Seeking a partner for the end of the world
It should be no surprise that the coronavirus has changed dating in America. Many experts, along with daters themselves, say that daters have become more likely to couple up, to lower their standards and to do what they can to find a partner to face whatever comes next.
The desire for partnership is particularly pronounced on dating apps, which have seen their user engagement soar over the last several months.
Hinge, a subsidiary of Match Group that markets itself as an app that will help its users find lasting relationships, reports that its revenue, which comes almost entirely from paid subscriptions and features, has increased threefold compared with the same time last year. User surveys indicate that 69% of the app’s users are “thinking more about who they’re really looking for” and 50% say they are “no longer chasing after people who aren’t interested in them.”
“I think sometimes dating apps can give us an inflated sense of who’s in our realm because we see so many people, and I think that people are just getting specific, realistically, about what they want,” said Justin McLeod, founder and chief executive of Hinge.
A survey of about 2,000 dating app users Match conducted between July and August showed that 59% of daters were considering a wider range of people as potential partners and that 55% were fast-tracking new relationships more than before the pandemic.
The intensity with which singles are swiping and chatting is visible across all Match Group dating apps, which include Tinder, OKCupid, Match.com, Hinge and Plenty of Fish. Amarnath Thombre, chief executive of Match Group Americas, said that messages were up 30% to 40% on most of the company’s apps compared with the same time last year.
Thombre said that the propensity to find a partner starting in the cooler months (which, for more than a decade, has been known as cuffing season, a term that likely originated in New York and hit Twitter in 2008) had always shown up in the data. Those metrics — more user activity and more widespread willingness to sign up for paid features — have been steadily high since the summer.
“I keep calling it an extended cuffing season,” Thombre said.
“Usually it picks up after Labor Day,” he said of activity across the apps. “This time, what we’ve seen is very unusual. This July was almost as high as February. February is usually considered a peak month, but this year we had a very strong July across our businesses.”
In a letter to investors in May, the Match Group said that the biggest increase in usage and activity on Tinder came from “female users under the age of 30, with daily average swipes increasing by 37% for this demographic in the month of April compared to the last week of February.”
The change has been all the more notable, Thombre said, given that men are usually more active on dating apps than women.
When Match polled users last year, less than 10% were interested in using a one-on-one video chatting feature to meet potential partners, Thombre said. Now, with in-person meeting off-limits for many, 70% say they are interested.
It’s not just the Match Group apps. Coffee Meets Bagel, a dating app that also focuses on relationships, found that its users’ chat rate was at an all-time high, and that a recent survey showed 91% of its users said they were looking for a serious relationship.
Video use on Coffee Meets
Bagel has also spiked. The same survey found that a third of its users would consider being in a monogamous relationship with someone exclusively over video. Thirty-seven percent of Hinge users said the same.
Asked if Match Group felt any discomfort with enabling singles to meet strangers in a pandemic, a spokeswoman for the company, Vidhya Murugesan, said that the company was encouraging all of its users to comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to meet people safely and had done so throughout the year. Match Group video features had been added, Murugesan said, so that users could date digitally, rather than in person.
IT’S ABOUT SURVIVAL
Experts say that practical concerns are only the most obvious motivating factor driving singles to change their relationship status. Galit Atlas, a psychotherapist and professor at New York University who specializes in the psychology of sexuality and desire, said that she had seen in her own practice that an increased anxiety was leading to desire for partnership.
“That’s what I can tell you as a sex psychologist, that when we are afraid, we tend to want to get together,” Atlas said. “I think there is a lot of anxiety about the future right now, about the second wave of COVID, about who knows what happens after the election. People talking about civil war and conspiracy theories and fear about the future. I do think that makes people not want to be alone.”
Atlas had a caveat. The desire is not universal. There are those, she said, for whom being with a partner may present a psychological threat more than a solution or a sense of security. But she said that for others, the question came down to a matter of survival, which for many people felt more possible when in a relationship.