you'd asked me five years ago, 'What's everyone's take on virtual dating? I would have said, 'I'm not sure everyone's quite ready for that.'"
There's a learning curve, of course, to forgoing a nice night out and instead uncorking a bottle of wine in front of your laptop camera. But that doesn't have to mean these socially distanced dates are worth less just because they're not in person. Wilson says virtual dating doesn't mean less effort. It just means a different effort. Anything that's new takes getting used to.
"This is a pretty interesting time for a love story to start," she says.
CNET's Love Syncs is an advice column focusing on online dating. If you've got a question about finding love via app, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.