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How to date online in the age of coronavirus and social distancing

This week on Love Syncs: In a time of social distancing, video chats could help you stay close. Just remember not to look like a hostage.

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A video date could be in your future. 

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

On any other Friday night, you might be getting gussied up to go on a date. You know -- doing your hair, digging out some clean clothes, practicing small talk in your head while gargling, bargaining with the gods that you're not about to sit through an utter trainwreck. 

The normal stuff. 

This week, though, that's probably not the case. 

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Click for more Love Syncs. 

As folks figure out how to adjust their lives to a new normal that includes avoiding contact with other humans in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic (HOO BOY), you don't have to postpone your dating life like it's Coachella

Enter: the Virtual Date. 

This sounds fancy. I assure you, it is not. It boils down to that thing your mom is always trying to get you to do: video chat. 

Granted, it might feel like a weird time to be thinking about dating, but really, you're not alone. Allow me to shamelessly refer you back to last week's column. OkCupid asked its daters if they'd still be willing to go out on a date, and 92% of them said yes. Granted, that number might be different a week later. In Louisville, where Love Syncs maintains its Love Syncs Lair, bars and restaurants are closed. And if you live in the San Francisco area or in Hoboken, New Jersey, you couldn't go out casually even if you wanted to. 

So how exactly do you pull off a virtual date? Love Syncs has you covered, with help from Zackary Lewis, founder and CEO of dating app Say Allo, whose video chat feature has seen a big spike amid the outbreak. 

All right, let's get ready to go on a video date.

Wait, video date? Why should I go on a video date?

One reason you should consider the virtual date is to see if there's any real-life chemistry between you and your match. Messaging is great, but it leaves a lot out of the romance equation -- body language, the sound of someone's voice, that ineffable way people have about them that make them who they are. We're all just bundles of meat and twitching nerves looking for other bundles that twitch in the same way. The sooner you figure out whether you're attracted to each other without the barrier of faceless, finely crafted texts, the better.

Another reason has to do with something I've devoted an entire column to in the past -- safety. Asking for a quick phone call or video chat can be one way to make sure the person you're talking to is who they say they are. 

That said, here's the actual rundown. 

Set a time

Once you've matched and hit that spot in the conversation where one of you might suggest meeting up, instead set up a time to video chat that works for the both of you and stick to it. As Lewis reminds: "Don't be a flake!" 

Pick a platform

Depending on which app you're using, you might have access to a video chat feature. Bumble and Say Allo, for example, include that. The League is even offering free two-week memberships and rolling out a new video chat feature for just this purpose. 

If you matched elsewhere, you're going to have to pick a platform you both can use. Now, I will throw in a caveat here: Not everyone is comfortable with giving out a phone number or email address to someone they just met online. That's fine. You don't have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. 

Let's say you feel alright about swapping contact info with a match. CNET has a rundown of 7 free video chat apps out there right now, ranging from FaceTime to Zoom. If you end up picking a platform you've never used before, set it up ahead of time so you're not trying to download software or create an account when you're supposed to be popping into the chat.

Read more: Best dating sites of 2020

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Try not to look like a hostage

Are many of us kinda sorta trapped inside? Yes. That doesn't mean you have to look like you should be holding up a copy of today's newspaper and asking for someone to just pay the damn ransom money. 

First impressions are important. "Social distancing doesn't mean showing up to your first virtual date in sweatpants," Lewis said. Put the same amount of effort into this date as you would if you were meeting up in person. 

Also, consider how your surroundings will show up on camera. That means it's time to put all the dirty dishes you've been accumulating around you into the sink. Remove yesterday's pants from the window sill. And if you're nervous, Lewis suggested shooting a quick video with your device to see for yourself what the other person will see.

Don't feel obligated to chat for hours

The date itself doesn't have to last for hours. Maybe it'll be 30 minutes, or maybe you'll hit it off. Stay open either way but don't feel bad for politely wrapping things up if you need to. 

Don't forget your charger

Video chat can eat up your battery. Don't get caught in the red. Charge up beforehand, Lewis said, or have a charger nearby in case you need a boost. 

So there you have it. The era of the virtual date is born. And hey -- at least you don't have to argue about who picks up the check.