Love in the Time of Corona: Part I

I Started a Social Experiment on Hinge, Then I was Banned for Life. Here's What I Learned​

September 13, 2020

love in the time of corona couple kissing with medical masks

Is it possible to find love in the time of corona?

Here we are, nearly six months deep into quarantine, and the most “realistic” advice that top medical professionals can give us for navigating COVID-era intimacy is to wear a mask and avoid kissing at all costs (no, really).

The novel coronavirus’ enduring existence in our lives has significantly altered how we connect with others — in our new reality, we can no longer meet up in cozy bars and order a drink that tows the proverbial line between “I know good cocktails — I took an alcohol class in college!”, and outright pretension. In our new reality, we can no longer practice our in-person litmus tests for physical or psychological chemistry by overanalyzing accidental knee brushes or observing just how nice our date really is to the waitstaff. Hell, gone are the days of swiping mindlessly on Tinder, engaging in moderately enticing banter, and then sealing the deal —  all within the same night! Ultimately, before the time of corona, people were free to take the first steps toward a new relationship with relatively little inhibition. Now, as if dating wasn’t challenging enough to navigate in our pre-COVID world, we must embark on the journey of finding a compatible partner whilst remaining socially distanced and self-isolated. I mean, what?! 

Enter Hinge.

You know, that popular dating app that most of your peers have probably taken to for finding more “authentic” and “genuine” matches? Hinge’s interface encourages users to actually read each other’s profiles rather than base their interest on vapid snap judgements and/or innate physical attraction (I’m looking at you, Tinder). In fact, when curating an individual’s “dating pool”, Hinge employs an algorithm that emphasizes the creation of matches out of compatibility between profiles rather than sheer location. However, in the face of our current pandemic, has COVID-19 changed the way in which people are using dating apps such as Hinge to navigate connecting with others?

Personally, I’m fresh from a break-up that was partially spurred by the complications of distance dating during this unprecedented time.

Needless to say, I have had little desire to begin the process of virtually developing a “meaningful relationship” with a new partner (a literal Term of Service for Hinge, but more on that later). Instead, this period of quarantine has been centered around my own self-discovery and personal development — something I’d suspect is not wholly uncommon for others to be focusing on during this time. Yet, via some kind of super sneaky sorcery, half of my social acquaintance circle has ended up in new relationships. How the hell are people successfully finding themselves “QuaranQueens” and “QuaranKings”?

So, I got on Hinge and asked the sweet users of the greater San Francisco Bay Area and New York City what they were looking for during this time, and whether or not they were finding it.

My profile? Damned transparent. Sure, I incorporated a few pictures of myself (I didn’t want others to think I was a robot!), but I made sure to blatantly state that my intentions were only to talk to people who were comfortable with opening up about their dating process during the pandemic. My strategy? Simple — I had the people come to me. Meaning, I didn’t reach out to anyone. Instead, I requested that only those who were interested in participating should respond to my profile. After someone hit me up, I would ensure that I had their consent before asking them some “interview” questions that I had developed (these also doubled as a script to keep conversations on-track). 

Within a few days, over 100 people — men, women, and everyone in between — responded enthusiastically to my social experiment.

Themes in individuals’ responses quickly emerged, including an overwhelming desire for social interaction and a general shift toward developing platonic social connections rather than romantic relationships. For example, I spoke to people who felt so isolated in quarantine that their mental health drastically suffered until they began to use Hinge as a tool to combat their feelings of loneliness. Of course, many people continued to use the app for its intended purpose and took to “meeting” their dates via video chat. Some individuals even took the plunge and linked up with their dates in person, but I observed great variance in the ways in which people did so “safely”.

A handful of people were quite stringent in following the CDC recommendations for social distancing, even remaining masked and six feet apart from their date the entire time. 

Others operated under the assumption that their date was safe to meet without “protection”, solely because they had suggested to meet in the first place (we love blind trust)! Understandably, some went out of their way to guarantee that they weren’t risking their health. These cautious individuals asked their dates prior to meeting whether or not they had been tested recently, and if the result was negative. If it was, then they would meet without masks and feel comfortable with being close to each other. Wildly enough, I did have a few participants admit that they would lie about having been tested, just so they could hook up with the person they were talking to!

Overall, many individuals felt that their interactions through the app were much more open and honest than what they had experienced during pre-COVID dating.

One participant posited that the fear of hurting oneself and their loved ones via the virus prompted people to push through the taboo feeling of really speaking candidly with each other. Naturally, my participants weren’t without their frustrations — some indicated that the increasing demand for such “openness” and “honesty” actually felt invasive and unnecessary. Others claimed that when it came time to actually meet someone in person, the pressure to remain safe and socially distant would ramp up their dates’ anxieties about contracting the virus. The result? Numerous last minute cancellations, largely depleted egos, and an overall lack of hope in successfully connecting with someone outside of a screen.

Now, let’s not forget about those aforementioned Terms of Service.

Despite my belief that each person I talked to should be considered a step toward a “meaningful relationship” (in that platonic, social experiment participant type of way), Hinge certainly had a different interpretation of the phrase in mind. By the second week of my experiment, I was banned. Frustrated, I reached out to (read: badgered) Hinge representatives for help and the PR team for a possible project collaboration, but to no avail. Alas, this banishment is lifelong! But I didn’t hold my head in shame (never). Instead, I stalked Hinge’s LinkedIn until I found someone that could lend me their unique perspective on dating during this pandemic. That person, Jonah Feingold, is the co-host of Hinge’s podcast, “Dating Sucks”, and a brilliant writer/producer/filmmaker that was kind enough to respond to my Instagram DM! Stay tuned for our glorious interview in next week’s Love in the Time of Corona: Part II.

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