UF freshmen have found themselves craving intimacy amid physical distancing requirements — but swiping right on potential partners has taken on an entirely new meaning in 2020.
Medical professionals agree that online dating is a safe alternative during the pandemic to meeting new people at bars, restaurants and other gathering places. With changing COVID-19 guidelines, the number of smartphone dating app users in the U.S. will reach 26.6 million in 2020 — an 18.4% increase from last year.
Before going on a date, Lilly Swanson, an 18-year-old UF anthropology freshman, said she tries to gauge whether a potential partner has been following COVID-19 guidelines by bringing it up in initial conversation over text messages.
Once she deems they have been cautious, she prefers to go on dates with her Tinder and Bumble matches without masks and not practice social distancing.
“I did go on a date once with someone who mentioned that he and his friends go clubbing and aren’t very safe,” Swanson said. “I left the date very quickly after that because it made me uncomfortable.”
Many of her friends new to Gainesville have used dating apps to connect with other students to make friends rather than just go on dates, she said. Swanson said she will continue to go on in-person dates.
Dating apps often feed into what is known as hookup culture, or brief, uncommitted sexual encounters, according to professors at Michigan State University. However, sexual activity is more risky during the pandemic because it increases the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission.
Experts believe potential partners should have a conversation setting boundaries and discussing their COVID-19 status, the same way they would when discussing their sexually transmitted infection status.
Alison Garland, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman, has found that dating apps, such as Bumble and Tinder, can be helpful to meet other students as friends. As a freshman who currently doesn’t participate in nightlife or Greek life, she said it’s been a challenge to connect with other students face-to-face.
To Garland, the safest option when meeting someone in person is to wear face masks and respect social distancing.
She said she’s used these apps to become friends with other students, often switching her profile to Bumble’s “BFF” setting to signal to others that she’s looking for friends rather than romance. Since starting to use it on campus, she said she’s made a friend that she regularly studies with.
“It is a lot harder because you don’t meet anyone who can diversify the immediate community around you,” she said. “Dating apps can be helpful to make friends — you never know who could meet.”
Bumble saw a 70% increase in video calls during the week of May 1 compared to the week of March 13, when a U.S. state of emergency was called, a Bumble spokesperson wrote in an email. The company believes the video call feature allows potential partners to spend time getting to know each other through video “pre-dates.”
They also released new virtual dating tools to help spark conversations between potential partners by allowing them to choose what type of dates they’re most comfortable with: virtual, socially distanced or socially distanced with a mask, a Bumble spokesperson wrote.
Nehemie Cyriaque, an 18-year-old UF environmental science freshman, agrees that face masks and social distancing can be restrictive. While she doesn’t wear a mask on every date, she makes sure to ask how if her dates follow health guidelines before agreeing to meet up with them.
Cyriaque said the pandemic has made potential partners more accessible and responsive as students crave human connection.
She said she goes on dates with people who she may not have been interested in otherwise because of how hard it is to make meaningful connections during the pandemic.
“I would straight up call it desperate, yeah,” she quipped. “I don’t feel like I have a normal social part of my life right now, so I turn to dating apps to try and gain an intimate connection with other people.”
Alan Halaly is the Metro desk editor and a second-year journalism major. He spent this past summer reporting for the Miami New Times and his first two semesters in college on The Alligator’s Metro desk covering city and county affairs. Above all, he’s passionate about bringing Gainesville’s hidden stories to UF’s campus.