Love is like a virus,’ U.S. writer Maya Angelou once wrote. ‘It can happen at any time.’
So while a pandemic has driven the vast majority of the population to pillage supermarkets for pasta, turn their bathrooms into fortresses of toilet roll and shun even the most handsome strangers, those of us who realise we are suddenly in danger of dying alone are stepping up our search for love in the age of coronavirus.
According to Dating.com, there’s been a huge increase in online dating as 82 per cent of singles try to find comfort during the crisis, with the countries most severely affected so far — China, the United States, Italy and Spain — experiencing the greatest growth.
Meanwhile, a survey by OKCupid suggests Britain is the third bravest nation when it comes to a willingness to continue going on dates during the contagion at 93 per cent, meaning we’re only slightly less courageous (or desperate) than the French (94 per cent) or the Germans (95 per cent).
‘We know app usage spikes during periods when people stay at home —winter is busier than summer and there’s a spike in early January, after people have been cooped up,’ explains David Vermeulen, CEO and founder of The Inner Circle, an exclusive global dating app. This means the current situation, where we are all likely to be staying at home, is unparalleled.
As festivals, football games and parties get cancelled, it’s boom time for online meeting places such as Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. Figures for dating site CLiKD show app use has increased by a quarter and is only set to rise further as those who catch the virus self-quarantine. ‘Users are definitely staying in more, but are still hungry for social interaction,’ Michael Blakeley, CEO and founder of CLiKD adds.
The entire dating landscape is adapting — fast. Tinder greets users with an in-app warning to carry hand sanitiser and practise social distancing: ‘Your wellbeing is our #1 priority . . . While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important.’
Bumble said on Instagram: ‘It’s time to take dates digital. Right now, we’re committed to powering positive and healthy virtual connections. That means staying safe — and, as much as possible, staying home.’
And Hinge took to Twitter to make this announcement: ‘Please wash your hands before you steal your Hinge date’s fries. It’s OK to “share” fries, but not germs.’
Even the chat-up cliches are being redefined. ‘Searching for a partner in crime’, has been replaced by ‘looking for someone to self-isolate with’.
Terminology is changing, too. ‘Netflix and chill’ used to mean sex. On The Inner Circle, this has been replaced by ‘Coronavirus and chill’ which means you and your date don’t meet. Instead, you pick ‘a TV show or movie to watch together and show your sense of humour by commenting on scenes and opinions on reality shows — it could start a debate, a connection, a relationship . . .’
‘Discouraging human contact and self-isolation is causing people to get creative,’ claims Mr Blakeley. ‘FaceTime dates are becoming a new safe dating trend. We call it “Iso-Dating”.’
Even phone calls may make a comeback. Generation Z may have no idea how to do this, but for those of us who remember dating in the dark ages, there was nothing more exciting than spending hours on the phone with your hot crush.
It’s as if we’ve returned to a kinder, gentler age. Currently, I’m engaged in near-constant text action with a man I went on a single date with just before the Italians went into lockdown. He is making so much more effort to keep in touch than my last actual boyfriend and the messages are caring, romantic and sweet.
Most of the charm lies in his efforts to make me laugh. Yesterday he revealed I was, in fact, dating a millionaire. Then he sent me a photo of the anti-bacterial hand gel he’d found in a drawer.
Like Romeo and Juliet, we’re forbidden from seeing each other which, along with the new sense of our own mortality, adds fragility to our romance: according to figures, as a healthy male in his early 30s, the new guy’s mortality rate is 0.2 per cent; whereas I, in my mid-30s and with chronic asthma, am almost as vulnerable as the elderly at 6 per cent.
Pre-coronavirus, there was a dearth of romance on dating apps. As anyone who has been single for a long time will tell you, the old-fashioned framework of meeting someone in the hope of a committed, loving long-term relationship has been dismantled.
Since Tinder began in 2012, offering a seemingly limitless supply of partners, all a finger-swipe away, short-lived ‘hook-ups’ have became more frequent. In a world in which romantic prospects are as replaceable as anything else you can order on your phone, no one needs to take the time to get to know how wonderful you are.
Yet while coronavirus rages, one-night stands aren’t possible, and we are all having to revive behaviours from a more romantic age. The single women I know love the fact men now have to make more effort. As writer and comedian Kaitlyn McQuin put it: ‘You know who’s really gonna suffer during this social distancing? Dudes on dating apps. Welcome back to courtship . . . We ’bout to get Jane Austen up in here. Now, write me a poem.’
Growing up in rural Norfolk, we had tales of heroism in love. The best centred on village plumber Stan, who rowed a tiny boat to rescue his fiancee, Madge, from the attic of Salthouse post office in the North Sea flood of 1953.
If I come down with the virus and the man I’m texting risks contamination to get me to a hospital, I’ll have something to tell my grandchildren.
Dating guru Camille Virginia suggests that how partners respond to the crisis may sort out the men from the boys.
‘Anyone who remains healthy is able to volunteer — for example grocery shopping for the elderly,’ she tells me. ‘Long-term compatibility between romantic partners is best determined by their shared values, so if you meet someone while you’re both volunteering, you know you both value giving back to people in times of crisis — now that’s a sexy trait.
‘There will be some great “We met during the coronavirus!” partnership stories that come out of this whole situation.’
Nichi Hodgson, author of The Curious History of Dating suggests the pandemic might mean a rise in more meaningful lovemaking and an outbreak of pregnancy: ‘Throughout the history of dating, times of death, disaster and disease have inspired acts of great romantic opportunism.
‘Whether it was wartime weddings conducted on the chance day of a soldier’s leave, or even Samuel Pepys carrying on his adulterous affairs during the Great Plague of London, the desire for human connection intensifies during testing times — which is why we can expect a Covid-19 baby boom in 2021.’
Mr Blakeley says: ‘While we recognise the severity of the situation, it’s typically British stiff upper lip to try to find happiness, even in the darkest of times.’