From a young age, we’re filled with stories of love sparking from glances across a crowded room or shooting like a jolt of electricity the first time you hold someone’s hand. But when you’re single, living alone, and a world crisis means you can’t be out for more than an hour, where’s the room for romance? Well the answer has been on free agents’ phones for years now, dating apps.

new features from Hinge

Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and a slew of new applications every week are promising connection through isolation, and with a rise in users over the quarantine period, there still are plenty looking for that certain someone. Although, like many industries in the current era, dating apps have had to pivot with the times to pair up those lonely hearts. It used to be that after messaging with a prospective match, you’re encouraged to be brave and ask them out for a drink (caffeinated or alcoholic) in an effort to progress things further, however these nudges to the physical have been replaced to the virtual. For instance, Hinge now greets its members with the banner message, “70% of Hinge Members would be up for a phone or video call right now. No pressure, just keep it short and fun!”

Does this work though?

From personal experience, I can tell you that it does. To keep my gentlemanly status, I won’t bore you with details, but I’ve been an active user on the aforementioned apps longer than I’d care to mention. Quarantine or not, it always begins the same, you’re bored at home so you start swiping. This was the case for me back in June when an afternoon flicking through Hinge ended up with a match. After the initial rush of dopamine hit (matches = validation), I sent the all-important first message which lead to the usual, “what (insert topic here) do you like?” etc. After she listed two of her favourite bands being A Tribe Called Quest and The Velvet Underground, both near and dear to me, I knew I wasn’t going to let this conversation dissipate like so many inevitably do on the apps. With fear of Covid still thick in the air, we set up a zoom date.

Image by Kirsten King buszzfeed

Now even admitting that I’m active on these apps (let alone writing an article about it) feels like it comes with some stigma attached. I mean, Cinderella didn’t meet prince charming online. Modern Romance isn’t written in story books though, it bounces off satellites from phone to phone. In a study from last year by Stanford Socialogist, Michael Rosenfeld, he found that majority of heterosexual couples in the US met online. Leaving me to wonder if Cinderella would’ve mentioned her shoe size in the bio!

Essentially, it’s the way of the world at the moment, so if I wanted to meet someone new, it was the only avenue.

What does a zoom date look like? Like any zoom interaction at the beginning, except perhaps with wine. For my own, I sat at my desk with glass in hand and she on her bed with a glass of her own. According to the timer we spoke for a good 2 hours before the awkwardness of the situation kicked in and we said goodnight to each other.

Video calls are always full of tripping over each other’s sentences, pregnant pauses, and the narcissism you feel by constantly checking your appearance on screen (something I felt myself doing tenfold on this call, wanting to make a good impression), but in the current climate it’s a necessary step in the dance of dating. She had more experience than I, it being her third video date and my first, but I must have gotten the rhythm of the moves correct as before leaving the meeting we organized an IRL meet up.

This was back when you could walk around a park for as long as you like without a mask, simpler times, but we met up for a coffee and meandered around Carlton Gardens chatting for hours about our respective histories. However, the pandemic wasn’t on hold, so even though this felt like a step towards normality, it still came with social distancing. A first date where you don’t even hug the other person goodbye may seem quite primary school in normal contexts, but it’s the struggle of anyone looking to connect in COVID. It’d be even harder under Stage 4, unless your potential partner lives under 5km away, the likelihood of a first meet up is quite small.

What are the ramifications of contactless courtship? Overall, I would say it can help lead to deeper connections between people. When all you can do is talk and listen, it means you bond as personalities rather than bodies, which is wholesome in a way. The physical aspect doesn’t disappear completely though thanks to the loophole of “intimate partner” visits to Stage 4 Restrictions, meaning you can travel over 5km to see that special someone. Curfew still applies though.

To be honest, that loophole has been a massive saving grace for myself and many living in Melbourne. It’s an island of “normality” that can be found in this sea of restrictions. That island isn’t large though, as after walking around for an hour it’s straight back to the safety of home where you have to get creative in terms of dates. Can’t go out to dinner and a movie, build a fort and eat takeaway in there while watching the newest additions to Stan/Netflix/etc. No live gigs to see, livestream performances from the couch (be sure to clear a space for the dancefloor though). Missing out on art exhibitions, well there’s plenty of virtual tours you can take of the greatest museums in the world!

Dating is still alive and well, but like all things affected by COVID, it just looks a little different and has a few more steps to it. So I raise my metaphorical glass to all the single souls isolating at home and encourage them to keep hope strong, as it’s still possible to connect with someone through quarantine.