Seek­ing a part­ner for the end of the world

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FAITH & FAMILY - JONAH EN­GEL BROMWICH AND SAN­DRA E. GAR­CIA

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.

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