LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID: HOW VIRUS COULD CHANGE DAT­ING PER­MA­NENTLY

Pan­demic could shift dat­ing trends away from hook-up cul­ture

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

Of­mar Ofrozan spent a Fri­day night in mid-March at Nighthawk, a bar in Al­bany Park, with a woman he met on Tin­der. The pair con­nected over a com­mon love of sports, hold­ing noth­ing but a vague aware­ness of the novel coro­n­avirus that would soon shut­ter bars and restau­rants for months.

The date con­cluded with an el­bow bump, said Ofrozan, 30, of Avon­dale, de­cid­edly safer than a hug or kiss.

Ofrozan hasn’t seen her since.

“We only went on one date,” Ofrozan said. “Is it really worth the time and ef­fort to con­tinue pen pal-ing when we only met once?”

Many sin­gle Chicagoans took a hia­tus from dat­ing when the pan­demic hit in midMarch, an­tic­i­pat­ing a re­turn to the sta­tus quo in a mat­ter of weeks. Weeks turned into months, shift­ing what’s con­sid­ered nor­mal in how peo­ple meet and date. Video calls on Bum­ble are up 70%, and peo­ple are hav­ing longer mes­sag­ing con­ver­sa­tions on Tin­der, ac­cord­ing to rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each app.

Zoom calls, so­cially dis­tanced pic­nics and stray­ing from “hook-up cul­ture” char­ac­ter­ize dat­ing in a pan­demic. Some of th­ese shifts, ex­perts ar­gue, are here to stay.

Alexandra Solomon — a re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist and pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Univer­sity — said even be­fore the pan­demic, many peo­ple were crit­i­cal of sex­driven re­la­tion­ships, where emo­tional con­nec­tions take lower pri­or­ity.

“The pan­demic has flipped the switch,” Solomon said. “Long term, the pen­du­lum may swing back, with more friend­ship and mu­tual care­tak­ing that hap­pens ear­lier, and sex gets pushed a bit later.”

Bela Gandhi de­scribes this shift as a “throw­back to the ’50s.” In­stead of rush­ing into phys­i­cal intimacy, peo­ple are more deeply get­ting to know each other be­fore meet­ing in per­son, said Gandhi, owner and founder of Smart Dat­ing Acad­emy in Chicago.

Vir­tual dates can still be cre­ative and fun, Gandhi said. Her clients — which have dou­bled this year — have vir­tu­ally cooked a recipe to­gether or done a “show and tell” of their most mean­ing­ful ob­jects, Gandhi said.

“You can tell 99% of a per­son by do­ing a video chat,” Gandhi said. “It makes dat­ing bet­ter, more ef­fi­cient, cheaper and safer for peo­ple, es­pe­cially for women.”

Some ex­ist­ing cou­ples ex­pe­ri­enced the pan­demic as a re­la­tion­ship ac­cel­er­ant, de­cid­ing to move in to­gether ear­lier than they might have planned, Solomon said. Oth­ers, un­der the weight of un­cer­tainty, fi­nan­cial strain and car­ing for loved ones due to the virus, lacked a band­width for dat­ing at all, Solomon said.

That’s what hap­pened with Ofrozan. His health and rent pay­ments took pri­or­ity over an ac­tive dat­ing life when the pan­demic be­gan.

“It wasn’t ideal,” Ofrozan said. “Pretty much, dat­ing just kind of fell off the way­side when ev­ery­thing hap­pened in late March.”

It was dur­ing Chicago’s stay-ath­ome or­der that Ste­fanie Groner co-launched Quar­an­tine Bae, a Chicago vir­tual dat­ing site. Groner said the quar­an­tine forces her and other “baes” to ex­am­ine what they want in a re­la­tion­ship and be more up­front about that in dat­ing.

“Peo­ple are much more in­ter­ested in real con­ver­sa­tions,” Groner said. “In 2020, s---’s got­ten real, so why treat dat­ing re­la­tion­ships any dif­fer­ent?”

Stef Safran, owner of Stef and the City, a Chicago date coach­ing and match­mak­ing ser­vice, has seen an uptick in clients of all ages, in­clud­ing many re­cently di­vorced peo­ple. She’s al­ways ad­vised her clients to do a brief “screen­ing” call be­fore go­ing on a date, but Safran said more clients are now heed­ing her rec­om­men­da­tion since so much of dat­ing is now vir­tual. Safran said she hopes this trend lasts even be­yond the pan­demic.

New dat­ing cri­te­ria in­clude whether some­one so­cial dis­tances, wears a mask and pri­or­i­tizes san­i­ti­za­tion. Safran said she’s heard sto­ries of peo­ple end­ing re­la­tion­ships im­me­di­ately be­cause some­one didn’t have soap or hand tow­els in their home.

Will, 26, who lives on the Gold Coast, turned to dat­ing apps in the pan­demic out of ne­ces­sity, un­able to meet peo­ple in bars as he nor­mally did. Will, who did not want to use his last name, met some­one on Hinge a month and a half ago and is still see­ing her.

The cou­ple spent a week get­ting to know each other over the app be­fore meet­ing in per­son, walk­ing along the 606 trail and bring­ing their own drinks in can­teens. Vis­it­ing a beach or hav­ing a rooftop din­ner al­lows peo­ple to show more per­son­al­ity than they can in a crowded bar, he said.

“If things stay the way they are, I think things will go a lit­tle more old­school — chivalry will come back,” Will said. “It works well for an older-school guy like my­self.”

“THE PAN­DEMIC HAS FLIPPED THE SWITCH. LONG TERM, THE PEN­DU­LUM MAY SWING BACK, WITH MORE FRIEND­SHIP AND MU­TUAL CARE­TAK­ING THAT HAP­PENS EAR­LIER, AND SEX GETS PUSHED A BIT LATER.” ALEXANDRA SOLOMON, re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist and pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Univer­sity

ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

Two peo­ple en­joy a pic­nic in April in Hum­boldt Park. Ex­perts say Zoom calls and so­cially dis­tant pic­nics char­ac­ter­ize dat­ing in a pan­demic.

CHICAGO’S NEW NOR­MAL How COVID-19 will re­shape our re­gion, its econ­omy and ev­ery­day life. Read more at sun­times.com/ new-nor­mal.

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